Everybody Needs Everybody

I run my musical ensembles differently to the norm.

(At least, those I have decision-making authority for.)

Never is it a top-down instructional model, like the dictators of old or like most school music teachers need to be (for discipline and technical reasons, I’ve found).

The Nordstrom Philosophy

The Nordstrom Philosophy, courtesy of Michelle de Haaff at medallia.com

Instead, I run an upside-down pyramid model in which the chief decision-maker (usually me as a Conductor) supports the work of the Section Leaders & Admin committee, whose jobs are to make sure their Performers have everything they need to perform for their Audiences, who have a responsibility to expose the Community to that most precious and generally under-valued fundamental form of human communication of emotions… a.k.a. live [acoustic] music.


Now, how do I accomplish that when standing on the podium?

It has always been my intent to create an environment in which every single performer can grow into the best possible musician they could be.

In other words: every single Performer in every single rehearsal and performance, should leave better off than when they arrived, which usually means learning something about music, performing, or themselves. In my ensembles, even the most skeptical of complainers have made comments such as “I never thought we could accomplish that!” which I take as a compliment. Of sorts.

What’s the motivation behind such an approach?

Because when every individual is doing the best they possible can, then the ensemble as a whole is inevitably – almost as a consequence – going to be quite an awesome thing!

I’ve proved it over and over and over again.

But it still doesn’t answer the question about my motivation.

Well, Margaret Heffernan said it most eloquently when quoting interviewees from her research:

I know I can be at my utmost best when I help everyone around me be the best they can be. It’s been my modus operandi since I can remember. Hopefully it’s been intentional all this time, but I can’t lay claim to that.


I’m human.

And I don’t always live up to my own expectations.


A recent incident reminded me just how fallible I really am, and that although humans are generally expected to make mistakes we really don’t like admitting when we step out of character and far from our own expectations.

Why am I telling you this story?

  • Because my ensembles don’t have a pecking order, which upsets a lot of folk and is very difficult to maintain on a consistent basis (especially when in a stressed mode of conduct).
  • My approach to sharing live music with others is together-focused, not superhero stardom focused.
  • To show that what drives high-achieving ensembles is the social element, not star individuals. Generally society doesn’t know how to deal with that because we grew up in an individualistic, self-focused, “me, myself and I” approach to living.
  • And as Heffernan very cleverly demonstrates with an egg-laying chicken study, when we are in an environment that promotes individuals over a mission, society loses.

Everybody really does need everybody else.

It’s worth watching:

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:


Forgive them, for they know not.

Dear #Classicalmusic Fan,

I once had a conversation with two people.

Just the three of us in a room.

A couple of days later, another colleague came up to me and said they couldn’t believe I’d agree to doing something… and they were right: it was completely out of character for me.

Turns out those two folk had spread false rumors about our conversation in order to get what they wanted.

They utterly misrepresented reality.

It also turns out that most people didn’t believe them, anyway.

Thank goodness.

They were what I call “professional politicians” meaning… they hadn’t done anything in life other than politics.

After a few more years negotiating with them on multiple projects, I learned two lessons:

  1. They cared very little about integrity and honesty, and much more about “what they could get away with.”*
  2. I should always lead a private conversation with a confidentiality agreement, and end it with a plan of action of who is going to say what, and when.

But I should forgive them.


For they know not what they do:

Because they have been playing their manipulative games for so very long they are literally unable to tell the difference between a discussion and a deal (that might sound familiar to some folk in the USA), between their opaque bubbles and the real world, between the boring truth and dramatic soundbites that enable the #massmedia to sell more million-dollar ads and commercials.

That’s why I am really looking forward to hosting the new radio show and podcast From The Podium next month –

Live, on-air interviews and listener phone-ins.

Can’t hide the truth in those conversations!

The first episode will be available live, locally and online, on Saturday, November 4 at 8am Eastern. It might even be available via Facebook…

Obviously, tune in to listen.

And call in for The Podium Chat.

But first, make a donation:


And then encourage someone else to.

Together, I truly believe we can make the world a better place when we bring #classicalmusic back into regular life again.

Please donate here:


Thank you.


*(Kind of like speeding: many drivers choose to deliberately break the laws of the land and ignore the safety implications of speed limits, simply because they can get away with it… most of the time.)

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:


How to lead by celebrating humility and the classics

Leadership humility, celebration and advice for beginners

Today we explore three articles that help us define good and strong leadership, including why it is worth celebrating, as well as some solid advice to those starting out as leaders. But we begin with one of the most counter-cultural aspects of successful leadership that people generally do not like to talk about, or even admit is valid these days: humility.

Leadership: Study the classics