Why an astronaut told us to build a future with the Arts

Dear #classicalmusic fan,

We are now living in someone’s prediction about the future.

How well are well doing?

Back in 2002, astronaut Mae Jemison gave a talk about how Science and the Arts are integral to one another, not disassociated.

Nobody working in science, technology, engineering or even (dare I say it) mathematics can operate without intuition and creativity. And nobody working in the performing, visual, language or culinary arts can operate without hypothesis, experiment, analysis and outcome.

Jemison suggested we must teach the Sciences and the Arts alongside each other, not relegate one as more important than the other by keeping it in mainstream curriculum while the other becomes an optional thing to do just for fun, for winning competitions (to help sustain a desired image), or if you can afford it.

Otherwise, she said, we’re in trouble:

If we describe the near future as 10, 20, 15 years from now, that means that what we do today is going to be critically important, because in the year 2015, and the year 2020, 2025, the world our society is going to be building on, the basic knowledge and abstract ideas, the discoveries that we came up with today… And when I think about it, I’m really worried. To be quite frank, I’m concerned. I’m skeptical that we’re doing very much of anything. We’re, in a sense, failing to act in the future. We’re purposefully, consciously being laggards. We’re lagging behind.Mae Jemison
Astronaut, engineer, entrepreneur, physician and educator

Well, we are now in that future Mae spoke about, and how much better off are we since Science got labeled as good and worthy of testing and curriculum time, and the Arts as extra-curricular “unstable” entertainment?

Is STEM losing steam because we removed the Arts from Education?

Are we still “failing to act in the future?”

Find out what University of South Florida Professor Bob McCormick says about it in my latest podcast:



“Don’t break it!”

Dear #classicalmusic fan,

There is a story about a young percussionist who was playing bass drum for a well-known tantrum-prone Conductor, who wanted more bass drum volume.

Nervously the young player thought he was playing louder but it still wasn’t enough, and he got the wrath of the Conductor. A more experienced colleague gave him wooden sticks and told him to just play as loud as his could…

“but don’t break the drum head!”

Everything was much better: Throughout the rest of the rehearsals and all four performances, the Conductor was happy (well, as happy as he ever was, I suppose), the player was happy, and the bass drum sounded great.

Until the last note of the bass drum in the last concert.

When it broke.

That poor young player was devastated and there was nowhere to hide.

He thought his career was over almost before it had begun. At least the bass drum didn’t need to be played again, otherwise his career might have been over! Instead, he spent the next 40+ years playing and teaching percussion, loving every minute of it.

Even though I’m a percussionist, that’s not my story.

It’s a story belonging to Bob McCormick, my guest on my latest podcast episode.

Listen here.

It’s worth it, even if just to listen to some great music as well as some interesting discussion about music in education… already I have received completely opposing responses! Which is good… it means From The Podium has given fans of classical music something to talk about.

Download and listen when you can in the next few days:



Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition

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 this been your best year ever?

Dear #classicalmusic fan,

I hope you are well.

How have things been?

I realize 2017 isn’t quite over yet, but I really hope this has been your best year ever!

It certainly has been for me.

Not all the goals I set at the beginning of the year have been met, but certainly more of them have been checked off so far than usually happens, so with hand on heart I can say “YES! This has been my best year ever!”

Clarity and focus seem to be the main reasons why.

Partly thanks to Michael Hyatt.

It’s not often I plug other people’s stuff, but when I do it’s because it works: whatever is on offer I have used myself and found it effective. For the past three years both my work and play have been refined through one of Michael’s productivity programs and it’s clearly had a positive effect on my life, my wife’s life, and the lives of classical music fans all over the world…

maybe even including you!

So, throughout December, you will see lots of stories and links related to Michael’s program, beginning with a self-assessment as well as exercises, webinars, and finally the full program itself.

You can participate as much or as little as you want to,


Consider why SPB is sharing it with you with aplomb.

If you want to achieve anything, including simply a ‘better life’ whatever that means for you, this program will help.

It’s not for everyone, but it just might be perfect for you at this time of your life.

So, please be excited and patient as the stories and lessons I share with you over the next few weeks relate to making a better life for yourself, using examples and outcomes from my three years of taking Michael’s ever-developing program “Best Year Ever” (including Michael’s pilot pre-launch version!) It’s made a massive positive impact in my life, and I hope it will in yours, too.

For example, one of my own goals this year was to broadcast my own radio show/ podcast.

Have you heard it, yet?

Here is the latest episode with Rose Mallare:


…and the next episode will be a little different, methinks 🙂

What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?

Dear #classicalmusic fan,

I like ice cream.

Particularly a handful of flavors.

My sister is currently on a quest to discover a multitude of new ice cream flavors as she celebrates her 50th year with 50 challenges. The challenge I suggested was “Eat 50 flavors of ice cream!” She’s doing pretty well at it, and will have plenty of flavor options when she visits the USA next month.

On one of my recent trips to the UK I visited a little village on the Isle of Wight and came across a small ice cream window where we used to buy ice cream during our Memorial Day/ May Bank Holiday/ Beginning-of-Summer camping trips (which also happened to fall on the same week as my birthday. Just sayin’).

That little cafe still serves my favorite flavor as a child – Rum & Raisin – which you don’t find in the USA very much. I distinctly remember savoring every daring lick of… rrrrummmm!

So I bought a cone, and suddenly thought “Ew. I liked this?”

I don’t know whether my tastes have changed, or the ice cream recipe has changed.

Probably both.

But I realized that, over time, things change. Our tastes change, and the way we make and present things change.

Many folk in the classical music industry whine and moan about aging audiences, and performers freely share how they look out and see a sea of white, grey and blue hair, suggesting that audiences are old.

In my experience, in just about every country I’ve performed in or attended classical concerts in, audiences have always been old. There’s nothing new about that at all. It seems as though life experience and maturity lends itself far more to the cerebral and emotional side of classical music than the young and energetic instant impact of flashy, tech-based pop music. And as for the aging part… humans are generally living longer than previous generations, so naturally the average age of an audience is going to go up simply because people are living longer. It’s not difficult to understand when you think about it.

(I just wish really old folk wouldn’t drive themselves to concerts – I’ve seen too many accidents and close-calls as they stubbornly cling on to their “independence” at the peril of putting others’ lives at risk.)

There is one exception, and those are the concerts held on secluded higher education campuses. I love attending those because the hall is filled with youthful energy. There’s only so much to do on a non-city campus, so a lot of students as well as professors and their families attend concerts.

Other than that, don’t fret about aging audiences.

In fact, don’t fret at all!

Just be sure to take someone with you to a concert, and if they are significantly younger than you…


You just may be the inspiration someone needs to discover a world of thrilling, emotional, exciting, heartfelt music they had not experienced in person before.

And maybe their tastes will change as they get older, too.

Maybe changing tastes should have been a topic for the energetic and adventurous Rose Mallare and I to talk about during my latest podcast. She was a professional aerialist and a real Rockette, but is now a professional cello player.

Listen to what we did talk about here:



Is it a pipe dream to want to be The Best?

Dear #classicalmusic fan,

In a society that craves accolade and attention it is disheartening to see so much about music reduced to competition, technical perfection and sales.

On the other hand, when we focus on the music and its multitude ways it impacts both communities and individuals, we actually see a very different approach to life… of which music is just a part.

Rather than chasing the substantially arrogant pipe dream of being “The Best!” perhaps it is time we started looking to being the best fans of classical music we can be… whether we’re performing or listening. There is a big difference between being The Best and becoming the best we can be.

Becoming The Best is temporary, an illusion, and only means you (or someone else) judges you to be better than the person sitting next to you. At least for today until someone else comes along who is 10% better than you are. It is then devastating when someone comes along who doesn’t care how good you or they are, but it turns out they are ten times (1000%) better than you. I’ve seen people crushed by the realization that they weren’t as good as they were led to believe (especially musicians who arrive at a music college). Although they may have been The Best in their limited sphere of influence, it turns out that there is a whole wide world of passionate folk who seem to be far more accomplished.

You don’t have to be particularly good at what you do, but you can still be The Best at it…

Think of a chess tournament among a troop of monkeys.

One of them is The Best!

Until Levon Aronian turns up.

On the other hand, if you choose to be the best that you can be, it no longer matters (quite so much) what those around you are accomplishing or capable of. Don’t get me wrong: surround yourself with others who are striving to be the best they can be, as well as those who have achieved a good level of accomplishment, as they will help motivate you in your own quest. But the burden of sharing live music with others shifts from an outward image-based comparison to an inner desire to discover the “more” behind There’s more to music than music.

It becomes our own private responsibility to dive deeper and achieve more than we ever thought possible, not for the sake of those we share music with, but for our own peace and understanding of how this world actually works.

And how we can communicate emotion with each other when words fail us.

One of the problems with today’s Western World in particular, is the self-esteem boosting trend of the late 80s and 90s.

As Simon Sinek said, Millennials are struggling at work because their parents “gave them medals for coming last.” I’m no Millennial, but most Gen Xers who spent their teens in the USA suffered just the same misguided brandishment: I once received a medal for sitting in the fourth chair (of eight) of the third clarinets in Regional Junior Varsity Band III. I still have it (buried in a box in storage, otherwise I’d have taken a picture). And wonder why I ever got it. Sinek observes that one of the many downsides to overtly disproportionate praise is that recipients actually feel worse, because deep down they know they didn’t deserve a medal.

I was relieved to hear someone explain it to me that way.

The push to become The Best builds arrogance, entitlement, and does society no favors at all.

The push to congratulate and praise everything we do is just as bad.

We all need encouragement to be the best we can be, and we need honest guides to show us how to travel that path: folk who say “Good job! Now let’s work on this…”

It’s funny that Rose Mallare and I just spoke about that in my podcast’s latest pilot episode.

Listen to it here:


What’s more valuable than doing?

Dear #classicalmusic fan,

We have become so busy and our children so programmed that we are missing out on life.



The sheer quantity of activities we do removes any possibility of actually enjoying/ engaging with/ diving deeply into any one particular moment. That’s the part the life is all about, in those little moments when we pause and bask in the warm radiance of an experience.

But we’re too busy to do that anymore.

And that’s exactly the ‘more’ part of music: There’s more to music than music. When we allow… perhaps even force ourselves to take a moment and “let go” then we allow the music we listen to to actually speak to us in its own language, the language of emotions that words cannot express.

I was thrilled when I saw Valeria Maltoni write an article called “Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There” because I thought “YES!” Someone else gets it and is saying it. So I shared the article with my wife, who giggled.


Because that title is actually a Lewis Carroll quote from The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland (My wife is an expert on Carroll and all those psychofantasy novels of post-romantic literature).

Well, my excitement was dashed not so much because it’s not an original idea, but because it’s clearly an issue us Western World folk have been facing for over 150 years.

We’re too busy to live life.

We cling to the opposite mantra that encourages us to not just stand there, but do something.

Nike loves it: Just do it.

Which is SO TRUE!

But not all the time.

Take a moment to acknowledge and absorb what it is you just did, or what just happened.

Moments are the jewels of our lives.

Don’t make yourself so busy that you don’t see the color in the sparkles.

(And don’t be so absorbed by the sparkles themselves that you miss their effect on the world).


One way to do that is appreciate good music.

And you can get some right here:

My award winning Wind Quintet 1.

Download a copy today, and spend 15 minutes dwelling in a rich swirl of emotions from bustling village life to silence to clockwork and finally a party.