Early December


A at his 14th birthday party. I was in anthropologist mode, listening to a complicated trivia game he made up for his partygoers to play.

The mornings lately start like this:


And get to this:


The Danish String Quartet is my current favorite group–they’re coming to Seattle in February!

The latest book I’ve read:¬†Radio Free Vermont by Bill McKibben is a short, fun, what-if scenario about seceding from the Union. It references Trump and Tillerson but shies away from any really hard-hitting commentary.

Last, incidental student poetry from the back board:

  1. Seattle-area students getting their grumbles in:


2. Seniors already chomping at the bit:


3. But very much still kiddos:


Three summer days

IMG-0970Antelope Island, UT. The littlest bison are prone to sudden scampers and the birdsong is glorious.

IMG-1076Hood Canal, WA on the Kitsap side. Early in the morning, I couldn’t see or hear another soul. Good place for walking and thinking.

IMG-1080Volunteer Park in Capitol Hill was a really lovely setting for the Seattle Chamber Music Society’s free concert; Borodin’s String Quintet in f minor with cellist Edward Arron was intense and lyrical.




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A’s 6th grade winter percussion performance. My favorite part of these Sakai music nights is when the teacher shows the audience how to create a specific rhythm in order to become part of the performance.

Humans like to percuss; clapping our hands, our homegrown schlagzeugs, is a “remarkably stable” cultural phenomenon.

Last week¬†Devotchka and the Seattle Symphony played to a sold-out, rapt audience that joined in whenever we could: during “The Clockwise Witness” there was a magical moment when the audience’s clockwork clapping melted into silence like we were one gorgeous and sensitive organism.

Lead singer Nick Urata cooly pours his heart out to an audience–in complete control and completely present. That’s irresistible. You can see some of his stage presence even in his KEXP studio recording. It reminds me of what Teller has said about the role of a teacher in generating love for the subject: create astonishment and romance.

Especially in their “Undone“, you can see one source of the magic: they understand dynamics. They know how to shape every phrase.

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It’s a rainy Saturday: perfect for playing along with Devotchka (I’m making some awful sounds but it’s awfully fun).


Reflection, 2nd quarter

When 2 of every 3 papers I have to write are “Reflection” assignments, the very word reflection has taken on a loathsome tinge. A case of familiarity breeding contempt? Perhaps. Nonetheless, I find an inquiry into the etymology of the word to be useful. Reflection comes from the Latin root reflexionem, to flex. To bend backward. To stretch. So, to stretch again.

On the MIT program: I’m feeling significantly less stress re: keeping up with readings and writing the papers this quarter. I’ve acclimated to the demands, and also figured out how long it takes me to get through readings and draft papers. Basically, it takes me 1-3 minutes to read and annotate one page of academic text, and it takes me two hours to write one polished page.

On living a balanced life:
I just heard “A Good Heart”, a new song from Cowboy Junkies that I am absolutely in love with. I want to do a version of this with extended cello and piano. Someday?

On downtime and breathing space: 3 energetic kids, a continual bubbling stream of houseguests, the nature of my program, and significant commuting time all provide lots of opportunities for me to practice being zen.

Mirror neurons, Joshua Roman, and kinesthetic learners

I’ve been thinking about mirror neurons since I attended PNB’s All Balanchine performance in April. Why does the lissome grace of trained dancers affect me so much? Why does it make me feel elated and inspired and alive? While the straightforward reflecting action of mirror neurons is disputed, there definitely is cognitive resonance going on, with one discipline influencing another.

That brings me to last night’s sublime performance: cellist Joshua Roman performing with pianist Helen Huang last night at Seattle’s Town Hall. He was expressive , playful, intent, brilliant, and a comfortable public speaker. I’m just mesmerized by the kid. I loved seeing him play in a smaller venue; I loved that it was true chamber music, unmiked, and that the composer of a lengthy piece was present.

Also, the fact that I hoofed it up First Hill at a pretty fast clip just before the performance probably added to my appreciation of the music. (We learned something last night. When your ferry has been delayed and you’re trying to get to a concert on time, you can plan to take a cab from the ferry terminal. If you’re short on cash, there is an ATM on the ferry boat. Once you’re off the boat, walk down to Alaskan Way, where there are always waiting cabs. Except on a night when there’s also a Sounders game. Then there are no cabs to be had or hailed for the entire 10-block-walk to Town Hall.)

And all of the above leads me to this: on Tuesday, I went to my lovely professor’s house for the last class of the quarter. There, she gave us a personality assessment that correlates with multiple intelligences and the kind of learners we are. So since then, I’ve been thinking about kinesthetic learners. This test (based on the work of Howard Gardner) showed that I am only partially inclined to be a verbal and visual learner, while I am completely, 100% likely to learn through kinesthetic means.

What does this mean? On one hand, it means that when B. is showing me something on the computer, I tell him: Don’t show me– Let me do it. Walk me through it. It explains why I am tied to pen and paper for note-taking. It helps to explain why I need to print out journal articles and physically annotate them to really process them, rather than use a computerized note-taking program.

It also explains why I do my best thinking while walking, why I’m willing to do pilates early in the morning, why I feel mentally sluggish if I have been sitting for an hour in class, and why I am so interested in physical classroom design.

On the other hand, what does it mean in terms of language arts and academics: deriving meaning from a written text? This is a great mystery to me. Right now, I’m inclined to head in an interdisciplinary direction and bring in theatre, dance, etc. into my classroom.

I should mention that the widespread acceptance of multiple intelligences and learning styles does not mean that there is a clear best-practices way to teach to these multiple learning styles in a diverse classroom. The 2009 Association for Psychological Science critique raises the point that students would need to be grouped by learning style and taught to their strength to derive consistent benefit from any learning-style teaching approach.

Bee Eaters on B.I.

The Bee Eaters‘ concert last night at the BPA was an extraordinary experience. The four-person band (banjo, hammered dulcimer, cello, fiddle) played to a full and enthusiastic house, and since they return to Bainbridge regularly, I’m already looking forward to hearing them again.

Simon tunes his hammered dulcimer before the show. He plays with such grace and precision, he becomes a dancer at the dulcimer.

They play around with enough dissonance to give their sound a new-music edge, while being firmly grounded in traditional American/Appalacian roots.

Seattle Symphony with Joshua Roman

Or in other words, my best birthday present ever.

The program itself was music from a century ago; beautiful and very much to my liking: Hindemith for strings and brass, Bloch’s Schelomo, and then Franck’s Symphony in D minor.

Joshua struck me as a very self-possessed sprite on stage. I love the way he cradles his cello between his knees and rocks it as he plays, conveying an utter oneness with the music. He is physical and restrained at the same time.

Schelomo, the Hebraic rhapsody, is supposed to convey the themes of Ecclesiastes–a quite dark book of scripture–with the cello being Solomon’s voice. Joshua’s performance was deeply compelling, enveloping, sonorous and enchanting.

Clapping until my hands hurt, he walked out again and again and finally sat down for an encore. And guess what he played?

Johann Sebastian Bach’s Minuets in G major, the very same pieces I immediately loved and the ones I began learning earlier this week.

The only thing that made the evening better was the great kindness of a couple in the lobby during intermission–they had to leave early, and gave us their box seat tickets. So we enjoyed the Franck symphony close enough to see every expression on Gerard Schwarz’s face.