Thank goodness Angelica didn’t win #AGT

Dear #ClassicalMusic Fan,

Angelica Hale did great.

Honestly – it’s no small feat (pun intended) to get to the finals of America’s Got Talent.

Well-deserved, and she certainly has talent.

But her performances and interviews seemed totally doctored, groomed and perhaps even robotic. It’s difficult to see past the act and find the genuine soul and expression of emotion. Even my wife, upon seeing her for the first time, said “Wait… are those tipped nails? She’s 9!”

And then the sob story came out for the sympathy votes.

That’s great, wonderful, and that little girl has been through some difficult surgery and achieved a stardom rare for 9-year-olds indeed. Her fame and signature hugs will surely put a smile on hundreds of children who are suffering.

What were you doing at 9?

Creating a Brand for yourself?

I certainly wasn’t being told the right things to say, and ‘make sure you hug all the other contestants immediately after the announcement’ and the other behavior tricks tots in tiaras are trained to do. It’s almost like there is still a faction of society that idolizes “cute” little kids (it all began with Shirley Temple, didn’t it?), even though most of us don’t really like how they turn out a few years later (thinking of Shirley Temple, Lindsay Lohan, Macaulay Culkin, Corey Haim, even Liza Minnelli).

I sometimes wonder if there is any difference between those little gems, and Sarah’s Hero.

Are these really the values we want to promote?

Is that really how shallow Entertainment has to be, just to make a buck? (Remember: Hollywood, like the mainstream media, is in the game to make money. Don’t fool yourself it’s about anything else!)

Darci Lynne (and Mandy, and Diavolo, come to that), shared their raw, refined talent.

What you see is what they’ve got.

And THAT I like.

I’m glad one of those three won, and look forward to seeing how Darci Lynne grows, and what she does in about 20 years after she gets tired of ventriloquism. She’s clearly talented in so many ways, including learning and challenging herself.

Well done indeed to all the finalists, including Angelica.

Yes, they are all ‘winners.’

And bravo, #AGT. It was a particularly good season.

If you want to figure out what makes music good, and what doesn’t, listen to some of my Classical Rate N Slate two-minute podcasts. You’ll surely learn to appreciate refined raw talent much more than the robotic presentation of an act.

When humility is harmful

It hit me the other day that the majority of performers and audiences I see on a regular basis don’t get what you get…

These articles.

I can count on two hands the number of performers in the ensembles I regularly conduct who are wise subscribers, like you (and hundreds of others like you).

That bothered me for the longest time.

Until one of those subscribing performers said something that explained why.

In the middle of some pub talk after a rehearsal, the conversation somehow turned to personality, serving others, being nice, and all the things most conductors are not. Almost flippantly my friend said to me “You are definitely humble… quite often to your own detriment, to be honest,” as he chuckled.


Although the group conversation continued along its original path, I immediately knew what he meant and where it came from…

After decades of being accused of arrogance, self-righteousness, and full of ego, I have taught myself to behave just the opposite.

It seems my inner lack of confidence and self-esteem (a whole other story) is what drove me to appear over-confident, which is often confused with arrogance.

At least, in person:

  • Rarely do I mention my articles to those in the ensembles I conduct.
  • Not even do I leave “SPB” promotional materials on their music stands or by rehearsal room exits.
  • Only once in my life have I mentioned these articles (which I’ve been writing since 2008!) from the stage to the audiences I talk to.
  • Perhaps I’ve mentioned them a few times to my students, but most of them have now moved on and I’m no longer working with them directly.
  • And never when I’m networking!

Why not?

I don’t want to appear arrogant. Or come across as self-righteous or self-promoting. In many social circles I walk in, self-promotion is just the worst. I hate it in others, and therefore I don’t want to do it myself.

And that, quite clearly, is harmful for both me – I really do believe what I share can help the world become a better place – and them – the folk I work with don’t get to understand my approach to music and how I help them accomplish more than they thought possible…

They don’t get to benefit from what I share with you.

My friend was right: my humility is harmful. It’s not helping anyone.


How do I balance a lack of confidence and self-esteem with the desire to not appear arrogant, while promoting these articles with the people I work with?


I’m asking!

Here’s one example how the folk I see regularly are missing out:

Earlier this year I asked almost 15,000 people what their biggest question about classical music was.

Many told me their questions, and I put my answers in a series of five videos that, together, are almost an hour long.

I give that series of videos away for free with my training about how to make the most of classical music concerts.

But I haven’t told anyone in my ensembles, nor none of the audiences I talk to.

You can get all that material here, though:

Right now!

How did you become an expert?

Almost everyone online seems to be an expert these days.

What are you an expert at?

At least, what are you really good at?

I bet you can already do more than you think you can, but unconfidence and humility probably prevent you from sharing it with the world.

Let’s think about it for a moment…

How did you become an expert?

I can tell you.

You learned something.

Just one thing more.

You discovered something or were told something that you didn’t know before, and that one piece of information brought you a step closer to achieving a goal, understanding the way things work, and opening a world of fascination.

Or not.

But knowing that one thing extra definitely brought you a step closer to becoming an expert.

It’s the same with classical music, whether you are a performer or a listener.

Knowing just one thing more than you did before about the composition, an instrument, or the composer helps you immeasurably, and makes you an expert… especially if the folk you are hanging out with don’t already know it!

You can now accomplish far more than you could before, just because of that one piece of understanding.

Go ahead…

Find something out today.

Then let me know what it is.

And let’s explore how taking such action helps you make the most of classical music concerts…

3 ways we mislead ourselves

It’s all about Balance.

You may have heard me say that before.

Indeed, I identified it as the biggest legacy my father left me:

“He was serious about life, but life doesn’t always have to be serious.”

Here are three ways we get out of balance by misleading ourselves and adding burdens we don’t need:

1. Missed Opportunities

Almost two weeks ago I received news that large areas of where I live would be evacuated due to Hurricane Irma. Most folk decided to stay put, barricade themselves in, and just deal with the anxiety surrounding food stocks, power issues, damage to things, and disconnect. On the other hand, my family (and thousands of others) took the opportunity to jump ahead of millions of evacuees, and go places we’ve never been before and have a ball. If something happened to our home there was nothing we could do until power had been restored, grocery stores restocked and gasoline supplies replenished. So we decided not to worry about our things until we got back after the big rush. Instead, we concerned ourselves with the people we know who stayed behind in harm’s way, and took advantage of the opportunities for new experiences.

We met some really amazing people in the process, too.

2. Perspective

We often do the right things for the wrong reasons, and miss out on a great lifestyle. Last week I received an email from a reader who was disgruntled that I suggested “cheap” is the wrong priority to drive what we do in life. They proceeded to tell me about making their own bread because it is cheaper than buying it. We discussed listing the ingredients of both the home-made bread and the manufactured bread to see that our health actually gains the most, and that the overall cost of making bread at home is not cheaper when taking into account an hourly rate (there are ways to assign a monetary value to home-makers, too), cost of power, ingredients, etc. To me, making bread at home is definitely much more a decision about providing good quality fuel and sustenance for a family, than it is about the wallet. (It certainly ain’t faster!).

It is no trophy to think yourself as cheap, or good at saving a buck, because you make your own meals from scratch (that doesn’t include warming up frozen dinners!). Actually, you should feel proud that you care so much about the quality of food you and your family live on. The fact that you hand over less money in the process is simply a beneficial consequence. It’s a good balance.


Education was formalized to train managers. Really – you can still read about it. Public education was initially lobbied by companies that wanted their future employees to read, write and do math in such a way that their companies could benefit from good leadership but not at their expense. We seem to have returned to that approach, to the detriment of the human race. As Glen says in Mr. Holland’s Opus, “Soon they’ll have nothing to read or write about.”

There is a movement to alter publishers’ and technology companies’ desires to earn more by limiting curricula to the materials they can sell quickly and easily (STEM), and adding the Arts back into the Western World, i.e. STEAM (It’s already happening all over the globe, just not in the USA or the UK). It is quite remarkable that many Western, so-called “educated” decision-makers and parents still believe the Arts are just entertainment and something fun to do. Music, in particular, offers so much more to a good quality life and, as I’ve said many times before, is so far the ONLY identified activity humans participate in that uses BOTH sides of the brain in EQUAL measure!

Participating in the Arts as much as Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, and even Sports and all the other more materialistic and competitive stuff, helps us maintain a good balance in life.

Lead a balanced life

As you are reading this you are probably already a fan of live classical music.

But perhaps you could dive a little deeper.

Take my short course “How to Make the Most of Classical Music Concerts” and you’ll experience a way to maintain a life full of balanced “good, fast or cheap” decision-making.

Vaughan Williams: The Lark Ascending

Stephen's Classical Rate N Slate

Hear what British American Conductor Composer Stephen P Brown has to say about classical music, and why you should find a local performance to attend. You might agree with his rating and slating!

Download mp3 or buy CD:

Listen to more Rates N Slates

Has the Devil got hold of you, too?

Last week, before Irma displaced me for a week or so, I wrote an article touching on our current society’s penchant for “cheap and fast” – probably the worst option available for maintaining strong character, a decent lifestyle, and for helping to build a better society for all.

I know there are folk who disagree.

Indeed, they seem to have turned their lives into an all-consuming and distracting game to get cheap stuff on the cheap.

Me, I go for quality.

And I know there are many folk who agree that is an honorable goal for those who choose to live in the Western World.

But, as with all things, it’s actually more about balance than any one or the other:

Cheap, fast or good.

You can have any two.

One reader of last week’s missive agrees that we generally fail to appreciate that good quality is actually more desirable than getting something not as good but much more cheaply. This was among a fascinating series of thoughts in their response:

I see it as a failure of education. I see this as a teachable moment.

And, heeding her own desire, included a wonderful story to demonstrate.

(I’m not sure how true this is as it seems rather ideally apropos to the theme of my article, but to be honest… I can believe it!)

I had a friend who made paper, and with her handmade paper produced bowls.
She was at a craft fair and had her bowls on display.
A young man wandered in. Seemingly lost, he was actually just waiting for his girlfriend. Guy was no more than 21.

As he stood in her booth, my friend held up a bowl.
The conversation went like this:

Friend: “This bowl is made with paper.”
Young Man: “Oh.”
F: “I made the paper, too.”
YM: “Oh.”
F: “I made the bowls with the paper that I made.”
YM: “Oh.”

The young man’s girlfriend walked into the booth.
YM: holding up a bowl “This is made of paper.”
GirlFriend: “Really?”
YM: pointing to my friend “She made the paper, too.”
GF: “Huh.”
YM:” Yeah. She made the paper and then made this bowl!”


GF: “Why didn’t she just go to Staples?”


Apart from the fact that that is almost verbatim how I tend to interact with vendors myself, it does demonstrate an alarming ignorance in the young consumers.

It is indeed a misdirect of the Devil to eliminate education from our society about appreciating good quality, locally-made, hand-made, master-crafted products (as well as art), so that we believe “wealth” is limited to money and what it can get you. Getting and having money is not bad. Loving money to the extent that you pursue it above all else and hold onto it no matter what, is bad. That’s the lesson today (and for the past few thousand years), yet that’s the very thing the Devil gets us celebrating: our love of money/ getting things cheap so we can get more stuff and more experiences. Not good ones, cheap ones.

We generally celebrate the Devil’s ways way too much these days, but it has brought us some incredible music, too.

Think of the gruesome dance by Saint-Saens, for example.

Don’t know it?

Here are some things to listen for:

Media sensationalism slammed again

I was watching TV news last night in my hotel room.

I don’t get to watch TV often, especially mainstream news, and last night made me grateful that I don’t.


This isn’t word for word, it’s from memory, but it’s been on my mind all night and this morning.

After a lot of talking and interrupting by the Anchor…

Monroe County (FL) Commissioner: “I’m not sure where you get your estimates from. FEMA only arrived in the Southern part of Key West this afternoon. I think it’s far too early to be estimating 90% of homes in Key West are damaged.”

CNN Anchor stumbled something.

Commissioner: “For example, one gutter fell off my house during the storm, but I knew it was loose and it could have come off during any storm. Is that included in your estimate?”

CNN Anchor: “I think you may have misheard us, we only said 25% of homes have been destroyed and just 65% were damaged…”

Commissioner: “Forgive me, but unless I’m missing something, 25% and 65% adds up to 90%, and it really seems far too early to be declaring such estimates, as not even FEMA has assessed every home in Key West yet and have not shared with us their damage assessments yet.”

Anchor went quiet and tried muttering something.

Commissioner took over the airwaves and I turned back to HGTV’s Fixer Upper.

Something else that is often dramatic and sensational is opera.

Especially those Romantics like Puccini.

Although the music is really quite fabulous, it’s not always utterly brilliant.

Find out what I mean in this week’s Classical Rate N Slate: