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.

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:

Puccini: Turandot

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

Decisions you regret

Have you ever made a decision you regretted?

I must be honest and issue a disclaimer already: I haven’t. I have no regrets. If I did, there would possibly be two, both decisions I made in my early 20s.

But I’m being honest: I cannot regret the decisions I’ve made in life, and here is why:

We can only make the wisest, safest and most sensible decisions – perhaps with a little risk thrown in as well otherwise we’d never accomplish anything – with the information we have at any one moment in time.

And that information can change at any moment in time, too, so it’s OKAY if you make a different decision now than you did a few moments ago… after you receive new, impacting information.

That’s why I can’t stand it when politicians, lobbyists, activists and hierarchic religious institutions get all heated when their “image” is in jeopardy simply because they made a point and feel they must choose to stick with it regardless of any new significant information that comes their way. Or worse: stick with a previous decision/ viewpoint/ stance simply because others will chastise them publicly and try to make them look bad for changing their mind. How sad is that? (Very, if you really need the answer given to you!)

Here’s an example of making decisions based on updated information:

  1. Monday: Hurricane Irma is heading towards the Caribbean and will either enter the Gulf of Mexico and spin around Tampa Bay, or head up the USA’s East Coast. I live in Tampa Bay so Melissa and I will be fine… as usual.
  2. Tuesday: Irma gets strong and is likely to affect Tampa Bay – we should leave and head up the East Coast, despite our recent road trip to NYC. We even booked a hotel room for a couple of nights, out of harm’s way.
  3. Wednesday: Irma is predicted to make a sharp turn and head up the East Coast. We cancel the hotel room and decide to stay put. We’ll get wet and it’ll be windy, just like a multitude of other times. Maybe we could go to Tallahassee – our favorite hotel there has some rooms pretty cheap.
  4. Thursday: My friend in the Florida Disaster Management Office lets me in on a secret… “Some areas of Tampa Bay will be told to evacuate on Friday and Saturday, but it’s not public knowledge yet.” Our favorite hotel in Tallahassee suddenly doesn’t have any rooms available. In fact, NO hotels in Tallahassee have any rooms available! There’s a Super 8  motel with two rooms left an hour further North in Georgia, but we’d rather go West. Hmm… Melissa and I decide to pack some clothes, grab our always-ready overnight bag, cancel a few meetings, and hit the road headin’ for Destin. En route we book a hotel in Spanish Fort near Mobile, AL for a couple of nights.
  5. Late Thursday, in a different time zone: We see Irma is heading up the center of Florida and into the Mid-West States (AL, TN, KY) where we were planning to go next, and we hear on the radio that evacuations were ordered for various zones in Tampa Bay, a day earlier than planned. Arriving at the hotel, we check in and ask if we can stay longer. No room. What? Fully booked through Wednesday. Actually, there are NO ROOMS in ANY HOTEL in the Mobile area through Wednesday! We find one in Houma, LA so are heading there next.

The Lesson?

Feel free, and give yourself permission, to make the best decision you can with the information you have at the time a decision should be made (delaying a decision may mean it will be made for you, and it will probably not be with your best interests in mind). And that you can change your mind when you get new information that is sufficiently impacting.

You know who else changed his mind after getting new information?

J.R.R. Tolkein.

After The Hobbit became a massive success his publisher wanted a sequel. Tolkein struggled and struggled, producing multiple drafts of The Hobbit 2. His friend in the Inklings, C.S. Lewis, one night told him “You know, Hobbits are only interesting when they are not in Hobbiton.”

Tolkein went home and began writing what became The Lord of the Rings.

He made a different decision based on the new information he had, and look what happened! A much bigger success indeed.

As were the movies Peter Jackson made about the Rings.

Including the music.

Here are a couple of things I rated and slated about the music Howard Shore wrote for Jackson’s version:

Evacuation is no trivial matter

I’ve never had to evacuate my home before.

Well, to be truthful, we don’t actually have to evacuate now, because Irma is predicted to head up the East Coast of Florida at the weekend. Melissa and I had decided to beat the rush and take an unplanned road trip for a few days, sight-seeing some places we’ve not been before and seeing some old friends. We are all ready to leave tonight or tomorrow.

Although the folk on the East Coast (Keys, Miami, Daytona, Jacksonville) are having to leave their homes, we don’t need to go anywhere.

This time.

So how do my evac plans help you accomplish more than you thought possible?

Here are some lessons I’ve learned that will keep me, my family and my arts business afloat during a potential disaster, and which may very well serve you, too, in music and life equally:

  1. Be prepared.
  2. Be decisive.
  3. Always turn a potential negative reaction into a proactive adventure.
  4. Avoid putting yourself in harm’s way unnecessarily.
  5. Things can be replaced. Lives cannot.
  6. Appreciate there is no shame in changing your mind when the information you have now is vastly different than before!

Evacuation is no trivial matter.

What is trivial, is the fact that John Stanley wrote a piece of music known as the “Trumpet Voluntary” which does not actually include any trumpets… as we know them.

Find out what I mean in this little 2-minute podcast from a few weeks ago: