Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ralph Vaughan Williams: English Composer, 1872-1958

Entry for 31 August 2008:

All this week, as we prepared to leave the US and upon our return to Scotland, I’ve been following programs marking the 50th anniversary of the English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams‘ death, on August 26, 1958.

To the best of my recollection, I first encountered the music of Vaughan Williams in 1969, between my first and second years at university. I think it was the Mass in G minor that did it, but it might have been the 6th Symphony. It’s hard for me to say exactly what it is about his music that appeals to me so deeply. Certainly, his use of folk melodies and rhythms connected with my love of folk music and folk rock. However, I think it was also his rediscovery of 16th and 17th century harmonies, which he then subtly transformed with 20th century dissonances, creating a hybrid modern-traditional sensibility. This simulaneous grounding in history and tradition, while at the same time moving forward into the future, toward what it new, speaks to something in me that thirsts simultaneously for the old and the new. Then there is his mastery of orchestration and tone color, similar to Debussy and Ravel (with whom he studied) that sweeps me up in the play of instruments and textures. Or perhaps part of it was the fact that the church hymnal from which I’d been singing since childhood was full of music written or arranged by him.

Whatever the reasons, the result was that Vaughan Williams‘ music became a kind of sound track for my life, as I was at first bowled over by vocal/religious works like the Mass and Flos Campi, then traversed the 9 symphonies, discovered the shorter, rhapsodic symphonic works like the Lark Ascending and the Tallis Phantasia, and encountered Blakean intensity of Job: A Masque for Dancing. Later, at a slower pace, I explored more obscure pieces, like the film and chamber music and the operas. I used to regularly search record stores for recordings of his music, often a frustrating exercise.

When a friend gave me a teddy bear, it reminded me of a picture of of V-W on the cover of one of his albums (I think it was the 8th symphony), so I named it „Rafe“ (i.e., „Ralph“ in its British pronounciation).

But it was the Mass in G minor that single-handedly brought me back to the Episcopal/ Anglican church, after several years of spiritual searching. The fact the Vaughan Williams described himself as a „Christian agnostic“ only endeared him to me more, as it captured for me the tension between doubt and belief, or head and heart, that is central to my spiritual position.

My dad was also very fond of V-W, and used to use The Lark Ascending for guided meditations (excellent for shamanic journeys to the Upper World). When my dad died two years ago, I insisted that they play „For All the Saints“ at his funeral (along with „When the Saints Go Marching In“, of course).

And I’ve written many manuscripts while listening to Vaughan Williams‘ symphonies, sometimes playing through all nine, one after another.

So I’ve had a good wallow in Vaughan Williams‘ music this week, beginning with Bruce McGlauchlin’s Exploring Music on American Public Radio earlier in the week, and then continuing with Donald Mcleod’s Composer of the Week featuring V-W’s obscure operas. The high point was a televised concert on BBC 2 of Colin Davis conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra in an all-V-W concert featuring the Tallis Phantasia, Serenade to Music and the 9th Symphony, a powerful evening of music that brought tears to my eyes over and over. When it was done, I was left reflecting about the 9th Symphony, one of Vaughan Williams‘ last pieces: Here, he is facing death, grounded and affirming all he has been and done, still searching for new ways of expressing himself honestly and directly, still curious and open to the mysteries of life. Not a bad example to follow I think.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Poem: Picking Blackberries in Murray Creek

Picking the blackberries that grow along Murray Creek, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, where my mom lives, is a summer ritual. This morning Diane and I got up early to carry out this ritual.

Cool morning to a late summer day;
we put our pails down,
walk the labyrinth first.

This labyrinth has a bridge:
we return there, descending
from the rough planks to the dry creek bed.

It’s another drought year in California;
so the dry creekbed is our road
through the kingdom of blackberries.

Blackberry bushes, thinner than usual,
climb the stream banks above us,
sink roots deep, searching for water.

Where they find that water,
the berries grow full and sweet,
and come away easily in our fingers.

Mostly, though, there is not enough water,
and the berries are small, gritty, dry,
disappoint fingers by not letting go.

We follow the dry watercourse way;
The deer have been here before,
eaten the low-hanging berries.

We work our way upstream,
seeking secret meccas of berries,
pilgrims to populate our buckets.

Time passes: ducking under branches,
scrambling up banks, repeatedly dodging
sleeping beauty brambles.

Untangling ourselves from the brambles,
our purple fingers, when lucky, free
two or three berries at a time.

Where water filled banks at other times,
now mint thrusts upward from sandy bottom,
crushed by feet, the rich wet scent arises.

Sun climbs sky; berries rise in buckets.
Finally, we and the berries give out;
but there will be blackberry cobbler tonight.

-9 August 2008

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Two Papers with Peter Rober

Entry for 9 August 2008:

In 2004, when I arrived in Belgium to start my two years of regular 2-week stints as visiting professor at the University of Leuven, I was introduced to Peter Rober, a family therapist well-known there for his entertaining and illuminating books and magazine articles. Peter was trying to finish his doctoral dissertation, and asked to meet with me for a research consultation. He had several scientific articles published already, which he could incorporate into the dissertation, and had just completed data collection on a study using Interpersonal Process Recall (IPR) to study therapists’ moment-to-moment experiences during therapy sessions. Although it was a therapy analogue study using a standard client presenting one of several role-played problems, this was really an extension of Rennie’s ground-breaking study of client in-session experiences. In other words, Peter was trying to do for therapist in-session experiences what Rennie had done for client in-session experiences: establish its basic geography, forms and varieties.

Over a meal in a traditional Belgian restaurant, I laid out for him how he could analyse his data and organize the remaining pieces of his dissertation. As a result, I got asked to be co-supervisor on his dissertation, and ended up collaborating with him on several articles. The second and third of these articles, based on the IPR studied we first talked about almost 4 years ago, have now been published, in Psychotherapy Research and Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, respectively.

The two articles lay out the Grounded Theory Analysis of therapy in-session experiences. The first of these (Rober et al., 2008a), presents the basic category structure, while the second (Robert et al., 2008b) illustrates some key points and further elaborates the clinical implications. It’s nice to see these paper in print, both because they are interesting research interestingly told, but also because they remind me of the fun times Peter and I had working on this research. What’s the point of doing research if it can’t be fun?

Reference: Rober, P., Elliott, R., Buysse, A., Loots, G., & De Corte, K. (2008a). What's on the therapist's mind? A grounded theory analysis of family therapist reflections during individual therapy sessions. Psychotherapy Research, 18, 48-57.
Abstract. The authors used a videotape-assisted recall procedure to study the content of family therapists’ inner conversations during individual sessions with a standardized client. Grounded theory was used to analyze therapists’ reflections, resulting in a taxonomy of 282 different codes in a hierarchical tree structure of six levels, organized into four general domains: attending to client process; processing the client’s story; focusing on therapists’ own experience; and managing the therapeutic process. In addition to providing a descriptive model of therapists’ inner conversation, this research led to an appreciation of the wealth of therapists’ inner conversation. In particular, the authors found that therapists work hard to create an intersubjective space within which to talk by trying to be in tune with their clients and by using clients as a guide.
Reference: Rober, P., Elliott, R., Buysse, A., Loots, G., & De Corte, K. (2008b). Positioning in the therapist's inner conversation: A dialogical model based on a grounded theory analysis of therapist reflections. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 34, 406-421.
Abstract. In recent years, a dialogical perspective has emerged in the family therapy field in which the therapist’s inner conversation is conceptualized as a dialogical self. In this study, we analyze the data of a grounded theory study of therapist reflections and we portray the therapist’s self as a dynamic multiplicity of inner positions embodied as voices, having dialogical relationships in terms of questions and answers or agreement and disagreement. We propose a descriptive model of the therapist’s inner conversation with four positions. In this model, each of the four positions represents a concern of the therapist: attending to the client’s pro- cess, processing the client’s story, focusing on the therapist’s own experience, and managing the therapeutic process. Detailed analyses of vignettes of therapist reflections illustrate the model, and implications of this model for training and supervision are considered.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Complicated Way to Get Back to Ohio

Entry to 4 August 2008:

When I was about 20, I went to my dad with a complex scheme for a trip I’d planned, involving the family car and a lot of different trade-overs and exchanges. My dad listened to my plan, paused for a minute, then said, no doubt from his long experience as an attorney untangling complicated messes for people, “I’m sorry, son, it’s just too complicated. I’m afraid there are too many places where something can go wrong.” Hearing it put that way, I had to admit that my plan was too risky and that I had to give it up.

However, it has always been difficult for me to avoid the temptation to organize elaborate schemes, and so, in the absence of my dad’s wisdom, I concocted a Byzantine way to get Kenneth, Diane and I back from Glasgow and to the places that each of us needed to be. The Plan:

1. On Thursday, Kenneth was to go the airport in Glasgow to fly back to Cleveland, whence he’d flown last May directly after finishing up his semester.
2. Once in Cleveland, Kenneth would stay the night with Brendan and Mayumi.
3. On Friday, we would fly from Glasgow to Detroit.
4. While we were in route to Detroit, Kenneth’s friends Joe and Bethann would drive to Cleveland to pick him up and bring him back to Toledo.
5. Kenneth would then take our car and pick us up from Detroit.
6. Finally, on Saturday morning, we would take Kenneth to the airport to fly to his Go conference in Portland, Oregon, and we would drive to Cleveland to see Brendan and Mayumi.

What really happened was this:
1. On Thursday, Kenneth made it to Cleveland, but his suitcase didn’t.
2. Brendan stayed up late waiting for Kenneth’s suitcase not to arrive.
3. Our flight left Glasgow 4 hours late, missing our connection from Amsterdam to Detroit. There weren’t any seats on later flights, so we ended up being booked on two separate flights to Detroit, me through Boston and Diane through Paris. We spent the night in a rather miserable Holiday Inn near the Schiphol airport, where we got up at 5am (11pm Ohio time) in order to make our separate 8am flights.
4. Kenneth’s suitcase finally showed up at noon on Friday, making Joe and Bethann hours late and leaving Joe’s family short a car, which required them to make other arrangements.
5/6. Before we left Glasgow, we realized that Kenneth now had no one to take him to the Detroit airport, and we had no one to pick us up from the airport. We hastily emailed Kenneth and Brendan with plan B: Kenneth would drive himself to the Detroit airport park it, leave the parking ticket in the car (which they tell you not to do), and phone Brendan with the location of the car before catching his flight to Portland. Two hours later, Diane, after clearing customs, phoned Brendan and got the location. I arrived an hour later and we were able to find the car and drive to Cleveland.

At least Plan B worked, even though Plan A had failed so spectacularly. But throughout the whole process, I kept seeing my dad, smiling and shaking his head. “Too complicated!”

Monday, August 04, 2008

Grace on Leaving the Stow Building

Entry for 1 August 2008:

Yesterday on leaving work I felt a sense of profound grace, of giving and having been given much, of rightness and lightness. I experience this from time to time, when suddenly everything seems well and meaningful and what it is. In this case, I was beginning a long August holiday and felt liberated, a sense of space opening up after a very intense time of conferences, training and administrative efforts. In several contexts, as therapist, teacher and administrator, I had faced people dealing with difficult things, feeling overwhelmed by pain, fear, pressure of work. I had hung in there with them, in several cases long enough for glimmers of hope to begin to show through. As I reflect on it now, I wonder if it is this moment of emerging possibility, sometimes at the darkest point, that is the source of the feeling of grace that had come upon me.

Of course, grace can come to us anywhere, but it seemed to me in that moment that there was a sense of rightness in my being here, in this place, walking down the backstairs in the of the old Stow Building, that this is what we’d come to Scotland for. It may be easier to make space for this expansiveness on the eve of a vacation, but I’ve found that it can body forth at any moment, in any place.