Category Archives: brain research

The Surveyor.

Bill hadn’t played his cello, for years.

We’d both studied with the same first teacher, Dimitri, but several years apart, never crossing paths coming up. However, about a year ago, in that roundabout random way, somebody hooked us up and Bill became yet another adult member of the studio of multi-aged students I’d established back in 1989 after my first trip into the world of Suzuki-based musical instruction at Stephens’ Point, WI.

The two of us, Bill and I, were now nearly 65 years old.

We private teachers of musical instruments run the gamut. Some are self taught, promoters of their own unique styles and approaches; others are conventionally and soundly trained by conservatories; still others come by their skills employing a mixture of acquired pedagogies and “shoot from the hip” instinct.

But, we all take on students, and that for reasons both selfish and noble. Some do because it’s easy money, no accounting for quality; others want to produce the next Perlman, Botti, or Ma; but among us authentic, Suzuki-registered devotees is a collective desire to help each, young or old, grow to enjoy the ability to make good, solid, beautiful music.

Bill was immediately likeable. He had the twinkly eyes, a clean cut presence, and a gentle demeanor. And, he said, his daughter (with whom I’d collaborated while she’d been a college student) wanted him to get some help with intonation. Sure thing, I told him; he’d come to the right place.

We set about some serious ear training. Dimitri had always been about tone, the bow trajectory, himself tall and lean, striding back and forth before us with puffing pipe, declaring with sweeping, long armed gestures: “Seeeng mit de chellow! SEEEEENG!” And, seeeeeng we did. We sang with our bows, drawing full resonance, sound albeit perhaps sourly out of tune, but big and glorious for Dimitri.

Bill already knew how to produce full, Dimitri style tone. So, the two of us worked on his ear, via his muscle memory, with keen aural attention. Pitch by pitch, Bill mastered the G major scale, pocket by pocket, until he could get through a whole Book I tune without losing its tonal center.

We moved on, into pieces which had more complex structure. He’d played some pretty advanced works of music by master composers, in the years between our lessons with Dimitri and the day we’d finally met. They’d been out of tune then, and they were now as well. We addressed all that, phrase by phrase, and there was no denying how much he cared, how earnestly he applied himself, and how each week he’d demonstrate noticeable improvement.

But, once we were all forced to go virtual, and Zoom et al afforded us zero opportunity to play together, I began to pick up on another curious feature about Bill. When playing alone, he seemed completely devoid of any internal rhythm. Even when counting, he’d start out fine but lose it midway, either accelerating or dragging until the steady beat was a vapor.

Bill understood note values. He realized that they each had specific duration. He just couldn’t express duration, when he played. Relative recognition, but complete imprecision, there was no steady beat in his consciousness.

Before anyone reading this thinks that I am in the habit of denigrating or throwing shade on any of my students, stay with me; there’s a point, here, and it’s probably not what you might be thinking.

Teachers are supposed to care about their students, hands down. But, I believe we should also strive to know them. Know them, fully. Get into their heads. And, with adults, this necessitates getting into their histories.

What was Bill about? How had he spent the bulk of his adult life?

Not as a cellist. Nope. Bill was a Security guard.

In fact, he’d begun his career as a policeman, in one of our outlying counties. From there, he’d moved to Baltimore MD, joining a force of about four thousand. Then, he became a Federal Marshall, spending decades in this field and, now, in retirement, Bill was the lone Security Guard for a major, local medical center.

As I sat listening to Bill play, I tried to get deeply into his brain. I wanted to become familiar with how his lifelong habits informed everything about him. Why was he unable to stay focused on the steady beat, even with the metronome pounding into his left ear?

I followed him from the beginning of the song to the end, and then it hit me. Bill had been trained to employ a global view. He was all about the entire scope of the environment, not the details. Any officer caught fixating on one aspect, one person’s behavior, is a cop waiting to be overtaken by a crafty criminal specializing in slight of hand. No wonder he couldn’t stay with the pulse; about a minute in, his brain would go panoramic. To the observer, his mind may have appeared to “wander”, to have “lost concentration”; but, in Bill’s world, he was merely returning to his job — as grand surveyor.

Bill being more than just pleasant, but gallant, he took to my confronting this with grace and deference. In fact, he concurred completely. I posited that he might, at work, entertain the occasional interchange of small talk with the proverbial smile and nod, but that absorbing conversational content was all an act. Again, he concurred. He didn’t like big parties, he said. He couldn’t concentrate on anything anybody ever said to him. At this point, surprise; I told him I was exactly the same. Relatability, the essence of common ground.

So, now Bill had a plan. He could harness his widely scanning, revolving, weather vane of a brain to the task of actual focus for 3 solid minutes during the passage of time required to produce a musical tune. He knew now when during the piece he’d likely veer off, and would set his intent with resolve to stay with that pulse through to the end.

Many teachers might question this conclusion. Excessive over think. Unnecessary analysis of basic inability. I stand in challenge, to all that. To my seasoned experience, there is no such thing, inability. There is only absence of informed understanding. The brain, and the mind which governs it, continues to produce – new cells, new blood vessel pathways; the mind, who is kidding whom, here? is as infinite as the God Who created it.

As we age, let’s remember that our successes are never either defined or limited by years.

Bill, the cellist, will tell you.

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© 1/11/22 Ruth Ann Scanzillo/littlebarefeetblog.com. All rights those of the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. Thank you for respecting rights of authorship, and for being the better person.

“I Believe In Science.”

Hardly anything in this life is more worthy of celebration than news of human healing. Who could possibly argue?

Hearing that a beloved young woman – beleaguered by protracted physical symptoms – has finally received both a diagnosis and effective treatment, I am moved to speak.

What will I say? That I’m grateful she has found a qualified diagnostician? That the prescription she’s taking is working? That her symptoms are finally receding?

ALL of the above.

Yes. I believe in science. Science – the discipline involving the harnessing of nature’s evidence and applying critical methods to what it can tell us about the physical world and the sustenance of life within it.

What are the roots of the scientific inquiry? Humans want to know about that which occurs over which we creatures seem to have no dominion. Hence, the study of physics, astronomy, geology, biology, physiology, ecology, and the first of humankind’s actions upon the latter, chemistry.

What I do know, to which historical documentation will attest, is that the advent of human healing practices dates back to early homo sapiens and their counterparts, Neanderthals. Things which arise from the earth itself, plant and mineral material, were among the first of what came to be known as human medicines.

Investigate the culture of Native Americans, and others across the globe; the evidence is virtually everywhere. Plant salves, poultices, oils, and powders. These were the first medicines. In some tribes, such formulations were the domain of shamans or gurus or other healers by name, those who made it their life purpose to prepare and provide the healing treatments.

“Modern” medicine, with its study of bio-chemistry and use of man-made technologies (leading to bio-chemical engineering), has reached a broad capacity to diagnose multiple human ills. But, the medicines formulated still contain fundamental features always present since time immemorial: plant and mineral derived material. The stuff of the earth, itself.

Controversies rage over the comparative value between pharmacologically prepared vs. naturally formulated offerings. Yet, whether one chooses to ingest a solid caplet or capsule, or a powder, or a solution; whether one injects, or swallows, or topically applies; the source of any one of such choices is the root of all science: earth’s basic elements, and the manner in which they interact molecularly.

Science is the study of that which occurs, naturally, and how humankind gathers all the evidence thereof toward practical use. As such, I believe in science – wholeheartedly, in all its manifestations, because I, as a creature, cannot deny it.

Yes. As a study, science is pure – the examination of the expressions of life itself. But, when the scientist ceases to be in service of health, wellness, and all forms of life sustenance and becomes a tool in the hands of the experimental, great and fearful caution need be taken. The manipulations which can occur within the scientific experiment can reveal nefarious motives. Moral compromise. Falsified data. Misleading conclusion. The list grows.

Ask any chemist. Harnessing molecules and creating new ways to bind them has birthed a man made world. Enter humankind, and its propensity toward greed, covetousness, and corruption. To what end will intellectual curiosity bend minds otherwise committed to the service of the quality of life?

I will never deny science. What I will challenge is human motive in its service. To that end, if I must, and in the interests of both self preservation and community protection, I will defy the scientist.

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© 6/15/2021 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line. No copying in part or whole, including translation, permitted. Sharing by blog link, exclusively. Thank you for being the good person.

littlebarefeetblog.com

“Erietown.”

To a creative, idea theft is the ultimate violation.

When I was a server for DENNY’S, Inc, the ubiquitous family restaurant chain, my District Manager took a proposal I presented at a store meeting and unveiled it as his own, District wide, in Willoughby, Ohio.

During a stint as judge for a student instrumental music competition, I made what I thought was an astute comment as we on the panel discussed prior to meeting with the proctor to hand over our decision. When the proctor appeared, another member of the panel took the words right out of my mouth, offering them to the proctor.

The real clincher came during my two decades as elementary music teacher. I wore theatrical costumes, self devised, every day; every lesson had a theme, and my get up with props served that objective. The kids were enrapt, mouths agape; never once did I ever need to raise my voice in discipline.

Soon, young women began appearing in my classroom. They were elementary ed students from the nearby college in the county, sent to observe my work. Eagerly, they soaked up everything I ever did. What I didn’t realize was that they were just as eagerly reporting back – to their methods instructor.

It would be a good five years hence, and a forced move to a different site, for me to realize what had unfolded. A young student teacher asked if she could present a lesson to my music class for credit. I obliged. When she entered my room in full snorkel and flippers, my heart fell to my feet. Later, I would discover that her “mentor” was a woman at the very same institution which had sent its young to my original classroom. Apparently, this woman had scrambled to establish herself all the way to a doctorate in education, publishing and hosting workshops specifically targeting integrating music into the classroom. And, to my mind and heart, she’d done it riding on the back of my singular efforts of the previous five years, possibly others as well.

Of course, in every case as outlined, no credit was ever given to the source.

During the first year or so of my foray into the world of blogging, I was pretty much oblivious of skulking and lurking pirates. By the time my folly was realized, hundreds of chapters of my life had been disclosed at this, my writer’s site. How many times could my words have been parsed out? Maybe thousands?

Granted, my story is as unique as anyone’s. But, one aspect stands out: every observation always came from the lens of one who was both born, raised, and ever lived in one place: Erie, Pennsylvania.

We all dream of great accolade. I think it’s part of our natural egoism, borne in the part of our brain which drives survival. We want not just to be alive, but productively so and, then, once we’ve worked our fingers to the bone and our hearts to their core, we hope that at least one person we have come to respect notices. We want our efforts to seal our social security on the planet.

But, just now, after having read a piece about Evangelicals and the covid vaccine, I noted its author: Connie Schultz. Googling her, I was stunned to see that she’d published a novel for which the Pulitzer Prize had been awarded. The title about took my breath: “The Daughters of Erietown”.

Sure. She came from Ashtabula, and her town in the novel is fictitiously attributed to Ohio. But, everybody who has grown up and lived here knows that, for decades, all the local news and weathermen had one, affectionate moniker for our city: “Erietown”.

So, nobody around here is fooled.

As for whether my exhaustive efforts as an amateur writer have been compromised, I am certainly powerless to argue the point. In a couple weeks: birthday 64. Nope; never met nor married a politician. I have yet to gather my chapters into a novel. Perhaps, by now, doing so will be moot. Everybody else consistently gets there first, whether by hook or by crook, and my name will have never come up in the conversation.

But, if you’re reading this now and you have been following since the fall of 2014, go buy the book. Read it. Let me know if you see anything familiar. Or, not. Write me off as a jealous sniveler who cannot take action, on her own behalf, to promote her own work up to the speed of those not otherwise sporting the big “L” on their foreheads.

Meantime, you know what I’ll be doing. Plugging away, like Erma Bombeck, from my sofa in the livingroom of my house on Poplar Street. Maybe something I say will have raised a thought, pricked a conscience, hit a nerve, touched a heart.

Or, not. That part is up to our ever-lovin’ Creator, who makes all things new every morning.

Now, there’s an idea nobody can steal.

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© 4/11/2021 Ruth Ann Scanzillo All rights, yes, she’s going there, those of the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. Sharing by blog link, exclusively; no copying, in whole or part including translation, permitted without signed permission. Thank you for being less ambitious and more good.

littlebarefeetblog.com

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