Saturday, April 28, 2007

Sequoia Audubon Trail Hike

Today we met some of the other Fellows for a hike on the Sequoia Audubon Trail, near Pescadero Beach. The highlights were: playing in a driftwood fort other beach visitors had built

climbing a big tree

enjoying the beautiful scenery

and avoiding stinging nettles and poison oak. We saw a huge stick nest that some marsh rat built, and a B-52 flying overhead. Kevin and Carolyn brought bread and cheese and cookies to feast on at the top of the hill before the return trip. The chocolate fairy that follows Andrea and Liz on all their hikes left treats along the trail for the kids. It was a beautiful sunny day, and a little cool, which was nice because we didn't get too hot on the hike. We didn't get to spend much time playing on the beach at the end of the hike, because it was getting late by then, but it was a fun day anyway.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Calm Before the Storm

We've had a couple of calm weeks here, but it's about to get very busy. The Fellowship has a zillion things planned for May, everything from a family softball game to a bus trip to Sacramento to meet the Governator. I told Scott it's their way of making everyone look forward to getting back to their jobs, so they can finally get a chance to breathe.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Does Music Make You Smarter?

I went to an interesting lecture in the Psychology Department at Stanford today. Glenn Schellenberg from the University of Toronto gave a talk called "Does Music Make You Smarter?" He's been running experiments on this ever since The Mozart Effect study came out.

The first part of his talk was on whether listening to music makes you smarter, a la The Mozart Effect. His hypothesis was that anything that puts you in a positive frame of mind will make you perform a task better. He cited studies showing that college undergraduates who were given a bag of candy or five dollars before a task performed better than students who weren't given treats (The Chocolate Effect?).

In his first experiment to test this hypothesis, he played a Schubert piano piece, which was Track 2 of the CD the original Mozart Effect experimenters used. The subjects scored better on the spatial IQ test, indicating a Schubert Effect. Then he tested a slow, dirge-like piece by Albinoni commonly heard at funerals. The subjects didn't improve their scores, so there was no Albinoni Effect. Maybe only fast, happy music increases spatial IQ. He used four different variations of the same Mozart piano piece: fast-major key, slow-major key, fast-minor key, and slow-minor key. Subjects who heard the fast-major version increased their scores the most, and slow-minor showed no increase.

What if music's not your thing? Schellenberg played a recording of a Stephen King story to test subjects, Mozart to others, and tested them. The same groups switched stimuli at another session. They also reported whether they preferred listening to the music or the story. The ones who liked the story better got a bigger IQ jump after listening to the story, and the ones who liked music got a bigger jump after listening to the music.

But what if you're a 10 or 11 year old kid in England? Another researcher had 8000 schoolkids in Britain listen to three different radio broadcasts before taking an IQ test. One group listened to Mozart, one listened to a popular group, and the third listened to the researcher giving a science lecture. The pop group got a big jump in IQ, and the Mozart and lecture groups didn't increase their scores. So, to 10 and 11 year olds, Mozart is just as boring as a science lecture by an academic researcher.

What if you're a 5 year old in Japan? (You can see, Schellenberg really put the Mozart Effect through its paces.) He had kids in Japan draw pictures before and after a music activity. There were four music activities tested: listening to Mozart, listening to the Albinoni dirge, listening to familiar children's songs, and singing familiar children's songs. Their drawings were compared (by people who didn't know what the experiment was about) and rated on creativity and technical proficiency. Schellenberg also recorded how long the kids drew. Their "scores" went up a little for Mozart, down for Albinoni, and up much more for familiar songs.

So, does listening to music make you smarter? Yes and no, according to Schellenberg. Listening to music you like can help you perform better on an IQ test, just as anything that puts you in a positive frame of mind can help you perform better on many kinds of tasks.

Now, the big question: does taking music lessons make you smarter? And is music special, or do other kinds of lessons make you smarter? Schellenberg advertised for participants in free arts lessons for 6 year olds. The groups took either piano lessons, voice class using the Kodaly method, drama classes, or no lessons. The two music groups both improved their IQ scores by about the same amount, across all the sections of the IQ test, except social skills. The drama group improved in social skills, but not in the "intellectual" IQ subtests. The "no lessons" group showed only the normal development after a year of school.

It was not possible to do a longer-term study, because kids drop out of lessons for various reasons, so you'd have to start with an enormous number of kids to run a study of several years. Schellenberg used questionnaires and statistical analysis to try to find out whether more years of lessons would make you more smarter. He interviewed families with children ages 6 to 12 about music lessons, parental education and family income, and gave the kids IQ tests and looked at their school grades. He found that the kids who took lessons for more years had higher IQs. I asked him whether the music lessons caused the IQs to go up, or if the kids with high IQs tended to stick with lessons for more years. He said you can't really prove which one causes the other, but that he's making a claim, because that's what you do in science, and his claim is that music makes you smarter. He also questioned incoming college students about their music experiences and tested their IQs and found that the smartness you get from music lasts for a long time.

So, there it is: listening to music makes you feel good, if it's music you like, and it can make you temporarily smarter. Music lessons make you permantly smarter. He listed the popular reasons why music might make you smarter, but disagreed with them. I couldn't tell what he thought the reason might be.


We've been to Yosemite, San Diego, Monterey Bay, we've seen the Pacific Ocean and the Golden Gate Bridge, but now we're really true California residents - we felt an earthquake. Last night the sound of rattling woke me up at 2:45. It sounded like a freight train going by, only louder. And remember, we live right next to the train tracks, so I know what a freight train sounds like. There was another sound in the distance, like highway confusion, maybe horns or sirens. It's hard to tell when you're half asleep. In the morning I asked Scott if he heard the quake, and he had, so I knew I wasn't just dreaming. The kids slept through it. Mary said it must have been the kind that sounds like your dog scratching. I guess they must have talked about earthquakes at school.

The strange thing about this earthquake was when I was looking for news about it online. I googled "earthquake April 18, 2007" and almost every hit was for the Great San Francisco Earthquake of April 18, 1906. Pretty weird, having our first earthquake on the anniversary of The Big One!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Mary's poem

Check out Mary's poem over at Mary's World!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Stanford Community Day

Today was Community Day at Stanford. The university put on a big expo to show off the different departments and activities. We only went for the morning, so we didn't do too many activities, but we were there long enough to hear a band, win a raffle prize, fence with foam swords, row a kayak, putt a golf ball, make sock puppets, paint part of a mural, get a balloon, eat lunch, pop the balloon, and visit one booth at the science section. The Stanford Society of Women Engineers had two activities at their booth: make a puff mobile (car made from paper, straws, LifeSavers, and tape that you try to blow across a table) and build with marshmallows. Mary made a two-story house with an attic. Audrey made hors d'ouvres.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Chamber Music

Today Jeff (the guitar player) and I had our first coaching with Dawn Harms. She's a violinist with the San Francisco Symphony who teaches at Stanford. Jeff and I have been working on a couple of duos since the fall, but haven't been able to get a faculty coach until now. We played the first section of "In the Dragon's Garden" by David Kechley. The piece was inspired by the composer's visit to a Japanese garden and starts out with a dreamy, rippling effect. It was really helpful to have another pair of ears to guide us through the piece. Dawn had a lot of great suggestions to bring out the drama in the piece. We'll work on the next section at our next meeting. We hope to perform the whole thing at the June chamber music recital.

Dawn runs a week-long chamber music camp called Music at Kirkwood during the summer. That's something I'd like to do someday - spend a week in the mountains playing chamber music. Of course, it takes a few days to get used to the altitude, so the wind players always have a hard time breathing at first. It would still be a lot of fun.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Happy Easter

It was fun having Mom and Dad here for Easter. I played for the Easter service at church, so I went early to rehearse and the rest of the gang followed. The music director had picked out some strange hymns in minor keys, but the service ended with "Jesus Christ is Risen Today", with the trumpet player and me on the descant. Finally, it sounded like Easter! After church, Scott went home to put the ham in the oven, and the kids had an egg hunt. Mary and Audrey looked so pretty in their dresses, hats, gloves, and purses. It was hard to get them both in one photo, though, because Audrey didn't want to stand still.

We had two of the international families from the Fellowship over for Easter dinner and another egg hunt. The kids had never hunted for Easter eggs before, and they really enjoyed finding eggs and seeing what kind of candy was inside. The stuffed cabbage was a bit dry, but still tasted good. The kids tore up the apartment while the grown-ups sat around and talked about life in our different countries. It was fun to share our holiday with our friends.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Dinner and a Show

The fellowship took us all to dinner and a play in San Francisco. Scott and I spent the day visiting Alcatraz and Fisherman's Wharf with Mom and Dad and the kids. Then we dropped them off at the train station, changed clothes in the car, and joined our friends for dinner at historic John's Grill, home of the Maltese Falcon (at least, it was -- the Falcon was stolen recently).

The play was "After the War" by Philip Kan Gotanda. We saw it at the beautiful American Conservatory Theater. Here's their description of the play:

Fillmore Street. San Francisco. 1946. A place to call home?

When more than 100,000 Japanese Americans were imprisoned by the U.S. government during World War II, San Francisco's bustling Japantown suddenly became an urban ghost town. African Americans from the neighboring Fillmore District, rural whites from the Midwest, and other societal outcasts began to fill the vacant neighborhood. But what happened when the Japanese Americans came back?
In this world premiere commissioned and developed by A.C.T., Philip Kan Gotanda (The Wash, A.C.T.'s Yohen) portrays an unexpected grouping of characters as they struggle to revive a community shattered by the effects of the war. Radiantly hopeful, heart-wrenchingly honest, and deeply infused with the jazz rhythms of the neighborhood, After the War is a powerful valentine to San Francisco—and to the everyday people who built this city with their lives, loves, and stories.

We really enjoyed the play. It was very funny in places, and quite emotional in others. I really hoped the characters would be able to find happiness. The rotating set was cool, too. It was a treat to dress up and have a grown-up evening.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Fuzzy Wuzzy Icky

Springtime is caterpillar season at Stanford. Gazillions of them are dangling from oak trees and light posts, and crawling all over the ground. On Monday, when we showed Mom and Dad around campus, Mary was itchy all over just from thinking about caterpillars. Tuesday when I came out of class, I flicked a few caterpillars off the baby seat on the back of my bike. Then, when I started to unlock the bike and get on, I found dozens of them on the bike lock, handlebars, gear shift, bike frame, and tires. Next time I'll be careful not to park under a tree!

Mom and Dad's visit

Mom and Dad are visiting us this week. Check out Mom's blog for write-ups about Stanford, Chinatown, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Exploratorium.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Visit Mom's Blog

Mom started a blog to tell about her adventures visiting us here. Check it out.