Perseverance matters

Your impact is limited by your dreams... and your effort.

In 1984 I met a remarkable man who had a profound impact on my life.

33 years later his perseverance to share with others the same insights he taught me, is spreading.

His impact is reaching thousands of miles and lives

NJYS percussion 1987

The New Jersey Youth Symphony* percussion section in 1987, just before I moved back to the UK. Evan, Tom (who became my Best Man, and is still a good friend), Adina, and SPB

George Marriner Maull was the Music Director and Conductor of the New Jersey Youth Symphony* since its founding in 1979. I was not good enough to play clarinet with that group, but my percussion skills got me in. A concerto performance and a Junior Scholarship to the Mannes College of Music in New York City also made me eligible for Maestro Maull’s advanced student “Listening Class.” It was in that class that I learned the difference between hearing and listening.

Why does Classical Music shut down over the Summer?

Not all audiences can access out of town Festivals and Summer Camps

I have never understood the Classical Music industry’s obsession with the Academic school year.

Okay, schools take the Summer off so that kids can go out to the fields and help bring in the harvest. Wait… does anyone still do that? [Shakes head rapidly] That discussion will have to wait.

Last week there were forty-four concerts in my town. Four of them could be deemed “Classical.” This week, there are thirty-five concerts in my town, and one of them is Classical. Yes, I wrote “1.” In fact, it’s not even in my town – it’s half an hour away, but my local rag (newspaper) listed it anyway.

bar concert

What is the most fundamental purpose of awesome music?

The free concert for GDR citizens in 1989 after the fall of the Berlin Wall was an emotionally charged event. No pretence, no gimmicks, just raw music.


Does music have a purpose?

Is it simply to entertain?

Is that why billions of people throughout history have dedicated their entire lives to the study, presentation and sharing of music – to entertain?

I don’t think so.

Music has a much deeper, more fundamental purpose.

Do you remember when you first fell in love with classical music? It may not have been the first time you heard some, or it may even have been several years after playing an instrument, but there was a time you realized you like classical music.

Try to remember how it made you feel (maybe it still does)

That’s because the fundamental purpose of music found its way to you, and you were open to it.

Just a simple Google search for “the purpose of music” will bring you a myriad of responses all surrounding a single theme, perhaps most eloquently conveyed by Miell, MacDonald and Hargreaves in their book “Musical Communication” as:

“a means by which people can share emotions, intentions, and meanings.”

Actually, as we plummet towards the mid-21st Century, perhaps music helps us recognize and even connect with our own emotions before we are able to express them to others. I fear that, along with the ability to listen, we are fast losing the ability to acknowledge our emotions and find outlets for them.

That is a whole other societal discussion for elsewhere, but think why “the quiet folk” suddenly snap and partake in devastating violent acts. Ever heard of a music student doing that? I didn’t think so.

But there is a greater disconnect we should concern ourselves with:

The greater disconnect

The commercialization of music in all its forms has weakened society’s ability to respond to it. We now hear music in public bathrooms, train stations, and constantly play it in the background whilst driving, ironing, etc. The majority of live events include loud intro and outro music, and non-classical concerts usually plug music through banks of speakers that are somewhat distorted. Even church worship is technology-driven.

  • No longer can we hear a performer’s voice or instrument. We listen for sounds coming out of a speaker.
  • No longer can we see any natural interaction between performers as they stand with headphones and earpieces, often watching screens and trying to remember their next choreographed movement.
  • No longer can we feel the energy created by pieces of wood and metal vibrating against each other thanks to the physical inertia generated by a human.

Loud, fast, visually stimulating. That’s what we have come to expect, and there are plenty of people who argue “there is nothing wrong with that! You have it all wrong, Stephen!”

Well, I do not disagree that people are affected by this new performance expectation nor that it is invalid in any way, but I am sharing the fact that there is so much more we are missing out on because of it. It is similar to attending a Formula 1 race every single day because the cars are loud, fast and colorful, yet we forget what a delight it can be to ride a bicycle.

The bottom line

So, if people are forgetting the true, original, fundamental purpose of music, what are we to do about it?

The bottom line for any human development is education. Not necessarily formal education, but one human enlightening another.

Music is the most fundamental form of communication that connects us to our emotionsAs performers are perhaps the most closely intimate with live music, it surely makes sense that is it up to them. They are the masters of music and therefore are the ones responsible for passing on their trade secrets to others.

We must remind our audiences that music is a form of communication that allows us to recognize, reconnect with, and express our emotions – whether performing or listening.

  • That is why classical music is still enjoyed by millions worldwide.
  • That is why classical music is not going away anytime soon, and
  • That is why your career as a classical music performer or enthusiastic audience member (potential concert host) just might take off with the right combination of performance agility and systemic production methods.

After all, that is what I teach my coaching students, so I see it happen every day!

Now it is your turn

What are some of the ways you remind your audiences about the most fundamental purpose of music? Do you remind them, or do you assume they know? What are some steps performers can take to ensure their audiences associate the music they hear to what they feel? Be as specific as you possibly can so we can bring live music back into everyday life and build better societies.

Leave a comment below or join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter. Hundreds of passionate people visit my sites for weekly insight and inspiration, so thank you in advance for adding your voice to the conversation.


3 Beautiful concert strategies all performers should use

Three beautiful flowersIn our quest to bring live classical music back into everyone’s daily lives, it is probably wise to ensure audiences enjoy the music we present.

Certainly if we want them to come back, and definitely if we want them to bring someone else with them next time!

Apart from gimmicky tricks and over-bearing visual sensory effects, what can we do?

Here are three beautiful strategies for how you share music with others that, at least in my experience, keeps people engaged and coming back for more.

Music is a language of emotions. It is a fundamental form of expression that no other communication tool or device can ever match. And it is our job as performers to make sure other people participating in the live music experiences we share with them, to engage those emotions. Or at least stir them, or arouse them.

That means we need to grab their attention, dazzle them with the music (not our showmanship), touch them deeply, and help them remember they had a “rocking good time” (as Barbara Snyder of described one of my chamber music concerts!)

Here are three ways to make sure we do that:

1. Include something fun and easy that you play well.

Playing a lighthearted piece of music that is easy to play well can set just the right mood. It can grab everyone’s attention, demonstrate you unique abilities to play brilliantly, and allow the audience to realize they are participating in something quite remarkable.

On top of that, a piece of music that is easy and well-played also gives you much more confidence, and allows you to enjoy the event as much as your audience!

Avoid any excessive acting, prancing, or over-the-top dramatics and let the music sing with its simplicity and beauty. You’ll have the audience eating from the palm of every note.

2. Include something emotionally deep that challenges your skills.

However, if every piece in the program was lighthearted you will probably lose your audience halfway through. At some point everyone realizes when superficiality sets in, and then it is nigh impossible to regain any credibility. Present an emotionally deep piece of music that touches the bottom of your heart, and your audience just might find their own emotional strings tugged at for a while.

It is important they are.

One of the reasons live classical music has left most people’s daily routines is because they no longer let it affect them. In fact, I would venture to say they no longer even realize music can affect them. No-one will understand that music is an emotional journey until they experience it for themselves, so be sure to include a piece that is deep and meaningful to you.

At the same time, it may be challenging for you to perform. It doesn’t matter if the piece is technically difficult, or it brings back bad memories (such as conducting the third movement of Britten’s Four Sea Interludes reminds me of a very painful experience in a rehearsal with the London Philharmonic Orchestra). Either way, prepare a piece that pushes your limits. Doing so demonstrates a human commitment to better yourself, to seek accomplishment, and to overcome life’s challenges. It is inspiring, even if the performance is not perfect. In fact, do not expect to be perfect… just deeply demanding.

3. Present a program using an arch.

I have written about this before, and it is one of the most precious strategies I have ever developed.

(It must have been written during 2014 – the year I lost all my weekly blog posts to the cloud.)

Programming an arch is a pretty simple concept but one that has a profound effect on both performers and audiences. It combines both strategies above and has a more global oversight to sharing music.

Start your program with something relatively easy that you know you can play well – much like climbing one end of an arch. Keep it lighthearted, too, if you can. This will give both you and the audience the confidence you need to engage in the rest of the program. You have accomplished something and done well at it, whilst the audience are assured you know what you are doing and can look forward to the rest of the program.

Program your music like an arch

Program your music like the space under an arch: light & fun, deep and meaningful, light and fun

Then, in the middle of the program is when you include your deep, meaningful and challenging repertoire – just like all the possibilities that could be contained in the space under an arch. Get the audience thinking, feeling, sobbing even. Let them see your concentration as you make it a goal to get through the composition without any major derailments. It’s OK if there are – it makes you human (and as my coaching students will tell you, there are specific strategies for dealing with such problems whilst on stage, too. None of which convey failure!).

Finally, finish your program with more lighthearted and definitely FUN pieces, almost as though you are sliding off the other end of the arch. Again, choose pieces that are relatively easy to play so that you can enjoy them, too. Smile, laugh, have fun. And that’s usually not possible with a technically demanding piece. Is that really how you want the audience to leave your concert – with thoughts of how much hard work it was for you to perform?

No, you want them to leave thinking how much fun you had sharing your music with them, and how much fun they had listening. Yes, there were special moments too, such as bringing back memories of grandma, and watching you clearly push yourself to some technical limits, but overall it was a great time. “I’m coming back!” is what they should be thinking.

Now it’s your turn

How do you think these strategies affect your performance? How do they affect the audience’s experience? Share some examples of these strategies that worked and why, and perhaps some examples that didn’t work and why. Be as specific as you possibly can so we can bring live music back into everyday life and build better societies.

Leave a comment below or join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter. Hundreds of passionate people visit my sites for weekly insight and inspiration, so thank you in advance for adding your voice to the conversation.


How to save your audience a mammoth time commitment

Save your audience a mammoth amount of time“Do you have 5½ hours to spare tonight?”

“What for?”

“There’s a cellist playing at the Arts Center and I think her piano accompanist is that guy you like on Hahn’s CD you gave me.”

“5½ hours! What’s on the program, for crying out loud?”

“Oh, just some Vivaldi, Shostakovitch and a new guy. It’s not long. I figured we could meet for dinner – it’s been so long since we’ve been to a concert together.”

“Sounds good. What time, and where?”


That is a typical conversation I have about once a month. Various friends call to invite me to a concert they think I would enjoy, but one in particular always starts off with the same question: “Do you have 5½ hours to spare tonight?”

“Why would he say that?” you wonder…

When our schedules can collide, here is what a typical evening’s itinerary looks like:

  • 5:30pm – leave home
  • 6:00pm – park car, walk to restaurant
  • 6:15pm – arrive at restaurant
  • 7:15pm – walk to performing arts center
  • 7:30pm – arrive at performing arts center
  • 7:45pm – take seats
  • 8:10pm – concert begins (never on time in the USA)
  • 8:50pm – intermission
  • 9:10pm – concert resumes (never on time in the USA)
  • 9:40pm – concert finishes
  • 10:05pm – arrive at car (entire audience heading for the parking garage)
  • 10:30pm – finally exit parking garage
  • 11:00pm – arrive home

That’s 5½ hours.

Now consider when I recently went to see the Bayside String Quartet perform at my local library:

  • 1:45pm – left home (walked to library)
  • 1:55pm – arrive at venue, met friend, took seats
  • 2:00pm – concert began (on time – no need to wait for late audience members)
  • 3:00pm – concert finished, grabbed crackers and wine, socialized
  • 3:20pm – left venue to walk home
  • 3:30pm – arrived home

That’s 105 minutes.

You might argue stand-up snacks are not the same as dinner, and there is hardly enough time to socialize, but I was one of the last to leave and as this friend and I see each other often at these smaller local concerts, there was not so much to catch up on! We introduced each other to other people we knew and went on our merry ways.

And what if I decided not to hang around after the concert? I would have been home 15 minutes earlier. 90 minutes instead of 5½ hours.

Think of it this way:

  • How often would you attend an affordable event that takes 90 minutes door to door? Once a week, maybe?
  • How often would you attend an expensive event that takes 5½ hours door to door? Once a month, maybe?

In our quest to build better societies by re-introducing live classical music back into everyday life, a shorter concert in a smaller local venue is a far more sustainable approach.

Don’t be a hog

Do your audiences a favor and avoid hogging their time – they WILL appreciate it. If folk want to hang around afterwards, that is their prerogative, but be wary and conscious of what kind of payment you are expecting from them.

Be generous with your music.

Don’t expect your audience to be generous with both their money AND their time.

Now it’s your turn

How long do you think a concert should be, and do you think it is better to perform locally more often, or centrally less frequently? Should you always include an intermission? Be as specific as you possibly can so we can bring live music back into everyday life and build better societies.

Leave a comment below or join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter. Hundreds of passionate people visit my sites for weekly insight and inspiration, so thank you in advance for adding your voice to the conversation.