A New Blog Name

greydayOn this beautiful grey-green morning (some of my favorite weather), as I was out walking, it occurred to me that I could rename the blog. The previous title  (Diana Senechal: On Education and Other Things) no longer fit. Then it came to me: Take Away the Takeaway, the title of my forthcoming book. This suits the spirit of the blog and allows flexibility.

The book is taking shape, by the way; I have written drafts of seven of the eleven chapters. I am moving along swiftly so that I can revise slowly later.

I am also taking a course in advanced cantillation; I love the subject, the practice, and the course. This is my second major commitment this year.

I have some additional time-bound projects: at the end of October, I will present two papers at the ALSCW Conference (one on Gogol’s “The Nose,” one on my translation of Tomas Venclova’s “Pestel Street“) and will lead a seminar as well. Also, I am writing many college recommendations for my former students.

So here it is: Take Away the Takeaway.

Your Personality, Your Noise

There are far too many flashy statements about what “science tells us” about introverts and extraverts. This distorts the dialogue and affects school and workplace policy. I take up this subject both because it overlaps with some of my interests and because I see a need to question popular representations of science. Flashy research findings have popular appeal, a big market, and numerous high-profile outlets. They need pushback.

When it comes to introversion and extraversion, the findings are far less definite than pundits claim. Any blanket statement about introverts and extraverts needs unblanketing. (I see no need to call anyone an introvert or extravert in the first place, but that’s another matter.)

Here is an example. In an interview with the Harvard Business Review, Susan Cain says,

And just to give you kind of a concrete illustration of [how introverts and extraverts work differently], there’s this fascinating study that was done by the psychologist Russell Geen, where he gave math problem [sic] to introverts and extroverts to solve with varying levels of background noise. And he found that the introverts better [sic] when the noise was lower, and the extroverts did better when the noise was higher.

I can’t find that study anywhere, but the statement alone contains some problems, which I’ll lay out in just a moment. I did find Geen’s 1984 study “Preferred Stimulation Levels in Introverts and Extraverts” (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 46, no. 6), and I found it precise and cautious in its wording.

This study consisted of two experiments. Subjects (all male) were selected from the upper and lower 25 percent of the Extraversion scale of the Eysenck Personality Inventory. They were undergraduates enrolled in psychology classes.

For the first experiment (which involved 30 extraverts and 30 introverts), Geen sought to determine whether extraverts and introverts, given the freedom to choose a noise level (other than zero) would differ in their choices, and whether such freedom of choice would equalize their arousal levels. There was a “choice” condition and two control conditions: one where the subject was given the noise level chosen by another (“yoked”) subject with the same personality type, and another where the noise level was selected by the experimenter. The subjects took this test one at a time. After selecting their noise level (or having it selected for them), they had to  wait two minutes. Then the projector was turned on, and they worked to complete a paired-associates learning task. The learning task ended when they completed two successive errorless trials. If, after twelve trials, they had not achieved this, the procedure was terminated.

The second experiment had more subjects (40 extraverts and 40 introverts) and a slightly different approach. This time, in addition to selecting their optimal noise level, introverts indicated the lowest acceptable noise level, and extraverts the highest. This established the four intensity levels used in the study. There was only one control condition: where the experimenter chose the noise level for the subject. (The “yoked” condition was eliminated because, in the first experiment, its results did not differ from those of the choice condition.) Otherwise this experiment followed the same procedures as the first.

I will focus on the results of the second experiment (because I have a bit more to say) and because, in Geen’s words, it provided “a replication and extension of the first.” With respect to pulse rate, something interesting came up: introverts and extraverts did not differ in pulse when they had chosen their noise level. When subjected to moderate noise, introverts were more aroused (i.e., had a higher pulse rate) than extraverts, but at the extreme noise levels (high and low), their rates did not differ from each other. This, right away, casts doubt on the blanket assertion that introverts are more sensitive to stimuli than extraverts. The statement needs careful qualification and questioning.

When it came to the task, introverts and extraverts performed equally well at their chosen noise levels. When subjected to superoptimal noise levels, both introverts and extraverts did significantly worse. When subjected to suboptimal noise levels, extraverts did significantly worse, but introverts did not (or they did worse, but not significantly).

This is interesting (and again, carefully thought out and presented), but I see a few caveats here. (And I haven’t forgotten about the Cain quote; I’ll come back to it in a minute.)

First, there are obviously problems with selecting the top and bottom 25 percent on the extravert scale; your subjects are already at the extremes. How much of this applies to a full population is uncertain. That said, if you didn’t do that, you’d probably end up with so much noise that you couldn’t draw any conclusions.

Second, I wonder to what degree the Eysenck Personality Inventory already relates to noise tolerance. That is, are these subjects defined as introverts/extraverts partly on the basis of their reported tolerance of noise? That would make the experiment somewhat redundant.

Third, I wonder to what extent the particular kind of noise influenced the results. (These were one-second bursts of white noise, with a mean of ten seconds between bursts.) I can imagine the high levels being particularly jarring (to anyone), and the low levels annoying (that pesky sound you can’t get rid of).

There are still more open questions; to begin to address them, I would need more statistical  knowledge and access to the raw data. To his credit, Geen does not draw rash conclusions from this study; at the end, he offers possible implications and describes the work that still needs to be done.

So I come back to the Cain quote, in particular: “And he found that the introverts better [sic] when the noise was lower, and the extroverts did better when the noise was higher.”

She could not have been talking about this study, because that was not the finding. There must be another  study that I haven’t located yet. Even so, a person making such a statement should specify the following:

  1. Which study is this? Give identifying information.
  2. How are the introverts and extraverts selected and defined?
  3. What kind of noise was used?
  4. What were the math problems, and what do you mean by “did better”?
  5. Was there any complexity/contradiction to the findings?
  6. Did the author bring up any caveats (and do you see any)?

That’s a lot, I know, and in an interview it might not be realistic. But that’s only scratching the surface; an expert should be able to do things I myself can’t do: for instance, explain the methods used for interpreting the raw data.

What I see instead (and not just from Cain by any means) is a tendency to oversimplify and exaggerate the results of studies, and to do so again and again.

Some of these studies are interesting and valuable. Others are bunk. All of them have limitations, but when taken skeptically and cautiously, they can help us reach greater understanding.

The implications? I see no problem with the idea that different people work well at different noise levels. But reducing the matter to “introverts” and “extraverts” is unnecessary and unfounded. Much depends on the individual, the context, the particular task, and the type of noise. There are situations that call for quiet, situations that call for noise, and a range in between. While a workplace should probably establish basic quiet (so that the noise doesn’t get out of hand), people can learn how to handle both quiet and noise in reasonable degrees.

 

Note: I made a minor revision to the last sentence after posting the piece. Also, Science of Us (New York Magazine) has started challenging some of the pop-psychology assertions about introversion and extraversion. (Here’s another piece on the topic.)

 

 

Research Has Shown … Just What, Exactly? (Reprise)

A few years ago, I wrote and posted a piece with this title, minus the “(Reprise).” (And here’s a piece from 2011.)

It seems apt today (literally today) in light of Dana Carney’s statement, released late last night, that she no longer believes  “power pose” effects are real. She explains her reasons in detail. I learned about this from a comment on Andrew Gelman’s blog; an hour and a half later,  an article by Jesse Singal appeared in Science of Us (New York Magazine).

Dana Carney was one of three authors of the 2010 study, popularized in Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk, that supposedly found that “power poses” can change your hormones and life. (Andy Yap was the third.)

The “power pose” study has been under criticism for some time; a replication failed, and an analysis of both the study and the replication turned up still more problems.  (For history and insight, see Andrew Gelman and Kaiser Fung’s Slate article.) Of the three researchers involved, Carney is the first to acknowledge the problems with the original study and to state that the effects are not real.

Carney not only acknowledges her errors but explains them clearly. The statement is an act of courage and edification. This is how research should work; people should not hold fast to flawed methods and flimsy conclusions but should instead illuminate the flaws.

 

Update: Jesse Singal wrote an important follow-up article, “There’s an Interesting House-of-Cards Element to the Fall of Power Poses.” He discusses, among other things, the ripple effect (or house-of-cards effect) of flawed studies.

 

Science ≠ Community

communityI enjoy Andrew Gelman’s blog; it’s a great place if you have heard too many false and flashy “research has shown” and “science tells us” statements and want to know (a) where such research goes wrong and (b) why these errors don’t get attention. The blog attracts readers and commenters from many fields and perspectives; some of the comments could be pieces on their own.

Recently there was an enlightening post followed by lively discussion of Susan Fiske’s call for an end to the reign of “destructo-critics” and “self-employed data police” in social media—that is, those who employ “methodological terrorism” in criticizing others’ research. She doesn’t name names or give any concrete examples, so it isn’t clear who the “destructo-critics” are. She does suggest, though, that the legitimate channels for criticism are peer review or “curated” discussion. That is, she opposes not just nasty tweets, vicious personal attacks, and so forth, but (possibly) any unsanctioned critical commentary on research. In her conclusion, she says, “Ultimately, science is a community,  and we are all in it together.”

A community, eh? That rings a bell….

A commenter (“Plucky”) seized this sentence this and gave it a good shaking:

The key problem with Fiske is this sentence: “Ultimately, Science is a community, and we are all in it together.”

That is just flat-out wrong, and wrong in the ways that result in all that you have criticized. Science is not a community, it is a method.

That’s just the beginning; “Plucky” goes on to explain the dangers of the “community” metaphor. I recommend reading the whole comment. Here’s another choice quote:

My main criticism of this post is the stages of the metaphor—you’re nowhere near six feet of water in Evangeline. If Science devolves into merely a community, then it’s just another political interest group which will be treated as such.

I then remembered the many times I had heard the phrase “the consensus of the scientific community,” along with references to Thomas Kuhn, who supposedly coined it. Kuhn actually said, “What better criterion could there be … than the decision of the scientific group?” He explained what he meant by this, but I consider the statement problematic at best, even in context.

Kuhn aside, I use the word “community” sparingly and cautiously. Many entities that call themselves communities are not communities or should not be. As “Plucky” notes, “communities do not generally value the truth over their members’ well-being.” They exist to support their members.

In fact, someone who wishes to challenge a prevailing idea must often speak independently, without waiting for “community” approval. Dana Carney has just done this in relation to “power poses.” (This is big news, by the way.)

I do not disparage communities overall. Communities of various kinds have a place in the world, and I belong to a few. Still, even the best communities can ask themselves, “To what extent is this a community, and whom do we leave out?” and “What goals does this community not serve, and where does it even counter them?” The point is not to make the community all-encompassing but rather to recognize its limitations.

When it comes to science, I’ll take an open forum over a community any day.

 

Note: I added the paragraph about Carney after posting this piece.
Update: Writing for
Science of Us (New York Magazine), Jesse Singal reported this morning on Carney’s statement and explanation.

Introversion: Pro-Idea, Anti-Noise, or Something Else?

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There has been much discussion of introversion and extraversion but little agreement about what they are. Moreover, I have seen multiple implicit definitions of introversion within the same article or discussion.

It would not matter much, except that some people with power are starting to say, “introverts are this,” “introverts are that,” “introverts need this,” “introverts need that.” Interior designers, engineers, and consultants have been creating “Quiet Spaces” in workplaces. Schools have undergone training to become more introvert-friendly. These initiatives may hold some good but need vigorous (and rigorous) questioning.

In a 2014 article in Scientific American, Scott Barry Kaufman gives a sampling of the many floating definitions of introversion. They run the gamut and then some. He then reveals that psychologists have put forth a model of four types of introversion: social (where you like to be alone or spend time with a few close friends), thinking (where you pay close and continual attention to your own thoughts and feelings), anxious (characterized by self-consciousness and shyness), and restrained (where you tend to think before you act). He then offers a quiz to help you find out which kind you are.

Even there, I see many complications (which he acknowledges as well). To be a “thinking” introvert, must one primarily be interested in one’s own thoughts and feelings, or can one be absorbed in thinking about something else, such as music, a language, or a mathematical problem? The quiz presumes the former, but I object.

As for the other types, when I look at the questions, my response is often, “It depends.” The ambiguity does not bother me; I don’t feel a need to narrow myself down by type and subtype (on other people’s terms). But others are busy doing just that—not for me in particular, but for “introverts” at large.

So, for instance, “Quiet Spaces,” envisioned and designed by Susan Cain and others, exist to give introverts an environment that brings out their best. The intent here is good but the execution narrow. I would not want to work in one, and in this I am not alone. I don’t like the lounge-y feel, the glass walls all around (frosted, but still), the lack of bookshelves, or the colors. Give me a good old office with solid walls, a windowed door, an actual desk, a window to the outside, and plenty of shelves. Or, if space is lacking, just give me a cubicle and some quiet. Again, I see the good intentions but question the assumptions and aesthetic choices.

Nor can a workplace accommodate everyone. I am skeptical of attempts to identify employees’ personality types and tailor workplaces to them. Instead, give the work itself more dimension and beauty. Give people more room to think. Create forums for  discussion. Allow people to work alone, coming together when necessary. Also, let them treat the job as a job, not as an all-consuming career (unless they really want the latter). That way, they can pursue their interests in their own time.

What about schools? Attempts to create introvert-friendly classrooms may also rely on false or skewed assumptions. Some assume that introverts dread speaking to the whole class and prefer speaking to a partner (e.g., in a “think-pair-share” activity); this is not necessarily true, though it may be true for some. There are those who count unequivocally as introverts yet thrive in class discussion, precisely because it is about something interesting. There are those who dread the “think-pair-share” activity because of its “buzz” (so many people talking at once) and its tendency to water down the ideas before they reach the full forum.

Here too, one can reach students by paying attention to the subject matter. When the point of class discussion is to reach greater understanding (about a work of literature, a mathematical concept, or a philosophical idea), students may sit quietly and think, venture a tentative idea, or offer an insight. All of this contributes to the understanding. One lesson might consist primarily of lecture, another of whole-class discussion, and another of a combination (or something different). In each case, students may participate in a variety of ways. Yes, the teacher should be alert to the students but can also trust the subject to lead the way.

And what about the world outside of work and school? Here again, beware of constricting generalizations. I just read an article titled “Introverts Love Facebook, and Extroverts Hate It. Here’s Why.”How does the author justify such a wrongheaded assertion? Here we go:

Everything about Facebook serves the emotional and psychological needs of introverts. It gives them a place to socialize and chat with people they like, without having to deal with the elements of in-person dialogues that make them uncomfortable. It allows them to say their piece, without being interrupted, scowled at, or patronized.

What? Who says introverts are uncomfortable with in-person dialogues? There are those who vastly and vehemently prefer such dialogues to the groupy, chatty, like-y, Facebook-y stuff. I myself dislike Facebook precisely because it’s so social (in Hannah Arendt’s sense of the word). Unless you have a private chat, which tightens you with its tiny windows and bubbles, you have to accept group conversations,  which aren’t even conversations. I recognize the efficiency of Facebook (it helps you stay in touch with many people at once), but it can’t hold a candle to a letter, phone conversation, or conversation in person.

I resist our excessive tilt toward gregariousness, talk, quick answers, busyness, aggressiveness, and so forth. Yet I also resist the push to classify people. Personality research is fine, but those involved should acknowledge its questions and doubts; moreover, they should exercise caution when applying it to policy and products. It is sad to see “groupthink” arising around introversion, when introversion, like extraversion, holds so many variations and possibilities.

 

Note: I took the above photo at Anne Loftus Playground (around 8 a.m., before children and parents started arriving).

I made a few revisions to this piece after posting it.

Personality Testing on the Job

enhanced_chart

It isn’t a complete surprise that I missed Eliza Gray’s Time article “How High Is Your XQ?” published on June 22, 2015. I was teaching, it was near graduation time, and my days were filled. But I am surprised not to have seen any outcry over the phenomenon she describes.

According to Gray, employers use personality tests not only to screen potential candidates but to monitor them once they are hired: “Once on board, many of these companies continue to track and crunch data about workers’ personality traits to help find candidates for promotions, transfers, and—at times—termination.”

Here’s what she says two paragraphs later:

Some employers are now monitoring workers’ temperaments in real time—including the world’s largest hedge fund, where employees can track their individual stats on a personal digital “baseball card.” Experts in the fast-growing “people analytics” industry believe it won’t be long before algorithms regularly sift through Facebook and Twitter postings to glean and analyze additional data.”

I have a friend who used to work at Microsoft. One day they had a training session where  they all had to walk around the room wearing a personality color chart. Their co-workers would make marks on their chart to show how they perceived them. Some people found out they had a “blue” personality (according to the majority), others a “red” personality, and so on. Microsoft carried this into their hiring practices; if they thought they had too many “blues” and not enough “reds,” they would give priority to the latter.

This practice is intrusive, flawed, and dangerous. There’s no need to explain the intrusive aspect; who wants to work at a place that is keeping data on your personality from moment to moment? What if you are going through a difficult time—still doing your work well, but dealing with sadness and anxiety throughout the day and trying your best to keep it to yourself? A wise supervisor would leave you alone; the data-gatherers would revise your “baseball card” for everyone to see.

As for the flawed (no, utterly bungled) aspect, this practice applies general statistical patterns to individuals—and, in doing so, affects their employment status and daily lives. Suppose, for instance, that the data indicate that people who have watched the Simpsons are better software coders than those who have not. Does this mean that a person who hasn’t watched the Simpsons will necessarily be a lesser coder? Of course not. But people do get weeded out for silly, arbitrary, obscure things like that.

Why is this dangerous? In giving so much credence to the general drift of data, these practices disfavor the outlier, the one who contradicts the trends. Moreover, companies generally keep their algorithms secret; an employee or candidate cannot find out exactly what is being judged and how.

I have written about this general issue before, in my book and on this blog, but did not realize it had gone to such extremes. This needs not only protest and pushback, but some good lawyers.

 

Image credit: Color Code, “Personality Test.”

Time, Money, Happiness, and a Bit of Skepticism

A New York Times article by Hal E. Hershfield and Cassie Mogilner Holmes describes a study of the relationship between one’s desire for more time or money and one’s happiness. The authors, who conducted the study, conclude that those who value time over money tend to be happier than those who value money over time. The authors even called the results “predictive”:  “But our research does show that the value individuals place on these resources relative to each other is predictive of happiness.”

Now, I would love to believe this. It makes sense to me. Maybe those who value time over money are happier with their lives to begin with  (why else would they want time?). Or else, focusing on the things they want to do (rather than the things they want to buy), they feel relatively happy. But the study teems with problems. I downloaded the full paper; it is long and convoluted, so I did not read all of it. But even a cursory glance left me skeptical. It isn’t something I’d lap up.

First, I question the use of the word “predictive.” It suggests a much stronger correlation than actually came through in the study. Also, it suggests a relation between present and future: At least some lay readers (including myself) would take “predictive” to mean “indicative of a future state.”The meaning of “predictive” should  be clarified.

Beyond that, the study has some serious murk. (For those who want to take a look, it is published in the September 2016 issue of Social Psychological and Personality Science.)

The researchers considered the possibility that those who value money over time (that is, who say they would rather have more money than more time) are actually under financial stress and thus less happy than those who choose time. To control for this possibility, they asked participants to rate their time and income both subjectively (in terms of how they felt about it) and objectively (in terms of hours worked per week and salary).

Now, one’s work commitments may be only a fraction of one’s overall commitments–so “hours worked per week” give only a weak indication of one’s free and occupied time. Similarly, salary by itself does not say much about one’s financial resources. Cost of living, spending habits, financial responsibility toward others, etc. also play a large role. So I am not sure that this control was effective.

Then, at the end of the study, the researchers took a surprising turn. To test for manipulation, they conducted two new and separate surveys with new participants. In the second one (4b), they assigned participants randomly to three groups. One group was told to write about the ways in which they were happy and satisfied with their lives. The second was told to write about ways in which they were unhappy. The third (control) group did not have a writing task. They were then all asked which they wanted more of, time or money, and were asked to rate their  happiness/satisfaction, report on their income and time, etc.

It turned out that those in the “happy” condition (Group 1) chose time over money and rated themselves as happier than those in the “unhappy” condition, who chose money over time. There were no differences in choice between those in the “unhappy” and control conditions. The authors comment (in the study itself): “These results are suggestive of a causal relationship whereby being happier makes one more likely to prefer time over money than being unhappy.” This, along with the results of another survey, pointed to a bidirectional effect. Yes, maybe, but it also suggests that happiness ratings are not only subjective but flimsy, easily influenced by the immediate circumstances.

It would be more telling, maybe, if people rated their happiness over a period of several years. But that would be much more difficult to accomplish. (Study 3b, which used Qualtrics rather than Mechanical Turk, did involve a follow-up one year later, but it apparently asked only about time vs. money, not about happiness, and the consistency with the previous 3b was only moderate.)

For five of the seven surveys in this study, the participants were recruited through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. That in itself does not inspire confidence. (I wonder, moreover, whether those who complete Mechanical Turk surveys for the money might be in a different demographic from those who do it for fun. That would influence the results.)

Few people outside of psychological research circles are going to read the whole study. It is not available online except through subscription to the journal (or an institution’s subscription), and it’s a dense read. But it doesn’t take advanced knowledge to spot some big flaws. In fact, the study’s multiple comparisons, hierarchical regressions, etc. do not succeed in masking its fundamental silliness. It reminds me, in fact, of the brilliant satire “NO TRUMP!: A Statistical Exercise in Priming” by Jonathan Falk and Andrew Gelman.

Why is the study fundamentally silly? Because of things like this (the description of the one survey in the study that was conducted in person):

Participants (N= 535) were recruited in the train station of a major East Coast city to complete a brief survey in exchange for a granola bar. One hundred and six people who did not complete the survey were excluded from the analyses, leaving a final sample of 429.

Come now. If, of those who agree to take the survey, nearly 20 percent do not complete it, how seriously can they be taking it? (I  realize that people drop out of studies frequently, but given that this survey was brief and administered in person, the completion rate seems a bit low.) Moreover, the researchers found that the train station participants were generally happier (and valued time more) than the participants in the Mechanical Turk surveys; doesn’t that suggest something wobbly in the methodology? (Also, their average income was considerably higher than that of the other participants.)

Again, the idea has merit.  I wish the study lived up to it. There’s much more to say about the problems, but I will stop here, since I value my time.

Addendum (since I kept on thinking about it anyway): It appears that in each of the surveys, participants were asked about their happiness after they answered the other questions. For comparison, try the reverse: Have them answer questions about their happiness first (just in case there’s anything on the test that influences their perception of their happiness).

Note: I made a few minor revisions after posting this piece. On Sept. 29 I revised the addendum.

TEDx Video Coming Soon

The video of my talk at TEDx Upper West Side is now complete and will be uploaded soon. The title, “Take Away the Takeaway,” is the working title of my forthcoming book.

senechal_tedx

“Go to Peoria”

Yesterday I came upon the story “The Ghostwriter” by William Lychack, whose work I had never read before. It starts with a man who has heard the voice of God saying, “Go to Peoria”—and who has followed that voice. Within the space of five pages, the narrator, a ghostwriter, takes those three words and changes them into something I didn’t expect, not the opposite of my expectation, but something more like “that and its opposite and something else.” When a writer can do this, it’s no fluke—so I intend to read his collection The Architect of Flowers. I am holding off just a little until I have made more headway through my current readings and kept to my budget for the month.

The story got me thinking about how stories in general work. I love the distillation of the short story, the way it makes the most of its time. A good story is a riddle of sorts; it bares itself in a surprising way. Also, this story plays intriguingly with the idea of a takeaway; the ghostwriter’s work is all about takeaways, but in his work he goes beyond his work.

We often think of “going beyond” one’s work in external terms (working more hours, taking on more tasks, etc.), but one can go beyond by going inward, into the subject and principles of the work. This is the neglected part of teaching: thinking about the subject matter and the lessons. Not attending meeting after meeting, but thinking and reading. A performer “goes beyond” by practicing and practicing until the fluency itself opens up the piece in new ways. He reaches a new place of entry. It is not mystical in practice; it comes from persistent work. But the work is not “busy”; in fact, it leaves the busyness behind.

“A Time When I Can Think Slowly Through Things”

Last spring I went to the New York Philharmonic to hear Schumann’s Cello Concerto. Carter Brey was the soloist; his rendition thrilled me with its subtlety and dialogue. (For years, Rostropovich’s interpretation was by far my favorite; Brey’s went beyond it.) I went back a second time, for the final night, and was sorry I couldn’t go back again.

So I was delighted to find a video clip of the New York Philharmonic rehearsing the concerto in Costa Mesa. The clip is much too short (just a fraction of the second movement), and I wish that the video editor had shown more of the musicians instead of including those city views. Even so, it’s great to watch and hear. The duet with Eileen Moon is gorgeous, and those few seconds of rehearsal accomplish and convey a lot.

While on this search, I found two excellent interviews: one with Noah Rothbaum in Runner’s World and the other with Tim Janolt for the Internet Cello Society. There are many more, but I had to limit myself. These two are full of interesting things. Brey describes running as “a time when I can think slowly through things.” He says of Laurence Lesser, his first cello teacher in college, that “his most valuable gift was showing me how to think for myself in order to find solutions to technical problems in a non-dogmatic manner.”

Here’s a quote from the first interview:

Is Bach better to listen to before running or Beethoven?
For a classical musician, great classical master works don’t really work as background music. We all find that when restaurants put classical pieces that we know on as soft background music, it’s a tremendous annoyance to us because we just want to stop and listen. The volume is usually just below the threshold for you to hear clearly. We find it annoying and offensive because this is music that wasn’t meant for background music. So it depends on what you need. If you’re really in the mood to concentrate on something that’s complex, that has certain surface complexity, then I’ll put on a piece of classical concert music. If I need something mindless to get my spinal cord going then I’ll put on pop music.

Hear, hear! And from the second:

TJ: How does one shift “in character” with the music?

CB: When shifting between two notes, many cellists tend to be on the late and fast side, which may serve musical purposes at times, though it often doesn’t. This kind of shifting is more utilitarian, merely getting from point A to point B, since it is but one of an infinite number of ways of going between two notes. It’s better if you can more consciously decide how much of a slide you want to hear. If you want to hear more of a broad-reaching kind of slide, don’t shift so late; leave the first note earlier so that there’s a more vocal effect in getting to the goal note. For wonderful examples of this, listen to the great singers, like Jessye Norman and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who were also great influences on my development.

I look forward to reading more, but much more than that, to hearing more.