Thursday, January 1, 2015

Remembering Wendy Williamson


By Kim Rich, Anchorage Daily
 News, Sunday,
 July 
3,
 1988
 

The
 best moments 
always
 came
 late
 in
 Wendy
 Williamson's
 piano
 classes.
 That's
 when
 one
 of
 his
 students
 would 
invariably
 ask,
"Wendy, 
can
 you
 play 
some
 'Martini
 Music?'"

"Martini 
Music" 
was
 what
 the
 students
 called
 the 
jazz
 standards
 that
 Williamson
 loved -- songs 
like 
"Satin
 Doll,"
 "Autumn
 Leaves,"
 and 
"The
 Lady
 is
 a
 Tramp."
 These
 were 
some
 of 
his
 favorites -- the 
kind
 of
 songs he
 used
 to
 play
 40
 years
 ago 
in
 Anchorage
 night
 spots
 with 
such 
names
 as
 "The
 Last
 Chance," "
The
 Green
 Lantern
," or
 "The
 Silver
 Slipper.
"
Then,
 as
 in 
his
 classroom,
 Williamson's
 body
 would
 gently
 sway 
as
 his
 fingers
 roamed
 the
 keyboard, instilling
 new
 life 
in
 the
 oft-played
 melodies,
 recalling
 the
 era
 when
 Jazz
 was
 King.

Moments
 such
 as 
this
 were
 recalled
 earlier 
this 
week
 when
 dozens
 of 
Williamson's
 friends
 gathered 
in
 a 
local
 home 
to 
remember
 him.
 On
 June 
25,
 John
 Wendell
 "Wendy"
 Williamson, 
one
 of
 Anchorage's 
finest
 jazz
 pianists
 and
 best-loved
 music
 teachers,
 died
 of 
cancer
 at 
the 
age
 of 
65.

When
 people
 aren't
 talking
 about
 Williamson's
 free and easy 
style
 of
 piano 
playing,
 his
 perfect
 pitch,
 or the
 way
 he
 could
 make
 any
 song
 swing,
 they
 talk
 about
 how 
this
 "musician's
 musician
" was
 one 
of
 the 
most
 adored
 people
 in
 Anchorage.

"He
 was
 the 
kindest
 man,"
 says
 Mickey
 Belden,
 an 
adjunct
 faculty
 member 
of
 the
 University
 of
 Alaska
 Anchorage
 music
 department.


"I
 never
 ever
 did
 hear 
him
 say
 a
 mean
 word, 
just
 never 
did, " 
says
 Elvera
 Voth,
 a
 longtime
 member 
of
 Anchorage's
 classical
 music
 scene
 who
 gave
 Williamson
 his
 job
 at
 the
 college.

"He
 was the
 kind
 of
 guy
 you'd
 like
 to
 have
 for
 a 
friend -- a
 buddy -- and
 he
 was
 extremely
 talented -- on
 the 
verge
 of
 being
 a 
genius," 
says
 Jack
 O'Toole,
 a
 local
 drummer
 who
 used
 to
 gig
 with
 Williamson.

For
 17
 years,
 Williamson's
 large,
 rounded, 
silhouette
 was
 a 
common
 sight
 at
 the
 Music
 Department
 at
 Anchorage
 Community
 College,
 where 
he
 taught 
music 
theory,
 private 
piano
 lessons, 
and
 piano
 classes.


Most people
 remember
 his
 eyes -- 
eyes 
that
 appeared -- as
 one 
former 
student 
put
 it -- as
 if
 they 
were 
"full
 of
 the
 Dickens." 
His
 broad
 cheeks
 made
 him
 look
 rather like
 an 
unshaven
 Santa
 Claus.


 
Unlike 
most
 of
 his 
casual 
colleagues 
at
 the 
College,
 Williamson 
always 
arrived
 at
 work
 in 
a
 suit
, something
 almost
 unheard 
of 
in
 the 
low-key 
Community
 College
 setting.
 But
 after
 all,
 Williamson
 was
 a 
jazz
man -- and 
jazz
 players 
almost
 always
 wear
 suits.


 
"You
 have 
to 
dress 
for teaching,"
 he
 would
 tell
 his 
wife,
 Marjorie
 Williamson. 
"You
 have 
to 
look
 like
 you're a Somebody."

Despite 
a 
quiet, unassuming 
nature,
 Williamson
 had 
a 
keen
 sense
 of 
humor.
 Many
 still
recall
 the 
daily
 "piano
 wars" 
Williamson
 used
 to
 wage 
with 
former
 University 
of
 Alaska
Anchorage
 piano
 professor
 Jean
-Paul Billoud.
 The 
two 
had
 adjoining
 studios.
 Whenever
 Williamson
 would 
hear
 Billoud
 coming
 down 
the 
hall,
 he'd
 run 
to
 his 
piano 
and
 begin 
playing
 a
 piece 
of 
classical
 or
 jazz
 music.
 Within
 seconds,
 Billoud
 would
 finish
 the
 music
 from
 his
 own 
studio.


 
Elvera
 Voth
 says
 Williamson 
was
 also
 always
 full
 of
 one-liners. 
Once,
 she
 asked
 him
 if
 he
 sang.
 His
 joking
 reply -- "Only
 at 
the
 police
 station -- and
 then 
I
'll
 sing
 plenty."

Even 
near 
the
 end
 of
 a lengthy 
illness,
 he 
kept
 his
 sense
 of 
humor.
 While
 he
 was
 hospitalized,
 a
 nurse
 came
 in 
to
 ask
 for
 the
 umpteenth 
time 
what
 allergies 
he
 had.
 Williamson
 responded,
 "Penicillin
 and
 Rock 
'n' Roll."


 

Born 
in
 Chehalis, 
Washington,
 Williamson
 received
 his
 earliest
 musical
 inspiration
 from
 his
 father, 
who was a
 trombone
 player.
 Marjorie
 Williamson
 says 
the 
father
 got 
Williamson
 and
 his
 two
 brothers,
 Vernell
 ("Tex")
 and
 Euell, 
interested
 in
 music
 by
 offering 
them
 the
 choice 
of 
"either 
hoeing
 the 
garden 
or
 practicing."
 They
 always chose
 the
 latter.


 
After
 earning 
his 
Bachelor 
of 
Music
 degree
 from
 Washington 
State
 College,
 where
 he
 also 
played
 trombone, 
Williamson 
received
 a 
Master's
 Degree
 in
 Music
 from
 the
 Cincinnati
 Conservatory
 of 
Music.
 While 
he 
was 
schooled
 in 
both
 classical
 and
 jazz,
 his 
heart
 really belonged
 to 
jazz.

Williamson 
first
 visited 
Anchorage
 in
 1947,
 after
 being
 discharged
 from
 the 
Army.
 Prior
 to 
settling 
in
 Alaska,
 he
 played
 with
 some
 of 
the
 Big 
Band 
Era's 
greatest
 musicians -- 
including 
a tour with 
famed
 band
leader/trombone 
player,
 Jack
 Teagarden.

"When 
I
 first
 met 
him 
(Williamson) 
I
 thought
 he
 was
 rich 
because
 he
 owned 51 
white
 shirts,"
 says
 Marjorie,
 adding 
that
 the
 shirts
 were
 in reality a result of the
 51
 weeks
 Williamson 
once
 spent
 on
 the
 road
 with
 Teagarden -- he 
really hated 
to
 do 
laundry.


Marjorie
 was 
working
 as 
a
 stewardess
 for
 United
 Airlines, 
and
 living
 in
 Seattle
, when
 they
 met.
 The 
couple
 married
 in
 1956,
 then moved
 to
 Anchorage.
 They 
have
 three
 boys --  
Jim
 , who is
 now 
age 31, 
 Scott,
 30, and John,
 28.
 All
 three
 play 
instruments --
 Jim
 carries on the
 trombone tradition,
 Scott
 plays the
 drums
, and
 John triples on bass 
guitar,
 piano,
 and 
French
 Horn.


 
Like 
his 
father 
before 
him, 
Williamson
 encouraged 
his
 sons 
to
 learn 
the
 foundation
 of
 music
al training.

"One 
thing 
dad
 pounded 
into
 us
 was
 that we
 had
 to 
know
 how 
to 
read
 music,"
 says
 Scott. "He'd 
say, 
'There'll
 always 
be
 a 
lot
 of
 good
 players,
 but
 the
 people
 who
 know
 how
 to
 read
 are
 the
 ones
 who land 
the
 jobs."'

Reading music worked 
for
 Williamson,
 who 
for 
years
 found
 steady
 work 
in
 Anchorage -- playing
 gigs
 in
 bands
 named The
 Rhythm
 Kings,
 Wendy's
 Wiggers,
 The
 Wendy
 Williamson
 Trio, 
and 
The
 Auke 
Bay 
Conservatory
 of 
Dixieland 
Jazz.
 But
 Williamson's
 favorite
 and
 most reliable 
gig
 was
 his
 teaching 
job
 at 
the
 Community
 College.

He
 was 
one 
of 
the 
first 
people
 Voth
 hired
 when 
she
 was
 assembling 
the 
Music
 Program
 there 
in
 the
 early
 sixties.
 She
 says 
no 
one
 was
 more
 pleased 
to
 be
 on 
a
 college
 faculty 
than
 Williamson.
 "He 
just loved it,"
 she
 says.
 "He
 used 
to
 say
 funny things 
like,
 'Call
 me
 Professor.'
"

Voth,
 who
 left
 the
 college 
in 
the 
mid-seventies,
 says Williamson's
 jazz
 courses
 were
 among the 
school's
 most
 popular
 classes.
 Part
 of
 their 
success 
was
 due 
to
 his
 teaching 
style.
 He
 avoided
 any
 situation
 that
 would
 make
 his
 students 
nervous
 and
 keep
 them
 from
 playing
 at their
 best.
 

He
 abhorred
 recitals.
 In
 his
 piano
 lab 
classes,
 where 
students
 played electric 
pianos
 while
 wearing
 earphones,
 Williamson 
never
 told
 the
 musicians
 on what
 day
 he
 was
 going to grade 
them.
 That
 way,
 they
 felt more 
at 
ease.
 
 "He was
 very
 affable,
 easygoing
, and 

helpful,"
 says
 his former 
student
, Karen
 Strid. 
"He
'd 
never 
'put
 anyone
 down'
 in
 a
 class, 
and 
he'd
 share 
musical examples.
 He'd
 
play 
for you.
 He
 not
 only 

talked 
about the theory of music -- 
 he
 could 
also
 put it into practice.
 He
 was
 marvelous.
 I
 think he 
must
 have memorized
 2,000 
tunes or more."

 
Williamson's 
illness 
finally 
forced 
him 
to 
retire 
from 
the
 College 
in
 December.
 Just before
 his
 death,
 he
 recommended 
that
 Strid -- who
 studied
 with him
 for
 18
 years -- be appointed
 to
 fill 
his
 position.
 "He 
hung 
on 
just 
long
 enough
 to 
hear 
she
 got 
the 
job," 
says
 Kay
 McInnes,
 secretary
 to 
the
 Music
 and
 Dance
 Departments.

In
 Williamson's
 honor, 
the
 Music department and
 his 
family have 
established 
a 
memorial
 scholarship 
in
 his
 name.
 Additionally, 
a 
program
 of
 Traditional 
jazz, is 
to 
be
 performed
 this July
 22 
at
 the
 International 
Inn
, and it too will
 be
 dedicated 
to
 Williamson's memory.

"I
 owe
 Wendy 
a
 great
 deal," says 
Strid,
 who 
in addition to 
taking
 over
 Williamson's 
post,
 was
 also 
bequeathed
 his
 voluminous teaching
 notes 
and
 materials.
 "If you
 talk
 to
 anyone
 who
 knew
 Wendy -- 
you'll soon hear about how much they loved
 him -- he will
 be greatly 
missed."




Wednesday, December 17, 2014

In the Blogs: The Real Connection Between Ambition And Mental Health




By Carolyn Gregoire for The Huffington Post

We're a culture that tends to define success in terms of money and power. But finding other ways to measure self-worth isn’t just intrinsically worthwhile -- it could help prevent a troubling mental health diagnosis.

How one views social status, including financial status, can predict mental health problems including bipolar disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, anxiety and depression, according to a new study from the University of California at Berkeley.

The research, which was published this month in the journal Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, applied the “dominance behavioral system" -- a model used to explain how humans and animals assess their position in social hierarchies -- to 600 young men and women, particularly focusing on their motivation to achieve wealth and power.

Whether they achieved success by these definitions or not, the outcome was dim: A deflated sense of power or disappointment in social standing was associated with a higher risk of depression and anxiety, while excessive striving and ambition meant a higher risk of bipolar disorder and narcissistic personality disorder.

Previous research supports this connection: A 2010 study found that people who live in developed countries with very high levels of income inequality are three times more likely to suffer from depression or anxiety disorders than people living in developed nations that are more economically uniform. Countries with particularly large gaps between rich and poor, the new research suggests, may foster cultures of intense striving for wealth and power, in which it's easy for an individual's self-worth to become deeply intertwined with their social status.

The Huffington Post spoke to Berkeley psychologist Sheri Johnson, the study's lead author to learn more about the role social status plays in mental health.

Why did you decide to apply an animal behavioral model to humans?

Most of us are used to the idea that we live within a system of social dominance, or that there's some sort of rank order or sense of hierarchy among people. That's interesting to me because it's got some deep roots -- most animals who live in packs have a sense of hierarchy. There are a lot of scientists who study this in animal models. What we've been working on, a long with a lot of other researchers, is the idea that there are a lot of pieces in how to think about our social hierarchy.

How do people conceive of power?

First, you can think about the level of power you have within any one hierarchy. Do you feel like you have the power to influence people? Second on the list might be how important it is for you to have that power -- so motivation for power, and comfort with having power. Some people really want to get to the top and others are happy in the middle, and others are just trying to avoid being at the bottom. Then, we also look at the strategies people use to attain power.

Finally, it's a question of, how do you feel emotionally when the power has been attained? There, we draw on the work of Jessica Tracey, who's shown that pride is an emotion that's triggered when you have a sense of having attained power.

What kind of differences have you observed in how people judge the importance of achieving high levels of wealth and power?

Research shows that we're really varied in how much we put our investments into attaining power and the admiration of other people. There are some people who are really motivated to make sure that other people are admiring them and respecting them because that's one form of attaining a sense of social dominance. So their ambitions might have more to do with being recognized by other people than by their own intrinsically satisfying activities.

Psychologists talk about the idea that you can pursue either extrinsically-oriented life motivations or intrinsically-oriented life motivations. Intrinsic motivations might be "I want to be very close to people," "I want to feel like my life has meaning," "I want to feel like I'm doing something good for the universe." Extrinsic ambitions might be things like "I want to make sure that I'm wealthier than other people," "I want to be viewed by others as having influence and power."

As you can imagine, people set very different priorities on those two broad levels of organizing their lives. What they've shown is that for college seniors who put their focus on these extrinsically oriented life goals, that's going to predict less life satisfaction over time. It's an unhappy way to set your life goals.

Are people who are more invested in power more likely to suffer from mental health problems?

Certainly that story holds for people with anxiety and depression. People who put their value on a set of goals related to attaining power -- and then experience profound sense of subordination and not making it to those goals -- are at high risk for anxiety and depression.

For narcissism, we're not as sure which direction it plays out. We don't have the longitudinal evidence. We do know that this is a group where it seems very important to people to attain power. They've put their focus on this, and there's a kind of steadfast over-pursuit of this. Which came first, we don't really know. And with people with bipolar disorder, we know that if they really value the pursuit of fame and money, they are more likely to have worse symptoms over time. It's not a good focus for them.

How can we create a healthy self-image that isn't based on extrinsic factors like our perceived social status or levels of power?

There really are these two forms of pride. Beyond hubris, there's something that Tracey calls "authentic pride," which is more carefully rooted in what you've accomplished and what things about yourself are important treasure. So instead of just the fight to make sure that you feel like you're superior to other people, authentic pride would involve nurturing along a set of beliefs about why you genuinely do have value, and that there are things about yourself you want to value.

Is there a measurable correlation between our cultural obsession with achieving ever-higher levels of money and power, on the one hand, and the well-documented rise of mental illness on the other?

Countries with extreme levels of income inequality have worse mental health, and that seems well-documented even after you take into account the level of overall level wealth or poverty in the country. It's the disparity that seems particularly toxic to mental health. That's very consistent with the idea that in countries where there are greater levels of striving for money in an individualist way, that's probably bad for mental health. That's one piece that certainly points in that direction, and it's a piece that's well-studied.

We've done a little bit of work on the level of individualistic striving in a country, and we've seen that rates of mania are higher in countries whose cultural values emphasize more individualistic striving. There's some evidence on the table that this is really a concern on a cross-cultural level.

What does your data suggest in terms of possible solutions, or at least different ways of looking at these mental health problems?

We haven't tackled treatment yet, but there's a man in England named Paul Gilbert who does a lot of treatment work. He has designed something called self-compassion therapy, which looks very promising here. It's an attempt to help people learn to provide themselves with more compassion and acceptance.

One way to think about this is that you're paying too much attention to trying to gain other people's admiration, and to have enough power and enough social rank. Sometimes, you're not giving yourself enough compassion and enough room to pursue the things that are really intrinsically meaningful to you. His therapies seem to help people re-anchor themselves in those sort of internally driven ways. It's been shown to work really nicely for depression and anxiety.