All posts by K.L. Allendoerfer

I am a neuroscientist, educator, geocacher, Unitarian-Universalist, amateur violinist, and parent. I have always been fascinated by how people's brains learn, and especially why this process is easier and more fun for some brains than others. This led me to get a PhD in Neuroscience, work in biotech, and then become a science educator and writer.

A Long Time

It’s been a long time since I have blogged. This past year I have been teaching grades 6 and 7 Biology at a private STEM-oriented school in Silicon Valley. It’s my first year teaching full-time and often it feels like I have 2 jobs, not one, and hardly any time for orchestra, let alone blogging.  I had started to feel like I was barely keeping my head above water, technique-wise, and I wondered, am I going to have to quit playing altogether again, at least for a while, to make this job work?

But now, my school, like all the others in Santa Clara county California, has been closed for almost 4 weeks, and we teachers and our students are slowly adjusting to distance learning, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom, Zoom Zoom.

TheMask

I am privileged to still have a job and roof over my head. And I have a box of masks left over from the CA wildfires last year–not sure whether I can call that lucky, but I do have them. Introvert that I am, I may not be minding the current situation as much socially as some folks are. I need quite a bit of alone time, and I remember many long days of childhood spent at home with only books, dolls, and imaginary friends. In some ways, I’ve been doing this before it was cool. Or necessary. I even have a husband who shops and cooks, so I don’t have to!

But one aspect of this quarantine that has bothered me and made me disappointed and sad even more than I expected was the complete loss of my musical outlets and opportunities. First it was my remaining chamber group: no, we can’t go to the organizer’s house this week. He and his partner are in the high-risk age group. Then it was the South Bay Philharmonic concert that got cancelled. In honor of the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, we had planned to play Beethoven’s 4th, one of two Beethoven symphonies (#4 and 8) that I need for my bucket list. We had been through all the rehearsals but the dress, and then the news came: no gatherings of more than 250 people allowed.

Things moved quickly after that: I went home from school for a short March break and haven’t been back since. My son’s high school closed too; my Googler husband is working from home.

And here we are.

ViolaHanger

For some reason when I finally did pick up the viola to play again, I felt the need to go back to my viola roots, to the basics. When I first started playing the viola, switching from violin around 14 years ago, that meant Bach suites. I played the Courante from #1, which had been my favorite back then, and the Allemande. Then I found suite #2, with its D-minor prelude. It seemed darker and more serious than suite #1. That was when I really started feeling like I had gone over to the “dark side,” the viola, and there was no turning back.

Instead of putting my viola back in its case after that, I put it on a hanger in my spare bedroom/office. I started taking “Bach breaks” from online teaching or lesson planning. I would just run through something, work on a little bit here or there . . . and then something else occurred to me. My daughter stayed in Oregon, where she attends Willamette University, because she lives off-campus and dorm closures didn’t affect her. Her room, sitting empty, has a balcony, which is why she claimed that room when we moved here in 2015.

Inspired by the quarantined Italians I had seen singing from their balconies, I stepped out from my daughter’s room with my viola. Would this work, or would I look ridiculous? A few joggers and dog walkers went by, and I brought out my music stand and played some Bach.

Later I set up my phone and livestreamed it on Facebook. I think I had a larger audience on Facebook than I did live on my small, quiet street, but that may have been for the best. If a real crowd had gathered I might not have had the courage to continue.

That balcony session led to some surprising and delightful responses. One was the reaction of my new friends and colleagues at school. I decided to go out on a limb and share it with my fellow teachers and my students in our online platform. They were very sweet–“that sounded awesome!” said one. The video got shared in our school newsletter too. And then there were the oranges. One of my neighbors left some oranges on our front porch from a tree in their yard, with a nice Thank You card for the “beautiful music while working in the garden.” I eat one orange every morning for breakfast, and I still don’t know who it is!

I’ve also had a Skype lesson with my viola teacher. We worked on Bach–the prelude from the 3rd suite now–and also on Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante, which I think might be my next project. The lesson worked quite well and I think I’d like to continue this type of lesson with my teacher even when the quarantine is lifted. Not having to drive to Palo Alto and back saves me almost an hour, and might enable me to fit more lessons back into my regular schedule, even when school starts again.

And, I’ve played some fiddle tunes in what I’ll call “Zoom church.” It is the UU Fellowship of Sunnyvale’s answer to having to close down live services. Instead, we have Sunday services on Zoom, with everyone calling in from home. At this point I’m still not a pro with Zoom by any means (just ask my students) but any squeamishness I may have felt about being recorded on video is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

But, what about orchestra? I still miss it terribly. When I moved to CA, orchestra was both my greatest loss for what I left behind in MA, and my best source of new friends and experiences in CA. But I’m no longer just finding my way in these orchestras. I’ve been here a long time. It surprises me and brings me up a little short that now, here, I’m at the point of grieving another musical loss rather than exploring something new and exciting.

I’ve seen many wonderful videos of orchestras playing together at a distance, some of them on violinist.com. George Yefchak, our conductor at the SBP, had the idea to do a video like this as well, using the Scherzo from Beethoven’s 4th that we were going to play in the concert. He had the vision and did a heroic collecting and editing job to make that vision a reality. I’m there in the third row on the left, wearing an alto clef T-shirt. Fellow violinist.commer Gene Huang, the SBP concertmaster, is up in the top left corner too.

It’s not the whole symphony, and my sympathies go out to Roger, our horn soloist, whose concerto had to be postponed. But I’m still going to count it for my bucket list. Only Symphony #8 to go!

I know this quarantine has been a disaster for many professional musicians who live from gig to gig. I appreciate every one of them who has been sharing their talents with the rest of us to inspire hope and help us get through this difficult time. This is also a time when some of those distinctions start to fall away–professional, amateur, rich, poor, famous, ordinary, even young and old–the virus, and the need for human contact and hope, don’t know these distinctions. We may be here a long time, and we can all share with each other, and need each other. The woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those who sang the best.

Redwoods

 

Blogging Break

It’s September 1 and looking back, I see I haven’t blogged for an entire month, since August 1. I have started a new teaching job and it is taking all of my time right now.

I heartily dislike being this busy and I’m hoping things will settle down as I find a groove.

But until then I’m taking a hiatus from blogging. I estimate it will last about a month, and I will revisit in October. Enjoy the fall, it is one of my favorite times of year, and I hope the season brings you much happiness!

Leavesinthepark
A walk to the Underwood Playground

 

Thursday Doors: More Little Free Libraries

Since putting up my own Little Free Library a few months ago, I have made it a project to visit others, both local and out of town.

My library has a geocache, and this month I have gotten extra visitors looking for clues for the geocaching “Mystery at the Museum” puzzle. I also put a geocache in a local friend’s Library that she made out of an old newspaper box. Here’s the door to that one:

01TakeaBookLeaveaBook

I started inline skating again recently. I originally learned to use inline skates in graduate school, the last time I lived in California, and I dug my old roller blades out of the garage with the intent of getting some exercise around the neighborhood and reliving old times. Those skates were unfortunately so old that the plastic cracked and the skates were unusable. Undaunted, I bought new ones and went out skating several days last week. While skating, I found another neighborhood LFL with nice blue doors. You can see my shadow taking the picture in the lower left corner.

 

Some LFLs are close to elementary schools and are well-stocked with kids’ books behind their doors (or not):

 

And some LFL Stewards really go all out, decorating not just their libraries but the areas around them. There are benches, chairs, solar panels, statues, flowers, signs, and paths around these libraries.

San Jose has some other great LFLs too:

 

This last one doesn’t have a door at all, but I’m adding it into this post anyway because I think it’s a cool idea. The Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton airport has its own book exchange too, where you can pick up a book for the upcoming flight, or leave one that you’ve finished reading.

ABEAirport

I’ve used LFLs for Thursday Doors before–LFL Stewards are very creative!

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in on the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments at Norm’s blog.

Qigong

I did qigong for the first time last night. I have made Tuesday my reblog day, using this day to explore other blogs and discover something new. So this next morning after the class, I went out and searched for blogs about qigong–and there are a lot. I chose this one to reblog because 1. it’s not a video and 2. the images and words evoked what I experienced. Looking forward to the fall, and towards the need for self-care as a first year teacher, I think there is a place for qigong practice in my life.

Writing into the Light

stagnant energy
accumulated in excess
breathed out as gray smoke

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July #WATWB: American Heroes

We are the World LogoThe “We Are the World Blogfest,” posted on or around the last Friday of each month, seeks to promote positive news. There are many oases of love and light out there, stories that show compassion and the resilience of the human spirit. Sharing these stories increases our awareness of hope in our increasingly dark world.

I have not managed to do a #WATWB post for two months, but this month’s was easy. It is a straightforward story of 4 heroic young American men, who saved a child’s life. The story appeared in the Washington Post as “A 6-year-old was swept out to sea, and a group of brothers dove in after her.” The unfortunate girl was riding a pink flamingo raft, and no lifeguard responded to her father’s cries when he saw her being swept out to sea. The father then put on a life vest and swam out after her himself, but was not a strong enough swimmer. Four visiting American young men effected a rescue, swimming out to save the girl first, and then her father.

I rode a raft in the ocean on the Outer Banks of North Carolina when I was about 10. I was a decent swimmer for my age, but reading the story, I realized this could have happened to me. And I especially felt for the poor father, who was in danger of losing his daughter, and tried his best to go after her, but his best wasn’t good enough. If not for the heroic American tourists, the day could have ended in a double tragedy.

Every year in the summer, this message bears repeating: Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning. Familiarize yourself with water safety and with the real symptoms of drowning. My daughter saved her little brother in a pool when she was about 8 and he was about 4. I was on the other side of the pool from them, and he slipped off a ledge where he had been standing and went under. She reached down and pulled him out.

Sign up to join us and be visited on the last weekend of the month when you post your article. Click here to enter your link on this Linky Tools list. #WATWB cohosts for this month are:  Shilpa GargSimon Falk , Damyanti BiswasLizbeth Hartz and Eric Lahti. Please link to them in your WATWB posts and go say hi!

Plastic-Free Life Redux: A Story of Independence

For my reblog Tuesday, I’m sharing this blog from Pam Lazos, author, lawyer, and environmentalist, about her efforts to reduce plastic in her life. Wegman’s deserves kudos for what they are doing; hopefully other store chains will follow suit!

Green Life Blue Water

[4th of July fireworks over Lancaster]

Plastic-Free Life Redux: A Story of Independence

A couple months ago I sent a letter to the four biggest local grocery stores in my area, espousing the benefits of removing single-use plastic packaging from their myriad array of fresh vegetables. I wasn’t asking them to literally change their whole operating strategy, but to just quit wrapping things that don’t need it in plastic, and to provide reusable bags for the veggies we may want to buy loose, but not too loose; we don’t want them rolling around in our carts and we don’t want to have to put them in paper and contribute to further deforestation of the planet since decimating old growth forests may be even worse than disposing of single-use plastics.

Before I tell you what happened, let me just say that I read a completely unnerving statistic the other day, that…

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Our brains appear uniquely tuned for musical pitch

The human brain appears to be unique in how its auditory cortex responds to musical pitch. I’d be curious to see how other animals, not just monkeys, respond to music. Like, why does my cat always run out of the room when she sees the violin being taken out of the case?

Scents of Science

In the eternal search for understanding what makes us human, scientists found that our brains are more sensitive to pitch, the harmonic sounds we hear when listening to music, than our evolutionary relative the macaque monkey. The study, funded in part by the National Institutes of Health, highlights the promise of Sound Health, a joint project between the NIH and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts that aims to understand the role of music in health.

“We found that a certain region of our brains has a stronger preference for sounds with pitch than macaque monkey brains,” said Bevil Conway, Ph.D., investigator in the NIH’s Intramural Research Program and a senior author of the study published in Nature Neuroscience. “The results raise the possibility that these sounds, which are embedded in speech and music, may have shaped the basic organization of the human brain.”

The study started…

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Thursday Doors on Saturday: St Petersburg

I’ve been working on an old scrapbook. It is a record of a trip we took in 2016 to the Baltic Sea. This was really a nice trip, and I’ve had the scrapbook materials, including pictures, sitting around for a couple of years in the living room on the bottom shelf of the coffee table. In a push to organize the house and get rid of piles and extraneous junk, I’ve decided to complete the book. And since we’re not going anywhere fancy in person this summer (unless you count my upcoming teacher training in Chandler Arizona), it’s been nice to relive this previous trip through pictures.

I did blog about the trip a little bit, and I even did what you’re supposed to do in the blogosphere: let people know that I was away (hey, I was new). But it took place before I was participating in Thursday Doors, so I didn’t take any pictures of doors specifically for this challenge. Still, this is the trip that got me my very first Thursday Door. And I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were others.

I’ll start here with the city of St. Petersburg. The stop in St. Petersburg was my first and only time in Russia so far. And the city seemed too good to be real. It was kind of like a Disney city, complete with opening the door to Cinderella’s horse-drawn carriage

Cinderella

And to the ballroom where she met the prince.

CatherineInside

Behind the gates of an enormous palace!

CatherineGate

The churches and cathedrals also have doors.

Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood:

SpilledBloodStP

St. Isaac’s Cathedral:

StIsaac

And, of course, the Hermitage museum:

There were also familiar sites, in Russian. Over the door of the Nevsky Inn, does this logo look familiar?

SubwayStP

In this case I’ve limited my pictures to those with doors, but even then there’s a good sampling. Doors make good subjects!

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in on the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments at Norm’s blog.

A first look at the Greta Gerwig adaptation of “Little Women,” coming out in Christmas 2019

Last year was a big year for Little Women, its 150th anniversary. But the book as we know it today was published in two parts, and this year is the anniversary of part II! And, there will be a new movie, which looks promising. I have to admit, though, that my favorite version of Little Women will probably always be the one in my own head!

Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

Great article with lots of pictures. I think the movie looks promising but I remain cautious after the Masterpiece version. What do you think?

Exclusive First Look: Greta Gerwig and Saoirse Ronan’s Little Women

from Vanity Fair

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Musical Monday: Chamber Music

This week I am going to chamber music camp with my 16-yo son, a cellist, and a pre-formed group of friends as a quartet.  This “camp” is not really a camp. It’s in a church, not the woods, and it is run by my teacher and her colleagues. Nobody stays overnight. We view that as a feature rather than a bug, but not everyone would. And I am at least temporarily returned to my roots as a violinist. No viola this week!

Another thing that is different about this camp is that it mixes adults and kids. This is convenient for me because I can go with my son. My quartet-mates are all retired, so I am not the oldest person there, but I am in the top half. For the introductions, the teacher asked what school we all went to as one of the line items. Unlike the other adults, I actually had a school, since I’ll be teaching at one next year. Surprisingly there was even a student from my school in the group. She plays a wind instrument, so I didn’t work with her directly, and didn’t remember her well, but she did remember me helping out the music teacher a couple of times last year.

My son is working on the first movement of Beethoven’s quartet Op. 18, No 4. I played it a couple of years ago and still remember the experience as a high point, and I saw the original manuscripts in Prague this spring.

And I’m working on the first movement of the Florence Price string quartet in G. I played the 2nd movement earlier this year and wanted to tackle the first also. There are only 2 movements in this quartet. The first is even less often played than the second, and there are only a couple of YouTube recordings available. Our coach is learning the music along with us!

The coaching sessions went by very quickly. I wasn’t ready to be done yet, and could have gone on for at least another couple of hours! I think the recordings that are available go too fast. We won’t be able to achieve those tempos in a week, and I don’t think I’d even want to. I need time to hear the unique harmonies.

And this post is a bit of an experiment too. Can I actually write something concise and not take an inordinate amount of time doing it, when I should be practicing? Yes, yes I can . . .