Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Another issue I've been struggling with is a really nice piece called Painted Desert by Anne McGinty. We've been working on it since September, and I am pretty comfortable with my fingering and bowing and lately even with my timing. Being the sole cello (sometimes another cello shows up, usually not), in one or two places, I'm the only person playing, so I've started worrying about my "sound". There are eight or nine bars where it goes from a downbow dotted half note B on the g-string to an upbow quarter note F# on the d-string. Back and forth, back and forth. For whatever reason, this B and F# combination sounds pretty lousy on my cello (no ringing tones, for sure). That upbow F# really screeches as I try to recover enough room on the bow to play the next long downbow B. I tried every trick I know, even reversing the bowing - actually this gave me the cleanest tones. It's interesting that I don't have any problem with how this sounds on my electrocello.
My teacher suggested that I bow that long dotted half note B slowly right at the fingerboard using just the upper third of my bow, then the upbow F# should be played softly, using just the side of the bow - lightly, still at the fingerboard. After trying it for a while, it began to sound pretty good.
We played through some of the pieces for our upcoming students' recital. I'll be playing some of the harmony parts and some of the bass parts. So, I've got a little work to do...
We played Bach's March in G. For some reason my inner demon (Self 1) wouldn't let me play this one properly (the small shift at measure 22 and the eighth note runs before and after it). Lesson anxiety, I guess.
We talked more about my timing/rhythm challenges (I generally tend to speed up my eighth notes, and cut short the half and dotted half notes). My teacher suggested that I work on this by playing through each piece with separate eighth notes (for each quarter note, play two eighths, and four for each half, etc.) Playing it near tempo forces me to pay careful attention to the full value of each note. Then, when I go back to playing it normally, I should be more attentive to the full value of these longer notes. I like this, I think it will help.
Finally, she asked if I was ready (!) to start on the last piece in Book 2, G.F. Handel's Bourree. Yay! another new piece! It's always so fun to begin the next piece. She talked about how it was organized and pointed out several teaching points. We discussed the shifts and some bowing particulars.
That's exactly what I need to learn to do. If only it weren't these two particular non-ringing tones... That upbow F# sounds so raw that I'd been trying to make it sound even quieter than the B (my teacher suggested that was actually part of my problem).
I sure have missed your blog these past few months...
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Saturday, February 24, 2007
Time and Temperature
The upside is - the days are sunny and intensely crystalline blue with fantastic sunrises and sunsets, and the nights are sparkling clear. Probably, hopefully, maybe, this is our last cold snap of the winter. Sure, we're bound to get more snow, and breakup doesn't even start for another six weeks, but the days are rapidly getting longer and longer.
In two weeks we start daylight savings time. A lot of people up here grouse about the change every year. Since our summers are filled with long days, why bother, they say. There's even a petition drive underway to put it on the ballot. Me? I love the long sunny evenings. The sooner that starts each year, the better.
Why do we pronounce February as FEB YOU WAR EE instead of FEB ROO AIR EE?
Why do we pronounce Wednesday as WENS DAY instead of WED NES DAY?
Also, where did you take/get those delightful photos? What animal is following the turtle, and how did they strike up a friendship?
The baby hippo is an orphan that was placed in the turtle's enclosure (somewhere in Africa, if I recall correctly) in the hopes that it would find some comfort. Clearly it has. I've posted several pictures of these two guys over the past year. Some of the pictures show the hippo somewhat older (and larger) still following the turtle around like a puppy.
My son and I are always looking for hippo pictures, I don't recall exactly where these came from - most have been posted as Yahoo news photos at one time or another.
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Thursday, February 22, 2007
So, I'm in this daily routine that I guess I follow more out of habit than necessity. A coping mechanism, I suppose, to deal with the stifling winters. The only scheduled things that I have to deal with are my (week)daily trudge on the treadmill from 5:30 to 6:00, getting Z off to school at 6:30, and being around when Z returns from school at 3:30. I also spend 2 to 3 hours each morning playing my cello. The rest of my day is more or less optional - sort of. For the last four or five months, I've spent a couple hours a day doing a little con$ulting work. The rest of my time dissipates into various household chores and web surfing. Lately, that means reading and commenting on way too many blogs, editing my own, monitoring the CelloChat and the CelloHeaven forums, and (less often lately) surfing some of the online news - for whatever reason, the news isn't as interesting to me as it used to be. Burnout, I guess.
Yet, the day time quickly passes. Before I know it, the back door slams open and the dog comes tearing across the room heading for her pillow after sitting out at the top of the drive all afternoon waiting for Z to get home. The cat, who waits by the door for the dog to come in, flies along right behind her trying to grab onto an ear or a leg. Then they wrestle briefly (the cat attacks, the dog suffers patiently), before they return to napping. After dinner, the evenings pass rapidly with homework support, some TV, and blogging.
Another facet of my routine-OCD is that if I don't get started on my cello by 8:00 am at the latest, I can't seem to get going smoothly. It's all in my head, I think, but nothing seems to click. My fingers just don't seem to want to cooperate; they miss lots of notes. The last two days, for a bunch of reasons, I didn't get started playing until much later - almost 10:00 today, and it just didn't work. Finally, my brain sizzles, and frustrated, I put it away after just an hour. Yet on weekends, I can start much later and do fine. It seems to be a only weekday thing.
Recently I've read some discussions in a few blogs and the forums about cello students and memorizing. Of course playing from memory is ultimately a good thing, but for some reason as a beginner I feel guilty about it. I've always had a good memory; in fact when I was a wage-slave, it was a useful asset. With music, I usually have a new piece committed to memory long before I can play it halfway decently. The problem is, once it's memorized, I have trouble watching the music anymore while I play. I see the notes in my head. Not exactly what's on the page, but something a little more complex. My mental picture of each measure includes the actual staff and notes, along with the "feel" of the fingering and bowings (lately my bowing image has started to include a sense of the dynamics). But why do I feel guilty about it? Last week, I tried starting some of my older pieces at random measures, playing 5 or 7 in a row, and then quickly switching to somewhere else in the piece. That has forced me to start watching the music again and think about the relationships between the measures as I play.
On a general level, though I feel deadlocked. One day's cello practice seems the same (or even worse) than the day before. I haven't felt as if I'd made any progress for some time now. I know that this sort of blockage usually precedes a breakthrough... Looking back through my blog archives, I've started to notice a pattern, here. It seems to come at the same point in each new piece. I know the notes, now. I know the fingering. I have the rhythms. I've played all the tricky passages over and over. Yet it isn't all coming together yet. It all feels disorganized, still (and sounds pretty lousy). I know from past experience I'll get past this and it will come together; so, I'm waiting...
Thanks for the comment :) It's nice to hear from someone new!
As for practicing cello, what I have experienced is often there are these moments of frustration but you just gotta hack away at this obstacle. In the end, you'll find you really really improved A LOT. Of course, you have to make sure the basics are there.
Please allow me to go off tangent... Would you care to participate in a little project of mine? Details in the following URL:
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Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Since I practice each morning right beside his cage, he's had to listen to me several hours a day for most of his life (poor guy). The other day, as I was playing the last half of "The Two Grenadiers" - the part where it morphs into a version of the French National Anthem - I noticed the pig was watching me and quietly chirruping. Not in tune, or anything. But he more or less stopped when I stopped playing and started again when I started. Since then, I've been watching him during several other passages, but he only sings along to these 20 or so measures of this one song.
Gusdog hides under a chair when I practise. Not sure what to think of that!
Actually, the piece changes abruptly from g-minor to G-Major at this point. Maybe he's picking up on that change of mood?
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Friday, February 16, 2007
Many more cello blogs
A few are relatively new, but some have been around for quite a while. I don't understand why these didn't pop up on several previous searches.
Some observations about the cello-blogging community:
- A lot of the blogs are fully cello-centered, like mine, or at least musically oriented.
- Many of these cello-centered bloggers are relatively late starters, like me.
- Many are by high school or college students.
- Some of the blogs are by teachers.
- A few of the blogs are by touring professionals.
- Quite a few of these blogs aren't about cellos at all, and seldom mention them. But once I confirmed they were written by cellists, I added them to the list.
Essentially there are no common threads other than the fact that all of us in this list are bloggers who play (or try to play) the cello. It is quite an interesting community.
Emily's blog is so well written isn't it? She's got quite a way with words.
I've found quite a few blogs that don't really focus on cello (if at all) that have ensnared me, and I look forward to each update - much like a soap opera fan. :)
I finally gave in and registered, though. I figured if the blog was worth reading, and worth commenting on, I may as well take that extra step. I don't imagine I'll get too much junk mail from the violin website at least ...
Unfortunately Google Reader doesn't ordinarily include comments, unless the blog is specifically setup that way. And Blogger doesn't offer that option. So, I frequently do check in on my favorite sites to follow the comments.
What about blogs in other language than English, German, and Dutch(as far as I've noticed)? French, Italian, Mongolian, Malagasy, alienish................
I've found all of these through Google searches using words such as cello or cellist, etc. (hmm, I haven't searched for violoncello yet...) So, these are the only ones, so far, that have these key words. I have found one in spanish. But usually, I try to read through the blogs enough to be sure they are written by cellists (rather than someone just mentioning a cello recital they attended, or something like that).
I wouldn't be surprised that there are many other cellists blogging in other languages, I just haven't run across them yet. Have you?
I picked up cello in the Chinese Orchestra (the cello replaced a different Chinese instrument that is too fragile/expensive).
Although my blog doesn't really revolve around the cello, thanks for linking me. It's nice to meet people who share an interest in this wonderful instrument.
the cello repalce it mostly because there are now few technicians that are able to make such instrument. I was informed that the cello's sond quality really resembles to that very instrument, and the cello has a wider range and some other advantages.
I just come up with an idea. Why not recruit some volunteers who speaks other langues to help searching. Just an idle idea.
Good idea. You appear to know more than one language. Would you be interested in doing this search?
Send me a note to my CelloHeaven mailbox if you want to talk about this.
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Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Thanks to Gottagopractice:
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
After all that is said and done, I've decided to return them both. I'm not ready to spend so much money on a bow, yet. Maybe in the fall or for christmas... My newly rehaired bow will be back next week.
Continuing the saga of Friday's cello checkup: several people at last night's orchestra rehearsal commented that my cello sounded much different - better. Deeper, richer, not as bright. My teacher said the same thing. The Dominant c-string and g-string seem to make a huge difference, affecting even the sound from the Larsen a-string and d-string.
OK, I'm happy.
We started out on the Ashokan Farewell, from my orchestra set, playing it through pizzicato, working on some of the rhythms. She suggested I still not use the bow yet on the second section, but to continue with the pizzicato, while counting aloud. Then we moved onto Gossec's Gavotte. We played it slowly, and I did rather well on it. No real issues to work on, other than increasing the tempo, g-r-a-d-u-a-l-l-y. After each tempo increase, work on getting it fully before increasing again. I know this process works, but it is so darn hard not to give in and scream through it as fast as I can, mistakes and all.
We played a few other pieces from the earlier part of the book and then talked about the group recital at the end of March. We won't be doing the LeClerc duet after all, there's not enough time with all the other pieces in the set (this recital will include all the Suzuki Violins, Cellos, and Violas in Homer - quite a crowd!) We picked out some new fiddle tunes to work on. She will email them for me to study.
All of a sudden the hour was up.
My new cushion-in-a-bag worked well. It sure was nice not to have to drag around that folding stool.
Sunday, February 11, 2007
It could be the bow(s); it could be the new c-string and g-string; it could be the new wolf eliminator; it could be the adjustments to the tailpiece and soundpost. Whatever, Friday's trip to the luthier sure has made a difference.
The new c-string sounds really warm and mellow. Not as loud, but nowhere near as harsh and gravelly as the Pirastro Flexocore (nor the Evah Pirastri before that). I spent a lot of time today working with these new clean low tones.
The new wolf eliminator is clipped between the g-string and the d-string, but it was a little loose on the g-string, making it buzz a little. A slight adjustment to the clip with pliers took care of that. The wolf appears to be completely tamed. I looked all over for it but couldn't find it anywhere. The Bice eliminator I'd been using had just moved it around, depending where I adjusted the eliminator.
The new g-string, after I resolved the buzzing, is nice. I'm still not 100% happy with the open G, but that twanging effect I'd been fussing over is now much muted.
I noticed a big improvement with the Larsen d-string (which was not changed out). The weird booming effect on the open D is gone, as are the scratchy notes just above it. The Larsen a-string is about the same. All in all the strings seem well balanced.
As I played scales and did some shifting drills for the first two hours today, I swapped back and forth between the two trial bows every few minutes, repeating the same actions so I could listen for any differences. I made sure to set the same tension on each bow. Both bows sound so much cleaner than my old one. They are slightly lighter too - just a gram or so. String crossings seem to be easier and cleaner - I was able to flick the bow to the adjacent string with less drag on the string I was leaving. I found I liked the wooden bow a little better than the carbon-fiber bow (yesterday's brief practice left me favoring the carbon-fiber over the wood). It seems to draw the sounds more smoothly from the strings. But there really only a slight difference between the two.
I spent another hour working on my latest pieces and my orchestra pieces. Initially I found myself rushing through the Gavotte by Gossec, making a lot of errors. I stopped, took a break, slowed down the metronome a bit, and then slowly started over, playing each eighth note as a whole beat, working through the piece section by section. Progress. Now if only I do it this way again tomorrow.
All of this is so subjective... Tomorrow, I'm going to try to see if there is any actual measurable difference. I'll use Audacity to record each bow on the same pieces and then examine the waveforms to see if there is any difference.
I found two more cellist bloggers, Yarr. Lisar and Today, I saw my very last parrot, through links from other blogging cellists. My sidebar total now is 51 cello-playing bloggers.
Saturday, February 10, 2007
I showed him my concerns - primarily the twang in the open g-string. First, the luthier carefully inspected my cello, every part - down to the metal caps on the end of the peg keys. No cracks; no open seams; no physical defects; the bass bar was secure; the soundpost intact. My humidifier and dampits seem to be working. He tried it out with and without the wolf-eliminator I'd had on the g-string. He made a slight adjustment to the bottom of the soundpost. He unstrung it and shortened the "gut" holding the tailpiece, with the intent of increasing the string lengths between the bridge and tailpiece. Then he restrung it and we tried it out again. I noticed a little improvement change, but nothing significant. Then we talked about strings. I had Pirastri Flexocores on the c and g, with Larsens on the d and a. He suggested my overtone issues could be due in part to the metal cores of the strings. He put some Thomastik Dominants, which are synthetic cores, on the c and g. There was a definite difference. Not as bright on the low end, but it "felt" a little richer. Then he put on a different type of wolf-eliminator that clips across the g and d strings.
I left my bow for rehairing. He commented that I've been using too much rosin. Finally, I checked out two bows for trial. Both are "house" brands, one is carbon fiber. They are a just a shade lighter than my current bow but nicely balanced. They both feel very comfortable. After just a little bit of playing (last night in the motel, pianissimo), I'm leaning towards the carbon fiber bow - and not just because it's a little cheaper. I've got a week to try them out. I'll discuss them with my teacher at Tuesday's lesson.
So, was it worth it? I haven't had a chance yet to break in the strings nor try it out in my living room. We'll see about that in the morning.
Thursday, February 08, 2007
After reading Maricello's latest entry on her interesting new blog, Cello Centered, I started thinking again about learning new music and then working up to playing it at tempo. From the very beginning, that has been my biggest hurdle. Long before my fingers even knew where to go, I was pushing the tempo, zipping through the easy parts OK enough, and then bashing through the mistakes assuming I'd improve these after a while. Eventually, I started listening to others (my teacher foremost) telling me to play these tough parts s-l-o-w-l-y until I could play them right. Then add it back in the whole piece, s-l-o-w-l-y, until it all worked OK. And only then should I start increasing the tempo. While I still fall off the wagon once in a while and rush through pieces I have no business playing at or near their real tempo (maybe I need to go into music rehab), I usually catch myself and force myself to slow down and work on it the right way.
Now for my lame attempt at a review of last night's Winter Concert of the Sitka Summer Music Festival - sponsored by our Performing Arts Society: Pianist Doris Stevenson played Chopin's Ballade in G Minor, Op. 23 with such intensity and clear enjoyment, the audience was captivated. She also played two pieces by Shostakovich, Prelude and Fugue in A Major, Op. 87 and Prelude and Fugue in F-sharp Minor, Op. 87. I'd not heard either of these before. The F-sharp Minor piece was remarkable. Now I have to go back and re-listen to my Shosty recordings. Doris' mastery of the piano was evident and her performance was outstanding.
A fantastic evening, I could have been happy with just that, except I was eagerly anticipating Armen Ksajikian's presentation of Richard Strauss' Cello Sonata No 6, with Doris accompanying him on the piano. A big guy, his cello looked so tiny in his hands when he came out. In a nod to a snowy evening his cello wore a small knit cap over the scroll. The pegs were unusual, there were no external mechanisms; I guess he uses something like a skate key to tighten the strings. Considering that he held his cello so close to his face as he played, I could understand why he didn't want the pegs sticking out. He quickly showed that he could make it sing. The enthusiastic deep rich tones of his opening Allegro seemed to capture the attention of the audience which he then held onto throughout. I'd not heard this particular concerto before and it was such a pleasure to first hear it live. I tried to watch his bow hold and bowing techniques (made difficult because he was seated facing me with the music stand blocking my view of his bowing area.)
In the final piece, Doris, Armen and Paul Rosenthal teamed up to play Brahms' Piano Trio in C Minor, Op. 101. Sadly, although a few of us tried our best, the audience's applause did not linger long enough to earn an encore. I've complained too often about the size of audiences for these kind of performances, but on the good side, the smaller audience allowed us to experience a more relaxed, intimate concert. No stage or curtains to separate the performers from the audience; I sat less than five feet away from the cellist.
Tomorrow I take my cello to Anchorage for a checkup. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the luthier will be able to sort out that twangy open g-string.
Your metronome work is inspiring too!
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Wednesday, February 07, 2007
A few things
Then one of the second violins quietly commented to my stand partner that she was playing sharp and needed to move her left hand upwards a bit on the fingerboard. After that it went well, and we sounded pretty good together. How strange, though, that I was convinced it was me (ah, that wretched inner critic)! Why couldn't I hear my own playing as OK and my stand partner's as being sharp?
A few weeks ago I ordered the whoopee cushion (er, exercise cushion ) that Gottagopractice had described. I had to inflate it more to give me the added height I need, but it works great. So, I asked Y if she had a spare cloth bag I could carry it in for lessons and rehearsals. Three days later, here's what I got back:
The cushion is inside the bag, behind a flap, so it won't fall out. One side of the bag has a rubberized covering so it won't slip on the chair. There's a deep pocket for my music, and there's a smaller outside pocket. I can carry everything I need for a lesson or orchestra in it and then just set the bag rubberized side down on any chair to play. It adds about 4 inches to my seated height. Now I don't have to hassle with that folding stool when I go out for lessons or rehearsals! (Also, now I won't have to deal with comments about whoopee cushions...)
Tonight I'm off to see a concert by noted Anchorage violinist Paul Rosenthal, with cellist Armen Ksajikian and pianist Doris Stevenson. Each year Rosenthal presents a winter concert with some musicians from the Sitka Summer Music Festival. A great way to brighten up a dull February. I'm thinking about "persuading" Z to come with me. He won't go if I don't pressure him a bit, although he always seems to enjoy them when I do get him to come.
I've added a few more blogging cellists to my sidebar (15 People and Cello Centered) which I found from Gottagopractice's reader. For clarity, I included my blog in the list. Now there are 49 of us.
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
Often, I have to actually take a break in order to transition from the warmup exercises to the actual playing. Sometimes, though I just reach over and turn on my metronome, and that does the trick.
Once I do start working on my regular pieces (I've been randomly playing from the Suzuki 1 and 2 books), they've been going really well, and time evaporates, especially as I start working on my more recent challenges.
I guess you can tell that I'm really enjoying my cello lately.
Last night at Orchestra, my focused work on the tough sections this past week paid off. My issues are no longer fingerings or bowings, my problems now are fitting my parts into the group as a whole - in other words timing and rhythms. Fortunately, the conductor has been extremely patient with me :) I still have to work out Ashokan Farewell. I'm just playing it pizzicato at very slow tempos, with steady progress.
The days are quickly getting longer (8 hrs. 23 min. today); gaining at a rate of 5 minutes a day. We've had about two weeks of beautiful clear sunny days and starry nights. This run of sunny skies started out with the temperatures in the 40s - even at night! In January! Each day, the temperatures have gradually decreased. Now we're seeing overnight temps around zero with daytime highs in the low 20s. But I can't complain. It is still winter. At least the sun is out...
Sunday, February 04, 2007
More Blog Widgets
Here's how it works if you use Google Reader: [EDIT: see the description by Gottagopractice in the comments at the end of this post for setting up your Reader widget so it works automatically.]
Onto my other new widget: I stumbled across this one via a NextBlog "random" link.
Not that long ago, it became obvious to me that my ISP identity is carried along wherever I browse, and that my presence on any site can be tracked as far back as my DSL node (i.e., my neighborhood). That explained why sometimes I'd get adverts embedded into my Yahoo page telling me that hot girls in Soldotna want to date me, or more recently, that a certain realtor in Anchorage wants to sell my land for me.
Anyway, this new widget is a map of the world with little pins indicating the location of each visitor to my blog. It's called World Visitor Map. My map is on the bottom of my blog screen (it's too wide to fit into my sidebar and I didn't want to put it at the top). Scroll down and take a look. Since the map embedded in my blog only updates once a day, it isn't really current, but clicking the link takes you to a current (and enlarged) map with all the recent pins of visitors to this blog. Visitors from North and South America, Europe, Asia, so far. This links with Google's map feature, so I can zoom into the actual street-corner of the DSL or cable node. For example, one viewer tracks back to a node in Manhattan on 5th Ave, between W34th and W35th (Hi!); another one tracks back to the Bronx Zoo (Hi!); a third tracks to what looks like a school (in Google satellite viewer) in New Braunfels, Texas (Hi!); and one more (I know this is getting tedious) is located at S. Hoover at S. Alvarado in L.A. (Hi!) This thing is quite new and still a little buggy, but what a cool feature! Who knew?
Now, about the cello:
At my last lesson, my teacher told me to imagine my bow hand using a paint brush, allowing the wrist to flex "down" on the downbow stroke and "up" with the upbow stroke. She told me to practice this on long full bowings on open strings. But I shouldn't obsess about it at the cost of anything else, just work on it for a dedicated period of time each day. Wow, what a noticeable improvement in my sound! It's still not coming naturally - only when I focus on it, but as Erin pointed out some time ago, the trick is to practice it enough that you no longer have to consciously think about doing it. Even the squeaky-slips on my open G seem to be diminished. Whatever the cause, I've been really pleased with the quality of the sounds from my cello, lately.
I'm making steady progress on the "Gavotte"; working on the practice points section by section, and I'm just about ready to put it all together. The piece is marked Allegreto and is in cut time. The Suzuki CD cut for this one flies by so fast that it's almost impossible for me to clearly hear the individual notes (yet). I've ripped the track to my Windows Media Player and started playing it at half-speed but it's still fast as heck!
I've been focusing, also, on the new pieces for orchestra. Most are pretty basic, the biggest challenge is counting rests, and not playing too fast :( I'm still struggling with "Ashokan Farewell", working on just playing it pizzicato, for now, with a little progress.
Y made a scrubby from nylon netting we picked up from JoAnn's. It took about 15 minutes to crochet the netting into a hollow ball about 3 inches in diameter. I used it to clean the accumulated rosin from my strings. It really works great! Just a few strokes do it. This came from Andrew Victor, posted on Cello Chat.
I did see that West Africa pin this morning; does this mean I'll be getting another one of those "you have just inherited..." emails?
BTW, I just re-read how you are sharing your GR posts. I have mine set up to share an entire "folder, category, or tag", so that whenever anyone who's blog I have tagged with that category posts it is automatically shared. If you don't want your level of fine control, plus the necessity of pre-reading before updating, this is how you do that:
1) Click manage subscriptions
2) assign a tag to all the blogs you want to share
3) Click Tags tab
4) Change the desired tag to Public
5) Design your widget using "add a clip to your site"
Also, make sure your first name is Guanaco in your google/gmail profile. As best I can tell, there is no way to keep this variety of the widget from using that first name on the more... pages.
I still can't make it fit in my sidebar - when I try to insert it there (I don't use BlogBeta's Layout), it spreads the box all the way across the page. I spent way too much time trying to sort it out and gave up. I'll leave it on top for now.
It may also clean up a few things about your blog you don't realize are problems. For instance, in my browser there is a huge break in your sidebar entries after Other Blogging Musicians. Everything else is below all of the displayed posts, so I never see them at all. And it makes it much easier to move things around on the page. The sidebar is a bunch of moveable, stacked widgets instead of one monolothic piece of code.
YMMV, but my switch went smoothly and I really like the new features.
Considering I spent two hours this morning getting nowhere with that widget, I could have done the changeover, instead. I guess I will play around with it.
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Thursday, February 01, 2007
Staring at a blank screen
I'm coming off a long project which started out to be interesting enough, but in the end I was just slogging away until it was done. The money will be good, so it's been worth it. But, somehow, I feel intellectually drained. Not that the work was that challenging, but it's as if I only had so much room in my head, and it was all used up by the project. It must be that, or senility.
Z has had a bit of difficulty with Algebra lately, so I spent some time last weekend working with him on it. I thought I'd start by skimming through the chapter in his text book. Not a good idea. For many, many pages, I just couldn't figure out what it was trying to teach. The text started out with a lame little story about "Juan" helping his mother sell potatoes from their garden in the market on Saturdays... ? Huh? What does this have to do with equations of lines? Why does he need to learn about the cultural differences north and south of the border and the unequal standards of living, etc. IN HIGH-SCHOOL ALGEBRA? There were pictures! Of Juan and his mother. Lots of them. Doesn't the mass media shove enough of these stories down our throats in the nightly newsertainment programs?
After raging about this for 15 minutes or so, I vowed to look beyond the illogically placed sociology and try to identify the specific terminology and definitions that were relevant to linear equations. After reading through pages and pages of vaguely worded half-cocked questions (why, do you suppose....?) with no answers, I finally stumbled across a few paragraphs buried in the middle of one page, (finally!) with some clear definitions. I was tempted to pull out a marker and circle that section - so far it was the only real math I'd seen. Then the text again wandered off into Oz with more bizarre examples. Finally, I realized that the stream of consciousness had morphed into a new variation on linear equations, but it took a long time before I could figure out what the heck they were trying to show... once again, eventually there were a few paragraphs of real math again and finally some examples.
If I were a 14 year-old student taking this for the first time I'd have crawled out of my skull and died from sheer boredom long before that first page of definitions. How the heck can you go back and study this kind of garbage in preparation for an exam?
I took Advanced Algebra when I was in the ninth grade (1964/1965). My class was the first guinea pig(s) in our city's school system for a new concept in math (we called it "new math") called the SMSG (School Mathematics Study Group). It was so experimental that the textbooks were published in yellow paperback. (I still have all of these for some reason.) Not a single picture in the whole book. Nor any stories. Nor any annoying (unanswered) leading questions. Just pure math. Still I remember my Dad complaining about it. He even suggested I transfer to the regular algebra class. But I actually liked math - it was one of my best subjects all the way through my second year of calculus in college. Here's what Wikipedia says about the SMSG project:
The School Mathematics Study Group (SMSG) was an academic think tank focused on the subject of reform in mathematics education. Directed by Edward G. Begle and financed by the National Science Foundation, the group was created in the wake of the Sputnik crisis in 1958 and tasked with creating and implementing mathematics curricula for primary and secondary education, which it did until its termination in 1977. The efforts of the SMSG yielded a reform in mathematics education known as new math which was promulgated in a series of reports, which culminated in a series published by Random House called the New Mathematical Library. In the early years SMSG also rushed out a set of draft textbooks in typewritten paperback format for elementary and middle school students.Here's the first part of the SMSG Algebra course description from JSTOR: MATHEMATICAL EDUCATION NOTES Edited by John A. Brown, University of Delaware.The American Mathematical Monthly, Vol. 68, No. 3 (Mar., 1961), pp. 283-285:
Grade 9. The SMSG ninth grade course, First Course in Algebra, differs from conventional texts in the following ways. It is based upon structure properties of the real number system. This development of algebra is interesting, meaningful, and mathematically sound. It helps bring out the nature of mathematics and strengthens the student's algebraic techniques by relating them to basic ideas. Definitions and properties...Well, I guess I can see why my Dad wasn't too enthusiastic about SMSG after all. As it happens, by 1975, the SMSG approach to mathematics instruction was pretty much abandoned as an abject failure. While the mathematics was sound, the terminology they used and the abysmally poor writing doomed it from the beginning. What victim of SMSG doesn't remember "set theory" (chapter 1, page 1 in every book). [Maybe I was lucky, or had really good teachers, but I thrived on newmath. And, I did become adept at reading and interpreting "Newspeak".]
So, for all my ranting and raving about Z's textbook I guess I really don't have that much room to complain. Anyway, after a while, I finally got through that chapter without my blood boiling too much more and was able to then sit down with Z and sort out what his issues were and help him work his way through them.
Still, what has happened to text book writing today? Why do authors feel compelled to shove social inequity into a mathematics text book? Why would any reputable publisher present it to our school systems with a straight face? For that matter, why would any school system (they've got to be using committees) seriously consider buying this kind of math textbook? Will we have to wait for three or four years when our school board faces a crisis of drastically lowered math achievement test scores before they'll do something? And, will they blame the teachers, or look at the textbooks first?
I sure wish I had started homeschooling Z back when I first retired and he was starting the sixth grade.
I can't wait til my daughter gets home this afternoon so she can read your post. She teaches Middle School math.
I realize the books are trying to be hip and "lead the student to the desired conclusions, through questions and examples", but why can't they at least put a summary of the desired mathematics at the end of each chapter - so you could at least find all the relevant information?
The book in question has a few, vague summary sections, but it's as if the author is too jealous of his clever design and layout to allow a true summary of the math he's supposedly trying to present.
J, I'm going to check out the Saxon series... Thanks.
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