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:

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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 . . .

 

 

 

 

Decline, declined

orchids.jpg
April 2017

My orchid plant has been blooming for more than 3 months now. I received it at a housewarming party in 2015 not long after we moved to CA. After the party it lost its flowers and didn’t bloom again for almost 2 years.

After those flowers were lost, I discovered that orchids without flowers can get pretty funny-looking. So I almost threw it out. Again.

And again, another 2 years later, I was suddenly surprised with a richness of blooms. I didn’t use the support sticks this time. By the time I realized that the blooms were happening, it was too late.

AprilOrchid
April 2019

And then, as July 4th rolled around, I saw this. First to bloom, first to wilt.

Orchid
July 2019

At the same time, I saw this article: Your Professional Decline is Coming (Much) Sooner than You Think, by Arthur C Brooks.  It’s making the rounds.

I’m starting a new career, back to work full-time this year, headed to teacher training in a couple of weeks. This is not the kind of thing I want to be reading. Cue the curmudgeonly grumbles about annoying clickbait headlines . . . But in fact, this article is worth reading in spite of the incendiary headline. Reading it was almost a relief: a rehash of an old, tired narrative, narrowly focused on a narrow skill set and narrow demographic.

Back when I was in graduate school this crap was what young male physicists liked to torture themselves with: if they hadn’t made their Nobel-winning discovery by the time they were 30, they were washed up and might as well throw in the towel. And sure, I guess privileged white extroverted males who have a certain type of high-profile executive career in western neoliberal economies may often follow such a life trajectory. But I think it can be different, and more complicated, for other types of people and other types of careers and economies.

Let’s take science, since there seems to be a lot of fretting about it among graduate students (who really have other things to fret about). I have been fortunate to know and know of some wonderful woman scientists. For 6 years I worked as a project manager for Dr. Susan Lindquist at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge. She was one of the most creative and collaborative scientists of her generation, and a winner of the National Medal of Science. Somewhat famously absent-minded, she was more famously able to see patterns and make connections that others could not. She established new fields of inquiry in her 50s and was in the prime of her career, running a lab the size of a small biotech company, when she passed away from cancer in 2016. At the time many people remarked that she was “too young” to have passed away, and that her life was too short. I understand and agree with these sentiments, yet Lindquist was 67 when she died, well into Brooks’ alleged “decline” phase. 

Or, let’s consider Rita Levi-Montalcini, discoverer of Nerve Growth Factor (NGF), a molecule that I did my PhD thesis on. Born in Turin Italy in 1909 and having spent her young adulthood fleeing Nazi persecution, Levi-Montalcini did her seminal work on NGF in her 40s, with Viktor Hamburger. She won a Nobel Prize in 1986, founded the European Brain Research Institute in 2002 and went on to serve as Senator for Life in the Italian government until she passed away at the youthful age of 103. We are all fortunate that these scientists didn’t give up when they hadn’t made it at 30. At the very least, maybe the the lives of women scientists, like the lives women authors, need to be written differently.

I’m not the only one to have found this part of Brooks’ article’s scope and message irritating and limited. For an alternate view, check out Chris Farrell’s article in Forbes. Instead, I think the “decline” that Brooks writes about is more an indictment of our values as a society and of the way it is set up than a real decline in anything that is actually important in people themselves. Brooks himself makes a big deal about processing speed. He says: “if your profession requires mental processing speed or significant analytic capabilities—the kind of profession most college graduates occupy—noticeable decline is probably going to set in earlier than you imagine.” 

When I read that, I had a lot of questions, the main ones being:  “what kind of analytical capabilities are we talking about here?” and “do *most* professions really require this, or is that some kind of bias on the part of the author?”

I will admit here that  I am biased. I’ve had slow, or at least inconsistent, processing speed all my life, and have suffered for it at the hands of perfectionists and their expectations. Particularly in social situations and with things I only hear rather than see, it has always taken me time to understand what I am taking in. I fit the definition of introvert that is in vogue these days: an observer who needs to think before acting.  But it’s not, and never has been, age-related.

And happily, it’s not worse for me in middle-age, because now more people seem to be in the same boat. Introverts are having a Quiet Revolution. Other people are finally admitting out-loud the value of electronic reminders, habits, routines, and other coping strategies. Other people are having to give up a dangerous over-reliance on working memory to run their lives. Other people are acknowledging the costs of toxic perfectionism. To them I say, come in, the water’s fine. It’s really quite freeing to not have your ego so completely tied up in your ability to rattle off random factoids from memory or to quickly process a complicated schedule without looking at a calendar. We all benefit from slowing down and reflecting, and there is more than one Quiet Revolution underway.

That said, I thought the advice Brooks gives in his article about teaching, sharing knowledge, and lifting other people up, was pretty good. Rather than a “decline,” I think what he is writing about is a shift in values as we get older towards a more sustainable and livable way of life. And you don’t have to be older to behave that way. Some younger people figure it out sooner–young people can make great teachers too. 

MayOrchid
May 2019

And as for the orchid: when these blooms are gone, there is no way I’m throwing it out. I know better now.

montalcini

It is imperfection – not perfection – that is the end result of the program written into that formidably complex engine that is the human brain
Rita Levi-Montalcini

Thursday Doors on Friday: Flag on the LFL

I have had my Little Free Library up for a few months now. I had been wanting one for a long time, and I think that the impetus of going back to work, teaching, and having published some books (with small presses), is actually what got me there. I’ve been putting copies of my published work in the LFL, and happily, three of those books have been taken! The others come and go. I haven’t yet figured out what are the most popular. There are some kids who live in the neighborhood who have been enjoying my teenagers’ old board books. It’s a much better fate for them than a box in the garage!

TakeABook

What I generally do these days when I start a new project is to join a Facebook group or two, connected to the project. (Well, who am I kidding, it’s usually more than two. Ask the twelve science teaching groups I’ve joined in the past several months!) This one is no exception. The members of Little Free Library Stewards don’t mess around. They have events: grand openings, readings, canned food drives, story hours, bookmark-making parties . . . and their libraries even have their own Facebook pages!

I can’t say that I’m that active. I started a full-time teaching job in January and have only recently been able to catch my breath. My blogging activities have slowed down a lot.

LFLFlag

But in any case, I was able to decorate my LFL a little bit for Independence Day. This little flag was one that I think we got back in Cambridge MA when my daughter was a toddler. Or it might have come from the Memorial Day parade she marched in as a Girl Scout.

I was also able to decorate my front doorway in CA, for the first time. I bought this flag holder a couple of years ago and only recently got around to installing it, in what feels like the same burst of energy that got me through the LFL installation.

DoorWithFlag

This is the same flag that traveled from Massachusetts, where it adorned our house every Memorial Day, Flag Day, and 4th of July since ~2007. It has been in the closet for almost 4 years, but got to fly yesterday.

We’re often traveling at this time of year and spending the fourth in another city or even another country. This is my favorite blog about one of those trips, to visit my parents in Western New York. But this year was different: we rode our bikes to Crittenden Hill in Mountain View and took a position overlooking Shoreline Amphitheater, where the San Francisco Symphony was playing a tribute to the moon landing.

We had a nice view of the sunset, the parking lot, some planes, and a waxing crescent moon. They turn off the floodlights 10 minutes before the fireworks start. And from here, viewers can see other celebrations up and down the SF Peninsula. Little balls of fire in the distance.

Shoreline

I brought along a few chemiluminescent bracelets, unused leftovers from a long-ago birthday party or Halloween.

Energy can be neither created nor destroyed. Chemical energy turns into light and sound energy, every year.

Fireworks

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.

“Music saved me.” Interview with chamber musician, Julie Scolnik.

For Musical Monday I am reblogging this wonderful interview with a Boston-area chamber musician. I found out about her group, Mistral, about 4 years too late to go see them in person!

EVELYN KRIEGER

I’m excited to bring you the first in a series of interviews with creative artists of all stages and disciplines.  

Julie-sidebar-e1391291634518

Julie Scolnik, of Brookline, MA,  is the artistic director of Mistral, (formerly Andover Chamber Music), a series she founded with her husband, physicist Michael Brower, in 1997.  Julie has enjoyed a diverse musical career as a soloist, chamber musician, and orchestral flutist throughout the U.S. and in France. In earlier years, Julie performed as principal flute with Boston’s leading orchestras. She has released two solo CDs, the latest, entitled ‘Salut d’Amour & Other Songs of Love,’ with her daughter, pianist Sophie Scolnik-Brower. 

How you discover your passion for music and talent for the flute?

 Of all the memories from my childhood, the most immediate ones that tie my sisters and me most profoundly, are the memories of music filling our house always- of the records that my mom worked…

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Thursday Doors: Oregon Drive

MountShasta
Mount Shasta, August 2017

A couple of years ago, I had several posts associated with driving my daughter to college at Willamette University. That drive took several days because we stopped to admire Mt. Shasta or to sample the sights in interesting little towns along the way. She was a new driver then, having passed her test only a couple weeks before we left, and we split the driving about 50/50.

SadieTreat

We made the same drive again this year, for a different reason. She moved off campus for her second two years, and she wanted to take the cat, Sadie, to live with her.

I’m also giving my daughter my old car, a 2012 baby blue Mazda 5. She learned to drive in that car, and feels comfortable in it. The magnet I bought for the rear hatch door fell off sometime ago, but the car fits in here. It will be useful to have a minivan to carry stuff around.

She drove the whole way from California this time. I got to doze off in the passenger seat.

HatchDoor
Car hatch door with bearcat magnet

Sadie the cat did better than we expected. We were concerned that she might meow her head off for 10 hours, making the trip unpleasant for all 3 of us. But the vet gave her a pill, and, mildly sedated, she spent most of the time sleeping in her carrier. Occasionally she meowed, but just enough to let us know she was still there.

At the pet-friendly Motel 6 we opened the door to her cat carrier to let her out, but she didn’t venture far.  She wasn’t crazy about the trip in general, and is glad to have gotten here!

CrateDoor
Cat carrier door stayed closed most of the time

And the final door for this post is the door to their new home:

FrontDoor

An interesting green, newly painted. It’s a charming little house. Now it just needs some furniture!

For Norm’s “Thursday Doors.” I’m getting back to it this week!

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. I find it a fun way to focus and curate my many, many travel photos!

World Enough and Time: My Telemann Performance

For Musical Monday this week, I am reblogging a post about my Telemann viola concerto solo, which took place approximately one year ago this week. This performance was a big step for me, someone who suffered from extreme performance anxiety throughout my teens and twenties.

I look at kids now, some of my students even, who overcome something like that at much earlier ages, or who were more fearless to start with. Sometimes I grieve for all the time I “wasted.” And yet, in another way I feel that the timing was exactly right. Our culture reveres youth, but it’s hard to be a young adult, even harder to be a teenager. It is much better to spend middle age feeling like the best years are still coming, rather than behind.

A Thousand Finds

It’s a bright, cool California day heralding the coming of summer, and I am free until the evening. I slept well overnight, in spite of reading bad news about someone I knew a lifetime ago. I earned my certificate for completing the 100-day practice challenge last week. Regretful emails trickle in: car trouble, a grandson’s recital, an urgent sample to be analyzed, an unexpectedly long appointment. But my red sparkly Bolero jacket arrived from Jet unexpectedly early. And it fits!

YosemiteVDC The New World: Yosemite Valley

Once, before a different performance, I dreamed of breaking my bow, borrowing a replacement, and running endlessly over hills and valleys that opened up in between me and the concert venue as the bow morphed into an archery weapon in my hand. But all these current ups and downs . . . I just watch them from a comfortable distance. The new black dress materialized; the…

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Musical Monday: Florence Price’s String Quartet in G

sbp2019-05posterIt’s spring, and the season for concerts. One of the orchestras that I joined when I moved to California, the South Bay Philharmonic (SBP), turned 10 years old this spring. Formerly known as the Hewlett-Packard Symphony, it is now an independent group, with a few members remaining from the old HP days. (I don’t work for HP, so I’m happy about the transition).

One of my favorite things about playing in the SBP is the opportunity to play chamber music at a high level. With SBP chamber music, I’ve explored classics of the repertoire including the Dvorak “American” viola Quintet and Schubert’s famous Cello Quintet and “Death and the Maiden” Quartet. For this concert, we tried something new, a movement from the Florence Price String Quartet in G.

florence-finalFlorence Price is not as well-known as Dvorak or Schubert. She was an African-American composer who lived in the first half of the 20th century. She passed away suddenly in 1953 and in the confusion surrounding her death, many of her manuscripts were lost, only to be rediscovered in 2009 in an abandoned house that had once been Price’s summer home.

I traveled to Sacramento in March to hear Er-Gene Kahng play Price’s violin concerto #2. I also talked with Kahng about the Price string quartets, and obtained the sheet music for the String Quartet in G. This recording is of the Second Movement, the Andante Moderato. Like the Dvorak quintet, it has two contrasting sections, in this case a lyrical opening and a jazzy middle. Like the concerto, it is sunnier than I expected, and the lyrical section evokes the beauty of the South.

 

The Brain—is wider than the Sky

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