Superplagal cadence?

By | February 1, 2013

In music theory, a cadence is a “melodic or harmonic configuration that creates a sense of repose or resolution” (thanks, Wikipedia; thanks, Harvard Dictionary of Music). The most basic cadence, also called authentic or standard cadence, ends in the chords V-I. (If you don’t know what that means, here’s some basic music theory: V refers to a triad built on the fifth degree of the scale, I to a a triad built on the first degree of the scale. You use Roman numerals to indicate a triad.) Wikipedia says that it is “virtually obligatory” to use V-I as the final cadence in a tonal work.

But there is another, specialized cadence called the plagal cadence. The plagal cadence is IV-I, also called the “Amen” cadence, because it is used for the “Amen” at the end of most hymns, and probably in some other works. To me, the plagal cadence has always felt even more final than the standard cadence, thanks to many, many years of going to church, begun early in childhood.

A few months ago, I watched “Phantom of the Opera” for the first time. I remember at some point hearing a sequence of chords that inspired in me a really profound sense of peace and resolution. I can’t remember when it was: at the end? Or during one of the songs, right before a singer began to sing? At any rate, I began thinking of it as a “super-plagal cadence.”

Thinking about it a few days later, I remembered one other place where I had heard a cadence like that: in Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, “From the New World.” It is the beginning of Mvt. 2, Largo, and takes 7 chords, before the appearance of the folk-song-like theme. I meant to look at Dvorak’s score sometime and figure out what the chords were. I’m going to do that soon, but wanted to make a note of the connection, as I saw it, first.

I’m not really sure there is anything “plagal” about these cadences. It’s just the way I thought of it, based on my emotional reaction to them. Does anyone know where I’ll find the passage I’m referring to in “Phantom”? I’m pretty sure I still have that recording on my DVR; I can find it in time, but I thought I’d “ask Dr. Internet” first.

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Modern banking: I still hate it

By | February 1, 2013

Jay and I have been pretty short on cash lately. This isn’t our fault; it’s because for quite a few months of last year, I worked for someone who *ahem* did not pay me. Not an illegal action; I was a contractor, and I took the job knowing that the company had cash-flow problems and that they might continue. But let’s just say that as the weeks passed, I inadvertently took on much more of the company’s risk than I intended to. At times, we spent as if we expected to collect that money really soon (well, we did… naive? who, us?) and as a result, we stretched our credit limits pretty far.

All this week, I have been trying to deal with a consequence of this: our bank overdraft was straining its limit. We didn’t have cash to cover it, but we did have various credit-card transfer offers on hand, from the credit cards that weren’t near their limits. So last Friday, I got on the phone with Citicard and ordered a balance transfer to pay down the overdraft. I know that Citi does everything electronically, so I figured it wouldn’t take long.

But surprise, surprise, even in the Check 21 age, when consumer checks have NO float, BANKS STILL HAVE LOOPHOLES TO MAKE THEIR PAYMENTS FLOAT. Citicard posted the transfer and started charging me interest on Monday, but as of today, Friday, TDBank still doesn’t know anything about the transfer. I talked to a banking customer-service representative at the TDBank call center: nothing. I called Citicard, for the second time this week, and got confirmation that the transfer had been made (and confirmed) on Monday. But what did “confirmed” mean? Apparently, it wasn’t a confirmation by TDBank. I still don’t know what it does mean. I finally made a three-way call and had a TDBank rep (from the loan center, no less, in Lewiston, Maine) talk to a Citicard rep. The previous Citi rep had told me that the payment was a “wire transfer”, a name which normally refers to a Fedwire, the only type of financial instrument that has NO float. But this one said that it was an “electronic transfer” or “EFT.” The two reps seemed to be speaking a secret language to each other, and having exchanged secret handshakes, they told me together that the transfer could take, oh, four? five? eight? business days to post.

So once again, the consumer (that’s me) gets screwed. I get a whole week (at least!) of paying interest to both banks for the same money. Furthermore, I am still not safe from maxing out my overdraft and bouncing every purchase that we make this weekend. (Because nowadays, it doesn’t matter what’s cleared; your available balance is reduced by all your pending transactions, and your available balance has to be at or above zero at the end of the day.) So I went down to the branch of TDBank with my checkbook from the credit union where we keep a few extra bucks socked away. I went to the counter to write and deposit a check, but realized at the last minute that it wouldn’t help, because TDBank, when it is clearing a check, puts a positive AND a negative into the pending-transactions list. So what would I do? I offered to go to the ATM and take out cash from my credit union, then give it to the teller. “Hang on a second,” he said, “maybe there’s something we can do.” He turned to the branch manager and described the situation, and she told him to cash the check, then deposit the cash. WHEW. I’m in good shape now. We have some cash to spend on the weekend (not much, but enough).

And it brought home to me something I once knew, but forgot: the only people you can trust in a bank are the people who work at a local branch. Thanks, TDBank of Richmond, Vermont.


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This is my Sick Face.

By | February 1, 2013


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The wisdom of using “shylock” as the Word of the Day at your coffeehouse

By | February 1, 2013

Carole and I stopped at the Starbucks in Williston, VT after my doctor’s appointment this morning; my throat was killing me and I was desperate for some hot tea. While we were waiting for our drinks with the other drones, I noticed with some amazement that this particular Starbucks had happily posted a “Word of the Day” on a little blackboard … and today’s Word was “shylock”.

I wish I’d thought to grab a picture with my Droid, but the definition that they gave was “a grasping, avaricious moneylender” or words to that effect.

I glanced at Carole and said “I’m not sure that’s really a … good word to use, given its anti-Semitic connotations, and the whole debate over the ‘Merchant of Venice’ and so on.”

Carole did a double-take over her own and said “Yeah. Huh. I wonder if they get the Word of the Day from corporate or something.”

The barista overheard us and said “No, we come up with those here.” Then she cheerily repeated the definition for us with the air of someone happy to have learned something and happy to share it with her customers. And when we repeated our doubts as to the propriety of using “shylock” as a word of the day, given the likelihood of causing offense among Jewish customers, she was surprised and confused. Apparently she wasn’t really familiar with Shakespeare’s play.

I tried to explain about the whole “contrasting the cruel, greedy nature of the Jew with the mercy of the Christian characters” and Carole chimed in with the “Yeah, and he was made to give up his religion and convert to Christianity and this was seen as a happy ending for the character.”

The barista said “Huh. Maybe we should take that down.” And she did so between drinks, sliding the little blackboard off the counter (where it had been positioned so every customer coming in would look right at it). While she was making my drink, though, I heard another employee ask what was up and the barista said “Apparently it’s antisemitic.”

I sort of suspect that the minute we left the store the little WOTD blackboard went right back up on the counter. But I’d also be surprised if no one else comments on it.

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Ponderings from the haze of cold medicine

By | January 31, 2013

I’ve had a cold all week, not a particularly awful one, but bad enough that I’d definitely prefer to be over it. It’s shifted to the “painful sore throat” phase, with a soupçon of aching pain in my inguinal lymph nodes (for those who skipped Intro to Anatomy, that’s the lymph nodes down in the groin). I’m at the point where ibuprofen taken every two hours isn’t really managing to arrest the pain, and I’m alternating between gargling Chloraseptic and drinking vats of hot beverages.

I had to teach in Dallas this week and just got home an hour ago. I’m more or less planning to crash tomorrow and take it as a sick day. I need the rest after what turned into a difficult class; I wasn’t very mentally focused because I felt so rotten all three days.

I had hoped to run in the first ever Montpelier Frostival 5k on Saturday morning. Right now, I’d say there’s just about zero chance of that. It’s supposed to be about 15 degrees and I doubt that wearing myself out in a road race would help my recovery from this cold at all.

I had a strange question pop into my head a couple of hours ago while I was trapped aboard a small regional jet packed with kids, to wit: If you committed some crime, and you were given the alternative between six months in traditional jail OR two weeks locked in solitary with either “Hotel California” or “Stairway to Heaven” playing continuously, 24 hours a day, which would you choose? Regular jail or “face the music”? And if you chose to endure the music, which tune would you choose? The 2500 back-to-back playings of “Stairway” or the the 3100 playings of “Hotel California”?

Comments below, please!

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My ever-dropping heart rate?

By | January 23, 2013

I vowed that I would run each day this week. I started on Saturday and have run four days in a row so far. Each run took place at the Sports and Fitness Edge gym in Essex Junction, Vermont on their 1/8 mile indoor track.

I was just under 30 minutes on Saturday, just over 30 minutes on Sunday, and just under 30 minutes on both Monday and Tuesday. But more notably, Monday’s run was my first-ever 5K distance run where I didn’t walk at all and I was able to follow that up last night (Tuesday) with another no-walking run. I feel like I’m getting stronger; I used to really start to gasp and ache if I didn’t stop and walk a half lap now and then. Last night, though I was certainly tiring, I could probably have kept on running at the end. When I completed my 25th lap I hadn’t hit the wall.

Interestingly, when I uploaded the data from my Garmin Forerunner 305 to my computer, I noticed that my average heart rate during my runs had dropped each day. Saturday: 160. Sunday: 153. Monday: 152. Tuesday: 147.

I don’t really know what it means that my heart rate is dropping each time — can one really improve in cardiovascular terms over such a short span of time? Still, I’m not complaining.

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By | January 21, 2013

I hate running.

I like the idea of running. When I visualize myself running, I have a mental image of me gliding effortlessly around a track. Not as fast as, say, Roger Bannister or Billy Mills or anyone like that, but not like some horribly out of shape weirdo at a fat camp, either.

But when I get my running gear on and head out on a trail or road or track, somehow that Runner Jay I had such a clear picture of is replaced by a “oh god, oh god, how many more laps before I can stop?” Jay.

Somehow I make it through to the end of my run each time without having a coronary or barfing on the track. I don’t generally go “oh, Christ, I hope no one was watching.” But I’m acutely aware each time of how far I still have to go before I feel like I’m where I want to be.

My preferred place to run is on a nice flat track. When the weather is nice, there’s a standard-length high school track about ten miles from my house (I drive ten miles to run three; yay, I’m an American!) and when it’s cold and icy and snowy out, I can go run at the indoor track at the gym Carole and I belong to; it’s a half-size track so I have to run 25 laps to get in a 5K distance.

I’ve run along trails and I’ve run along roads, but frankly, I really hate road running. Here in Vermont there are hardly ever sidewalks and the shoulders aren’t super-wide either, and the last thing someone who’s already pretty sheepish about running needs is cars honking dismissively as they go by. Road running has the other disadvantage of, well, hills. I don’t mind running down them but I absolutely hate running up them. Which just goes to show that I’ve got a long ways to go as a runner. I doubt that very many people love hills, but I doubt that most people hate them as much as I do. I know that ultimately I need to run on hills if I want to avoid total embarrassment when I’m running in an actual 5K road race, but … I hates them, I does.

I also hate running on a treadmill. I’ve done quite a bit of fast walking on a treadmill, but when I start a “run” on a treadmill, the words “oh, jeez, I must look like a total idiot compared to everyone else in here” come unbidden to mind every time. And that’s too bad, because as much as I travel, I’ve got little choice but to run on treadmills if I want to stay in shape and stay trained. I can’t run just on the weekends at home and then do nothing all week. When I go down to the hotel fitness center after work, I generally find two or three women running on treadmills with that effortless stride that says that if they didn’t get in a run they’d just feel lousy all evening. And I hate the idea of running next to them; even if they never even look at me, I just know that they’re mentally going “check out the lame-o on Treadmill 3.”

Do you have the idea that the mental game is where I’m really hurting myself? Because, yeah, that’s occurred to me as well. I need to avoid tearing myself down mentally and do a better job psyching myself up. The truth is, while I’ll never be in contention for top finisher in my age and sex classification at any real road race, I can generally expect to come in around 30 minutes, and that’s not awful. The more I train, the better my time gets; last year I had one race in the 28 minute range. Then life got ugly and complicated, and I stopped doing much running, and, of course, my time suffered.

This year I’m trying to run more. I ran twice this weekend and I plan to go running at the track each day this week… and I’m working hard on thinking positive, happy thoughts. If I can keep building up my stamina and my speed, I might actually be able to get down to the 27-minute range sometime late this winter and maybe even start competing in 10K distances instead of forever shackling myself to the 5K.

Why am I doing any of this? Well, even though the world doesn’t really need one more marginally-competent 45-year-old white male runner, I need something to challenge myself with, or I just get listless and depressed. I’ve shown that I can walk long, long distances with little or no difficulty, so running seems like the obvious next step. It’s something I can work on year-round, generally, and with any luck, it’ll help with my mood, my blood pressure, and my cholesterol.

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Welcome to the jungle

By | January 21, 2013

This is the first-ever post to our new WordPress blog.

For years — literally, since 1996 or so — Carole and I had a website hosted by Mindspring (and its successor, Earthlink). We never really did much with it other than host photos, and when sites like Facebook and Google came along and made it so much easier to host photos online, the need to maintain our own website for the purpose diminished markedly. Furthermore, the wonderful folks at Earthlink felt no need to tell us that the $80-a-month hosting plan that we signed up for in 1999 had been replaced by a $34.95-a-month plan, and we were too fat and happy to make inquiries until 2005 or so, when we wised up and switched.

Fast-forward to 2013. I knew that our legacy site was a clunky dinosaur, the kind of thing that gets mocked in this modern high-tech era. And I finally decided to bite the bullet and switch to a cheaper (much cheaper, frankly) plan with another provider and simply host a WordPress blog.

And that brings us here. Carole and I have our own Livejournals (mine is and Carole’s is and I have my Komen 3-Day-oriented blog at, so this site will mostly just contain entries distilled from our Livejournals rather than being a new and trendy place to get the latest in otter/lemur-themed metasyntactic variables.

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