I would dream up wonderful schemes and plans

This week is when the Northern hemisphere’s Summer begins (June 21).

Of course, some schools in the USA have already been on their long break for a few weeks, whereas others are preparing for their couple of months off.

Not like the modern “real world” at all, is it?

Kids used to take off school for the Summer to help on the farms and pull in the harvest. Not sure the majority of kids are still doing that these days, but I know a handful who do, actually. I recently heard on the news that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics* revealed the number of teenagers working Summer jobs has gone from 72% in 1978 to 43% in 2016.

Anyway, when I was teaching in the UK I really didn’t like the Summer vacations, myself.

With all that sudden spare time I would dream up wonderful schemes and plans to earn a fortune as a performer so I could drop most of my teaching, and would commit to spending my hard-earned cash on things that never panned out.

Summer boredom produced the weirdest unprofitable plans

Summer boredom produced the weirdest unprofitable plans

Everyday I am truly grateful I don’t live like that anymore!

What are your plans this Summer?


How will you spend this Summer making the world a better place through live classical music?

(Whether or not you are a performer!)

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:

Just HOW OLD are you?!

Dear #ClassicalMusic Fan,

In order to accomplish anything in this world we have to understand how the world around us operates and approaches life.

Over many, many years of living in multiple different Cultures I learned not everyone thinks the same way.

But I must admit to still stumbling because I assume the best in people and see things with perhaps a little (okay, a lot) more positive-thinking and hope than the darker, more dramatic, negative perspectives propagated by mainstream media and the tabloids for so long.

I recently conducted a concert that included some music from the 1940s. I asked the audience if there was anyone who remembered music from the 40s (which would make them at least 80 years old, which is quite possible for an orchestra concert audience these days). My intention was to celebrate them, and help them indulge in some positive reminiscing of the good things from those days.

A few of the audience clapped and cheered, but all around me there were also boos and gasps.

That took me by surprise, but I quickly realized why.

Some folk in their 50s and 60s, including many in the orchestra itself, thought I was being rude by suggesting folk are “old.” It didn’t occur to them that having some audience members who were there the first time this style of music came into being was something worth celebrating. It’s like asking a crowd at a military veteran gathering if there was anyone present who served during World War II (they’d be over 90 years old now, still younger than the serving Queen of England and a similar age as several members serving in the U.S. Congress). Those folk would be automatically applauded, because “conventional wisdom” tells us they are worth celebrating.

But in music, such recognition is considered rude, apparently.

And if I ever write that auto-biography (we all have one inside us that we think no-one will ever read), I will include a few other examples of being similarly misunderstood because the “conventional wisdom” of the world generally approaches life with more covert animosity and skepticism than with love.

Such skepticism can influence whatever you want to accomplish in life.

Because, to accomplish something you need a plan.

One that you can implement.

But you need to understand how the world around you will affect that plan.

The mistakes people make when setting goals can be huge, expensive, and end up having a majorly negative impact.


Because they follow “conventional wisdom” and do what the marketing memes on Pinterest or Facebook tell them to.

The world isn’t always right, you know.

You can learn that the hard way, or you can get some some solid guidance not from the showy, flashy Hex-perts, but from others, like me, who have experienced life in the trenches.

For example, the most common mistakes when setting goals are identified and explored by Michael Hyatt in his latest webinar 5 Blunders that Can Shipwreck Your Goals (and How to Avoid Them). These blunders are all based on what “conventional wisdom” has led us to believe over the past few decades, yet they’re not actually very helpful! Currently, over 22,000 people have signed up to watch this webinar, which is still nowhere near enough to make its content particularly conventional – it’s all still good sense (albeit not very common anymore). And VERY useful if you want to accomplish anything.

There’s still time for you to join in, make the most of what honorable Corporate CEOs and small-business owners like Michael have learned for real, and navigate your way to success in 2018.

Choose a convenient time to watch the webinar now, while it’s still available:


For real: you are about to lose internet access

Dear #classicalmusic fan,

It might be happening now in the USA, but other countries that do not already filter their citizens’ access to the Internet will soon follow.

The big communication companies in the USA that were chosen to supply you with Internet access (now only four, but that’s still not a monopoly cohort, apparently) have been big-time lobbying the government for a few years to let them control what you see online.

In other words, only their content.

Private, proprietary, commercial content only.

And that will severely limit the access you have to what’s going on in the world.

Different parts of the country will see different content, different news, and different perspectives, including political. Both you and I will have to pay for our websites to be shared with… each other. And we’ll have to pay more if we want our sites and videos to load quickly.

Net neutrality” as it is known, is in danger of disappearing, and that’s bad for humankind and bad for classical music: Those big companies produce their own entertainment, which mostly does not include classical music anymore.

  • Imagine losing access to videos of your favorite repertoire and performers.
  • Imagine losing access to concert details.
  • Imagine losing online access to “The SPB!”

This is not scaremongering, nor is it conspiracy theory.

It is for real.

Here’s a simple explanation of what New Neutrality is.

Over the past year I have been lobbied myself by several organizations (including Adaptistration and Fractured Atlas) to support net neutrality and stop the big companies controlling our access to the Internet. We succeeded in staying the motion a few months ago but the issue is back and a vote will be taken next month, deciding once and for all who controls your access to content on the Internet: no-one, or private for-profit companies.

Please take this seriously.

An open Internet is important for fans of classical music because it is important for everyone.

If you believe as I do, I urge you to contact your elected officials in Washington to let them know where you stand on this issue.

Call Congress here.

Email your Representative and Senator (I usually get a reply in writing within a couple of weeks).


Your government should represent you, not decide for you.


What’s true about program notes?

Dear #classicalmusic fan,

There was a time when people only had access to information about classical music when they attended a concert and read the program notes.

In most of the world such programs are an extra expense for audiences, but in the USA they give you programs for free!

Such a practice comes at a price, though, and free programs tend to be full of the ads that paid to get the program printed and the program notes written.

You might be lucky, though, and find a really awesome essay about the music. Unfortunately, things went a little too far when performers started seeking only credentialed academics to write the program notes. They became in-depth analyses of both history and theory which, to a handful of classical music geeks like me, became a viable source of information. But even I got tired of program notes and just wanted the story behind the music:

The why, what, where, when, maybe a little how.

Another problem with program notes also applies to online sources of information: they actually cannot be relied on.

Just because someone writes an essay about a piece of music, and may even offer some references, does not mean it is accurate. In many cases, we will never know what is accurate especially if the composer didn’t write their own program notes. Even then, though, many academics twist their words and generate some quite remarkable fantasies!

There are also times when composers were not actually allowed to write anything but a specific story.

I’m thinking of Shostakovitch who wrote a remarkable amount of repertoire for the USSR. He kept his own private music very private until much later in life for fear of losing his head. As a result, much of his public writing conforms to dictatorial pandering rather than true meaning. We must ask ourselves “what could be true and what isn’t?” of even many composers’ reflections on their own music.

Suffice it to say that, like with most things these days, get your little snippets of information from here and there, online and in program notes, but take it all with a pinch of salt.

You are gathering just a handful of perspectives, some of which may corroborate and some which may not.

The important thing is: experience the music and let it talk to your inner self, your emotions.

Yes, use your imagination to tell yourself a story; yes, use the information you have about the composition to understand how it was put together, and yes, use the history of the piece and the composer and the world at the time to influence the emotions you believe were intended.


music is alive.

Program notes, Wikipedia and every other source on the planet exist as support material. In fact, you will never be able to read or write enough words about music.

The truth is, words will never replace the actual live experience, and they will never be able to reveal the true truth about music.

They can’t.

That’s actually why music is.


Something else that’s unreliable yet we absorb without question, is others’ response to live music.

For example, these days there seem to be more and more standing ovations at almost every concert, regardless of the quality of the performance or whether or not the music actually touched our hearts.

It’s a bit of a recent pandemic, and one I’m not fully understanding (although appreciate it when it happens!)

So this is a topic I’d like to explore with you on the next episode of my new podcast, From The Podium. If you’d like to chime with your own thoughts the podcast is being recorded live this Saturday morning at 8am Eastern… and you can call in to share your thoughts on the Podium Chat.

Sign up now to get notified about it and I’ll tell you how to listen live, wherever you are in the world:



Getting stuck in the instructions

Dear #classicalmusic fan,

There are two ways to share music with others.

One way is to replicate what the creator (a.k.a. Composer) intended as closely as possible, and the other way is to convey the ‘thing’ the creator was suggesting.

That ‘thing’ could be an emotion, feeling, message, or any number of other inexpressible-with-words… things.

People who share music with others just by playing or singing it and getting the listeners to play or sing it back have generally been lumped into a box labelled “folk” music. Actually, most contemporary pop songs are like that: memorable tunes with some chords identified but little else to go on. As long as performers recreate that tune, it is the same piece of music. Different styles, different moods, different meanings, different instruments in different venues all mean the music itself is different, but it is still the same “piece of music” by the same creator.

Jazz musicians are also renowned for sharing music without notation, just loose guidelines.

What I find interesting is that most classically-trained performers are not usually taught to share that inexpressible thing.

Their teachers insist that performers play the notes on the page exactly as written.

They get stuck in the instructions, and never find the actual music.

Of course, even when composers like Gustav Mahler write incredibly detailed instructions, there is still room for interpretation or slight differences from one player to the next. All that means is, there is less of the performer’s music and more of the creator’s, but the notation should still be considered as reference or detailed guidelines.

It is a mistake to think that notation and sheet music is all there is to recreating music. There is so much more to music than just the notes on the page! Again, hence my catchphrase for the past twenty years: “There’s more to music than music.”

These days there are a multitude of notation formats, including free-style drawings. It all stems from a rather experimental stage in Music Education which encouraged everyone to be a composer.

After the writing of 4’33” by John Cage, anything is possible, I guess.

But here’s an instruction that is easy to follow, and generates a great deal of that inexpressible thing:

Sign up to get notified when my new podcast episodes are published!

You will experience that inexpressible thing when you listen to the program, and even more so if you listen live on Saturday at 8am Eastern and call in (from the USA) to share your thoughts on the Topic of the Day!

Go ahead…

Don’t get stuck in this simple instruction… find the music within From The Podium!



Be the butterfly

Dear #classicalmusic fan,

My recent letter Continuing the Conversation seemed to inspire a different kind of action, and prompted a lot of readers to let me know what they thought about it.

And the most common feedback was not quite what I was expecting.

It seems plenty more conversations about classical music took place, but what surprised me a little was the encouragement I received about these here daily lessons:

You like them.

Well, that’s good!

My efforts to encourage you to share your passion for classical music are not in vain!

Seriously, the encouragement I received through emails and conversations was wonderful, and inspired me to keep going. But there was one thing that bothered me a little bit…

Readers of my letters acknowledge that they have a passion for classical music.

They acknowledge that, at times, it gets pushed aside in favor of other life priorities.

They acknowledge that they wish there was more of it – both traditional and [tasteful] new.

But only a handful of our fandom seem to acknowledge that it is our own responsibility to share it with others – that we should not just be consumers, but sharers, too.

It seems we are a little nervous about talking to non-fans of classical music (I know I was for many years). We’re frightened that we don’t know what to say to them, or how they might respond. We are passionate about the details we do know and find it easier to talk to others who already understand us and our language (nothing wrong with that – it’s why it’s called a ‘comfort zone’). We pre-determine that a non-fan is not interested in our passion.

And those are problems.

But they are all smoke-screens that are actually very easily dissipated.

Think on this:

By keeping the conversation only deep and detailed with other fans of classical music, we simply cater to each other and end up performing for each other. And that one day when you can’t participate in a concert because of a prior commitment, there is no-one else to take your seat. Concert halls and stages become emptier. Cries of “classical music is dying” resurge.

Maintaining a balance of conversations with fans and practitioners like yourself alongside conversations with non-fans is what brings classical music to life. That day you cannot participate in some local live music adventure? It’s okay because someone you spoke to [read: encouraged to sign up for my daily letters!] has their interest in classical music reinvigorated and now they are intrigued, if not refocused on one of the most fundamental forms of emotional communication. And they may participate in your stead.

Well done you!

So, thanks go to all our fellow fans of classical music who let me know how much these daily lesson letters mean to them, and bravo to those that jumped in with both feet and continued the conversation (be sure to repeat the exercise today).

Be brave.

Classical music is not a disease people shy away from.

Most people don’t know much about it, and like us and phantasmagoria or long-range spinors (perhaps!), it’s only a fear of embarrassment that keeps us from engaging in a conversation. Those openly generic and inviting conversations, even just a mention of a topic like… classical music… can cause the butterfly’s wings to flap sufficiently to boost a storm of passionate interest and follow-up. Maybe even a new participant (audience member or performer).

All because you continued the conversation.

(There is no accounting for Chaos Theory except just one truth: do nothing, and something else will take over.)

If you need something more than just today’s topic, or perhaps the folk you talk to already have questions about classical music, then a great place to start would be the questions I answered from my survey this year.

I created five videos called “What’s the Matter with Classical Music?” that include thought-provoking questions and answers you can use to bring good music to life, too.

Get your copy today: