Friday, May 30, 2008

Looking Ahead (Part II)

This is a continuation from a post I began several days ago.

I had discovered the concept of thinking ahead and was now noticing that multiple areas of my life to which I could apply the concept. My problem in all these areas was that I was waiting until the time in which I was to complete my task before I even began to think about how to go about completing it.

So, I came up with a plan.

What if I set aside time every day to outline some goals and to-do items for the following day. Would I save time if I made a schedule of all that I wanted to get done and then get into the specifics of each item? For example, what if I mapped out my day as follows:

7:30 - Get up and eat breakfast, get ready for the day.
8:30 - Reading and Writing.
9:30 - Piano Practice
10:30 - Gym
11:30 - Shower & Eat Lunch
12:30 - Work on Beethoven Analysis
3:00 - Get ready for work at 3:30

Wouldn't that do a great deal to help me accomplish a number of goals? - writing everyday, completing a certain number of books, practicing piano, getting in shape, working my way through analyzing the Beethoven Piano Sonatas.

What if I went further, and outlined goals for the time I've set aside, such as that which follows:

Writing - Finish two blog posts on topics A & B
Reading - Make it through 1 or 2 chapters of Book A
Piano Practice - Work just left hand of the Exposition and Recapitulation sections of Piece A
Gym - Do 3 sets of exercises A, B, C, & D.
Lunch - Prepare chicken (set out now to thaw)
Analysis - Analyze and write briefly about Beethoven Sonata A

Now, by going into each part of my day with a plan, I don't have to waste time deciding what I should do. But I've already thought ahead and am ready to complete the task by the time I am called upon to do it. To some this sounds incredibly detailed and petty. But when I got to college and began studying piano more seriously, I discovered that the progress was slow and steady. I couldn't cram for piano performances, but pieces needed time to mature and become polished. I was simply forced to become disciplined and methodical in order to accomplish my goals.

I truly believe that this is simply part of maturity. In things like preparing pieces for performance and writing books and analysis, gratification is delayed, and unless you prepare and plan for the slow and steady journey, you'll never achieve those large-scale things you dream of.

The problem is not that we can't achieve what we want. The problem lies within us. Will we discipline ourselves to responsibility in order to do those things we've set as our lives' goals?


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Looking Ahead (Part I)

Lately, I have been noticing a new concept that I have been living by though it has only just come to a conscious level in the past year or so. It's the concept of focusing ahead, keeping your eyes up and anticipating the future.

I kind of explored this idea through different outlets over the past few years, most recently with a trip to Colorado in which I learned, albeit poorly, to snowboard. Expecting a fairly steep learning curve, I decided to do all I could in preparation before actually arriving at the base of the mountain. One thing I read, which came to be very important to me, was the discipline of keeping your eyes up and on where you were going, not, as many beginners do, at your feet.

The more I did this, the more I progressed, and the more I thought about the general applications of this concept. And as I pondered it, I began to realize that I had been putting this concept into effect in many aspects of my life without necessarily making conscious note of it. When I worked at the local Borders Bookstore, closing the Cafe in the evenings, I would have to set my focus on what was to be completed by closing time. At a restaurant where I served, I would have to think ahead, anticipating guests needs and what I could get done along the way instead of meeting each immediate need, one at a time. In music, when sight-reading, I learned to force myself to look several measures ahead, taking in as much information as possible and giving my brain time to decode it by the time it came for me to play the notes in tempo. And in my performances on the piano, I was always endeavoring to keep a broader scope of the piece as I made my way through it, interpreting it and expressing an overall, polished effect.

So if this concept had been applied to these other areas, increasing my efficiency and productivity, could I apply this to my life and to my schedule? I had plenty of things in which I could be more disciplined and efficient. When I sit down to do homework, many times I become distracted and meander without accomplishing much. Or the days where I walk in and out of the gym, accomplishing very little in the span of an hour and a half. What about the times when, unmotivated, I sit in the practice room simply attempting to fill my practice time instead of actually making use of it. Or when I got home between classes to eat something quickly, only to find that all my options where either unhealthy or too time-intensive to prepare.

My problem in all these areas was that I was waiting until the time in which I was to complete my task before I even began to think about how to go about completing it.

So, I came up with a plan...

(To be continued.)


Monday, May 26, 2008

Beethoven's Op. 10

I just finished an overview on Beethoven's 3 Piano Sonatas in Opus 10. I figured I could use some sort of update on how I'm doing and how the whole Beethoven Piano Sonata project is evolving.

As it turns out, the 32 published sonatas make for quite the mountain of research. I'm almost at 40 pages single spaced in just research on these sonatas. I've almost made it to the halfway point, however, of what I'll call Phase I.

Phase I really just consists of completing a somewhat shallow overview of the first movements of all 32 sonatas. In this overview I look at how the movement conforms to Sonata-Allegro form (if at all) and examine tonal areas and the general harmonic movement from key to key especially within the development sections and the transitions to the secondary thematic material of the exposition and the recapitulation.

Beethoven's Opus 10 really provides an interesting and diverse set of pieces. The first sonata of Op. 10 is the C minor. It follows the typical "C minor mood" that Beethoven is known for in his other works of the same key (Symphony No. 5, Sonata "Pathetique", etc.). The themes are strikingly diverse from C minor to the secondary tonal area of E-flat Major. I find the transition here extremely interesting. Using tertiary movement, which is, as I am discovering, a very popular transitional method for Beethoven, he moves from C minor to A-flat major to F minor to D-flat Major to B-flat major which becomes the dominant of the secondary tonal area, E-flat major. The transition material is then re-harmonized slightly in the recap in order to stay in the same key of C, but alternating between the major and minor modes.

Op. 10, No. 2 is just as interesting. Simplistic and comic, it is quite the shift of mood from the C minor. Though it is fairly straight forward as far as Sonata-Allegro form goes (and even somewhat of a throwback for this particular time period), it is anything but trite or immature. In fact, the obvious compositional techniques are somewhat cliche for the time, to the point that it seems that Beethoven might be making fun of himself. The initial key is visited for only a brief moment before it moves to the transition to the secondary tonal area. This is done with a specific key movement technique that is really considered antiquated for the time, and it comes across as comic. I will delve into all of this with much more depth in a later post.

Op. 10, No. 3 is quite possibly the most complex and interesting in that the majority of the movement is derived from just a small motive from the first four notes. Beethoven also uses yet another varied method for the tonal transition to the secondary tonal area in the exposition, this time by using a completely new theme in a completely new key which moves us from the tonic of D major to the dominant A major. Adding one of the lengthiest codas of the first seven sonatas, Beethoven saves the subdominant tonal area for the end of the piece, something he only does a few times in his sonatas.


Friday, May 23, 2008

The Fallacy of Principles Above People

I was speaking with a friend the other day who was concerned about Christian culture and its affect on us to shroud who we are in secrecy, afraid that others might see us fall short of the standard. As we worked it out in conversation, I began to see a common thread running through the mentalities of many Christians, and that is the concept of "Principles Above People". The enduring Christian tradition is so deeply rooted in our Christian culture that in order to ensure its survival, we must not allow anyone to desecrate our holy Christian law. These rules, some Christians call them principles or standards, have been so elevated as to now have nothing to do with the purpose behind them: people.

When Jesus speaks in the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5, he is clear. Using several examples from the Mosaic law, Jesus points at the legalists' short-sightedness. Seeing only as far as the rules themselves, they were content to hate one another, as long as they didn't commit murder, tell lies and break promises, as long as they weren't breaking lawful oaths, or commit adultery in the heart, degrading with the mind, as long as they were kept physically pure. Pushing the external displays of piety aside, Jesus points to the purpose of it all: It's about the heart. What good is your physical purity if your intent has degraded marital union in your heart? Or if you keep the technical rules of a lawful oath, but intentionally mislead another? Do you think that you are holy by holding in a display of your hatred towards another? The truth is as Paul says in Romans 3. No one can live up to the law. No one can stand to principles. And so we hide behind masks, concealing ourselves though we commune with our very own family, brothers and sisters in Jesus.

But there is something more important than our principles. Yes, even more important than the topics of drugs, alcohol, extramarital sex, abortion, and gay marriage. Behind these issues are people. The very people who Jesus came to save. Not, I might add, the pious principle-clingers who thought they were well. One of them comes to Jesus in Luke 18. He is very wealthy and young, proudly stating that he has kept all the principles. Unimpressed Jesus says to him, why don't you go take your money and give it to people.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

New Beginnings

Today I was thinking of a few people in my life who have impressed me by some big decisions they're making. My sister, Kelsey, and my friend, Liz, will be leaving the country for some months to live elsewhere, Kelsey to Scotland for school in the Fall, and Liz to Chile to teach English in a week or so. I was thinking about how brave, yet rewarding it will be to take those risks. I wrote this in my notebook a few nights ago:

Liz left today. Headed to Tulsa, then to Chile. To her dream - her brave dream.
Would I ever leave this town, I might come close to a dream. But not here. The grass isn't green enough.
And Kelsey. Going to Scotland.
How brave.
What could I experience if I weren't so afraid? or lazy?
Every step is much too short. Small bites. Manageable, so I feel safe. And always slightly disappointed, I console myself - "It's temporary. Just a step on my way."
- "But someday. Right. right?"
When will I take the step that makes me fight for balance? - The bite that's too much to chew? I would, though slightly disappointed, console myself - "What an experience, though... I'll be alright. I'll be fine."


Monday, May 19, 2008

Tonal Movement through Development Sections

This was a topic that I came into by way of a lecture I heard in my undergrad by Dr. Steven Lubin. He had written a dissertation on the topic of how composers moved through tonal centers in the development sections of First-Movement Form of the Classical Era. He viewed the possibilities of keys as kind of a landscape, upon which the themes set out on their journey before arriving home in the recapitulation sections.
He began by drawing up a small diagram demonstrating a key (in this case, C) and its closely related keys. On either side of C (no flats and no sharps) are the two keys immediately next to it in the circle of Fifths - F (one flat) and G (one sharp). Above and below C are listed the tonic minor (c minor) and the relative minor (a minor). And above and below F and G are their respective tonic and relative minors. From here keys can be continually added on either side along with their respective tonic and relative minor keys. Finally, those keys can begin to repeat vertically as well in a sort of pattern.
Using this method, Dr. Lubin created a 3-Dimensional sort of globe upon which one could visually map-out the progression through tonal centers. I have, as an example, mapped out the tonal progression through the development section of Beethoven's Piano Sonata in E-Flat Major, Op. 31, No. 3. So here, we have Beethoven beginning in E-flat and immediately progressing through c minor, to C Major, to F Major, through b-flat minor and E-flat Major, going a little to far to A-flat Major before returning to the home key of E-flat.

This is exciting in that it gives me a way to do some visual analysis on these Beethoven Piano Sonatas.


Friday, May 16, 2008

The Hebbian Learning Rule

While reading The Science of Happiness by Stefan Klein, Ph.D., I came across a passage that I quoted in this post some time ago. I'll go ahead and re-quote that here.

Even if we're feeling huge anger or fear, it's to our advantage to bring our emotions under control. When we [do this], there's a two-fold effect on the brain. For one, we're less likely to react negatively to start with, because the connection between the stimulus and the emotional response to it is weakened. Second, we strengthen the ability to restrain such emotions, should they be released after all. ... Conscious control of the emotions has to be practiced. (p. 59)

This got me thinking a little bit about the application of visualization to this principle. I wonder if this emotional response could be practiced before we are called upon to cope in the moment. Would envisioning scenarios and practicing a response in either role-play or entirely within the imagination have a similar effect to actually experiencing a situation in which you'll actually need to employ self-control to prevent the further strengthening of the bond between stimulus and emotional response?

-Taylor Baldwin

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Two Cheese and Bacon Clafoutis

Decided to try to make a savory clafoutis this morning. It worked out quite nicely. Clafoutis was originally a French dessert made with cherries. Over time it has become a dessert made with all kinds of fruit. I first learned of clafoutis from this article by Mark Bittman of the New York Times. I decided that clafoutis were so simple, cheap, and somewhat healthy, I had to use it in a savory application. Since it is essentially a pancake batter poured over fruit, why not a savory breakfast application. This recipe makes for just one serving and includes cheese, bacon, and no sugar.

1 egg
6 Tbsp half & half
2 Tbsp ricotta cheese
1/4 cup flour
1 strip bacon
1/4 cup grated cheese
1 Tbsp chives

Adding them one at a time, whisk together the first three ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Next you'll want to slowly add the sifted flour and stop whisking once it's just incorporated - sifted and slowly so it doesn't clump up and just once incorporated so the batter doesn't stiffen. Add a pinch of pepper and salt (the bacon and cheese will also add some salt).
In a gratin dish or souffle dish (really any heavy-bottomed, oven-safe dish will work), spray some Pam and roll some flour around inside until it is all coated, then knock the the dish upside down against something to get any loose flour out. In the bottom of the gratin dish, evenly distribute cheese, bacon, and chives. Next, pour the batter slowly over the cheese, bacon, and chives, and bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes, or until set. It will be a fairly custard-y mixture, so you don't want it dry.

This thing is so good and so easy to make. This thing couldn't be more than a $1.50 to put together. If you want to get it even healthier, just do less cheese and cut the half & half with some milk. But if you have an hour to spare on Saturday morning, like I did today, it'll be well worth the time.

-Taylor Baldwin

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Mythological Effects of Venting

Over the last several years large-scale, organized pillow fights have been breaking out in cities around the globe - most notably those on World Pillow Fight Day. These events are obviously held in the spirit of good fun, but what about the commonly-held belief that venting aggression or other emotions brings about a sort of catharsis from such emotions? Is venting a healthy response to festering emotions?

In his book, The Science of Happiness, Stefan Klein doesn't seem to think so. Klein argues that emotion reactions establish themselves in the brain using the Hebbian Learning Rule.

Even if we're feeling huge anger or fear, it's to our advantage to bring our emotions under control. When we [do this], there's a two-fold effect on the brain. For one, we're less likely to react negatively to start with, because the connection between the stimulus and the emotional response to it is weakened. Second, we strengthen the ability to restrain such emotions, should they be released after all. ... Conscious control of the emotions has to be practiced. (p. 59)

This study, by Brad J. Bushman also seems to indicate that Catharsis theory really has no empirical foundation. Three groups were used to measure various responses to anger: Rumination (subjects spent time focusing on the person who made them angry), Distraction (subjects spent time distracting themselves from the person who made them angry), and the Control group (subjects waited in silence, doing nothing). Subjects in each group were also allowed to punch a punching bag for as long as they liked (venting).

They found that subjects who ruminated on the object of their anger actually showed increased levels of anger, while those who were distracted from the object of their anger, showed a decrease in anger. Also interesting is that those who were distracted from the object of their anger, but allowed to punch a punching bag while focusing on becoming physically fit, (distraction with venting) also showed an increase of anger. This seems to indicate that the mere act of aggressive behavior (punching the punching bag) increases anger without respect to the mental focus of the subject (be it on the object of anger or simply the goal of becoming physically fit).


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Fajita Bean Soup

Made up a soup this afternoon that turned out to be fairly healthy and tasty. (And easy on the wallet.)

1 or 2 package(s) of frozen peppers and onions thawed
1 or 2 can(s) of red beans
1 packet of fajita seasoning
4 or 5 cups of water
hot sauce, salt, pepper to taste
1/4 - 1/2 pint of half and half

Saute onions and peppers in butter on med heat 5 minutes.
Add beans and fajita seasoning, cook for a few minutes.
Add 4 or 5 cups of water and simmer for 30 minutes.
Check seasonings.
Take off heat and finish with half and half.

Seriously, this stuff is amazing. It's fairly cheap and healthy and makes at least 4 servings.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Formation of Behavioral Patterns & The Importance of Self-Control

I was reading this paper and found it particularly interesting in that it reminded me of my old step-dad and his anger issues (which he always received counseling for from the local church's pastoral staff).

Here's a short paragraph from page 2:

Cognitive neoassociation theory posits that aggressive thoughts are linked together in memory, thereby forming an associative network. Once an aggressive thought is processed or stimulated, activation spreads out along the network links and primes or activates associated thoughts as well. Not only are associated aggressive thoughts linked together in memory but thoughts are also linked along the same sort of associative lines to emotional reactions and action tendencies. Thus, the activation of aggressive thoughts can engender a complex of associations consisting of aggressive ideas, emotions related to violence, and the impetus for aggressive actions.

Wow. So, the fact that Steve's actions and emotions went unchecked to certain stimuli, his behavior became nearly uncontrollable, permeating his first two marriages and no doubt his current marriage as well. So, what I'm saying is that "giving it to God" might not have been exactly what he needed to hear in those counseling sessions.

It's too bad that he didn't receive the help he needed.

Makes me wonder, what behaviors am I priming myself to become compulsory? If as we become older, we lose more self-control in the sense that our actions are increasingly governed by the behavioral precedents we have set, then who am I setting myself up to be in 10 years?

God, that's unnerving,