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:



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 We Can Learn from East Asian Education

Dear #classicalmusic fan,

It’s not necessary to dive into political discourse, so let’s look at Education as impartially as we can, shall we?

Simultaneously, as the West continues to make moves in removing music education from public school curricula, many countries in the East are trying to figure out how to include it.

Indeed, in China, every single child plays an instrument in their classroom at some point in their life – every day of the week for at least one academic year. In the UK many years ago, every single child would sing almost daily (but not anymore), whereas almost every child in East Asia who attends school now learns how to sing well and in a group (according to Katherine Czehut in her Harvard Doctoral dissertation “The Achievement Gap, Revisited: An Empirical Assessment of What We Can Learn from East Asian Education” in 2012). A few years back the USA started to focus on STEM which must have been one of the worst decisions any public official could have agreed to.

Recent efforts to reintegrate the Arts and make the curriculum more like STEAM are not making much headway.

Music is one of humankind’s most fundamental forms of communication, and especially helps us express emotions that we fail to articulate using words. Politicians in the West seem to want to suppress knowledgeable growth of such essential communication (with disastrous behavioral outcomes), while decision-makers in the East seem more enlightened and are figuring out ways to allow everyone an equal opportunity to explore music.

The dramatic transference of classical music’s cultural relevance even caught the attention of the New York Times a few years back in “Classical Music Looks Toward China With Hope” by Kahn and Wakin.

Politics and Education: two Establishments that are hot topics people love to yell and scream about, so let’s leave that point there, shall we?!

Admittedly, not many of my compositions include an East Asian influence, but there are a few that use the Pentatonic scale/ tonal system as a foundation.

Of the 55 pieces I’ve made available on Soundcloud, pick a couple at random to listen to (for free) and decide whether or not they have an “Eastern” musical influence.


How the record companies got us all confused

Dear #classicalmusic Fan,

This is a controversial point, especially for many aficionados such as Academics and the Establishment Elite.

First, a little context:

After 35 years performing and teaching on 4 continents I have learned how to differentiate between the formal historical period of music history which academics refer to as the Classical period (a little after the literature and visual art Classical periods in world history), which is basically from about 1750 until 1820 or so, and the contemporary commercial boxing-in of formal forms of music the big record companies couldn’t put under any other label, so they called it all classical music.

Remember walking through aisles of CDs, tapes and even LPs in a store? Yeah – that’s where the modern definition of classical music came from: Jazz, Rock, Pop, Easy Listening, New Age, World, and… Classical – even though they included Baroque, Romantic, Renaissance, Twentieth Century, and so on within that one label.

And that’s how society got confused.

Theretofore: In my writings, “Classical Music” refers to the historical period of music’s growth during the years 1750-1820 (approximately), and “classical music” refers to the music we now lovingly refer to as orchestras, opera, choirs, string quartets, solo piano, recitals, …all that formally organized sound still being created and passionately shared.

Yes, classical music includes Classical Music!


Now on to today’s lesson:

Sticking with that modern definition of classical music, then, there are within it a multitude of Genres.

In music, a genre can be defined as a particular style or form of composition. In other words, pieces of similar styles and forms can be categorized together into one genre.

Like… Opera.

But even then sub-genres can exist, such as Comic Opera, Ballad Opera, Dramatic Opera, etc.

As far as classical music is concerned, genres today include things like Orchestral, Symphonic, Concert Band, Choral, Liturgical, and hundreds of others.

Being aware of the genre of a particular piece, concert or ensemble goes a long way to renovating your experience of classical music concerts, and even gives you an advantage over most of your peers.

Careful… you’re on your way to becoming an expert!

Especially after you have completed my training on “How to Make the Most of Classical Music Concerts.”

Download your copy here:


Time, Location, Bewilderment


What barriers are there to enjoying live classical music?

What barriers are there to enjoying live classical music?


Time is perhaps our most precious and simultaneously wasted possession. (Click to Tweet)

Location, location, location. All cliches are born out of truth. (Click to Tweet)

Bewilderment drives our fears and prevents us from living life to the full. (Click to Tweet)


Over the past couple of weeks one of my projects has been soliciting from folk in various stages of life what interferes with their enjoyment of live classical music. On one level it has been a fascinating journey – mostly due to the participation of folks in the USA, UK and Australia – but is has also been a little satisfying due to its predictability.

There was one surprise:

Money is generally not an issue.

Yes, there were several comments about the cost of concerts, but interestingly many of those comments were from people who, upon further investigation via phone or Skype, frequently attend non-classical concerts at $100-$400 a ticket, and yet they were complaining about a $60 for a symphony orchestra? That, to me, just highlights the value some societies place on “live” music.

Interestingly, money was actually in LAST position of all five classical music concert attendance barriers that were identified.

Too much time

23% of global survey respondents identified time-related issues as interfering with their ability to attend classical music. As I have said before, I do not blame them! It can often require a commitment of 5.5 hours to attend a classical music concert, which is nigh impossible for a full-time worker with a family. There are other alternatives, though, and I am working with some individual performers to develop a program that rectifies that.

Too far

Another 23% of respondents indicated that classical music was literally our of their reach, some citing travel distances that take them four hours to see a concert. Indeed, one of my wife’s friends who operates an organic farm in Colorado is two miles from their neighbor’s house. Church is a day trip, and trekking the family to see a live classical music concert is not a high priority. On the other hand, she is a fan, so if there was something closer then her children would have a very different educational upbringing.

One idea is to host your own concerts. In the UK I used to watch a farming family host events of all sorts, including live music, and even in their remote location over a hundred people turned up. Why? Because there was nothing like it quite as accessible. to them. They all chipped in to pay the performers and had a great party to boot. Hosting a local concert also significantly reduces the time required to travel to a concert. (Lesson: Be a part of the solution!)

What should I expect?

Finally, another surprise was that there was a third equally-placed #1 barrier to enjoying live classical music events. I call it “Bewilderment.” This is when someone does not know enough to justify attendance. Whether it be as specific as the history and context of the repertoire being performed, or simply hearing stories about audience etiquette and not knowing what to expect, how to find classical music, or fear of how to behave.

Agreed: the classical music industry does a poor job at sharing information with those outside its club membership. What fascinates me between classical music concerts and the rest of the music industry is that the most popular acts make an album (or, these days, release a series of singles) and then perform that album, with perhaps one or two extras thrown in for fun. On the other hand, most classical music concerts present different repertoire that maybe they have never played and their audience has never heard before. Why are the same old classics played over and over again, and well attended? People know them. People like them. Humans like what they know, and are willing to explore new things once they trust the presenters of what they know.

Again, in the pop world a concert will mostly be familiar songs from the recent album, but the performer may introduce one or two new songs they have “just recently written.” It’s new, but the audience are behind them.

Not knowing what to expect at a classical concert is a cause for concern, and in the USA particularly the audience etiquette conventions are quite a deterrent to the general populace the classical music industry is trying to embrace.

Sorry: Not Interested.

For you fellow data nerds, the fourth most popular response was that there are no barriers to their enjoying live classical music. These folk tend to live in cities, a handful are in the industry full-time, and others were simply not interested.

Not so different, after all.

The issues identified in this survey on behalf of ListenUp.Ninja, with an almost completely different audience, are remarkably similar to the issues identified by my own readership during last year’s Annual Reader Survey: Time, Life Balance, Education. (My readers are also interested in Leadership and how to share their passion with others).

So, now I have two online programs in development:

One for performers (Overcoming Decline), and one for non-performers (ListenUp.Ninja).

Which one is for you?