Music is…

I am truly honored to have spent my life studying and sharing music by and in so many different cultures, and leading so many diverse groups of people in their own explorations of it.

Here’s hoping you are as grateful as I am that we have so many opportunities to put aside our differences in favor of making our world a better place for all through music.

Music is apolitical. Music is areligious. Some lyrics are not. We are not. Music is.
Maestro Stephen P Brown win Best Classical Musician

The Courage to Grow

Part 4 of a 4-part series beginning here.

The last thing that I want to mention about confidence is that, as it spreads, it actually gives you the courage to grow. 

Growing is such an important element of human existence. We want to grow, we want to improve. We want to get better at what we do. If we stay stagnant, life just falls apart, and we end up in our own little cocoons or bubbles, doing our own things. And what a waste of life that is; what a waste of experiences of heart, mind and emotion. So take the courage to grow, and learn and experience new things, even if you stay within your established frame of reference. For example, if you’re a music performer, you can continue playing your own instrument of choice or singing in your own voice part or style. But even within that, there are still so many new things out there that you can experience that can help you grow, not just as a musician or a performer, but as a person.

And if you’re an audience member, if you enjoy attending live concerts, it’s the same thing. You can stay within the genre that you like and continue attending shows of concert band, opera, orchestral repertoire, ballet, pop groups, rock groups, or even jazz or salsa. That’s terrific, but there are still always new things that you can do, too. 

Here in Tampa Bay, we have a radio station called New Country. When I tuned in I always thought they were saying, “this is your new country music radio station,” but they don’t actually mean that the station is new. The genre of music the station plays is New Country because it’s still country, but it’s not traditional. It’s considered “New” because there is a contemporary twist to it.  I’m not really into it personally, but that’s what I learned.  I came across this because I like to experience new things. I had the courage to see what’s out there and what other people are listening to, and to grow enough to experience it myself. 

Some of it I like, and some of it I don’t, and that’s okay. 

Every day a little better… closer… wiser

There are three aspects I see when it comes to growing as a person, or having the “courage to grow”; the first thing is to get a little better every day. Whatever you have the courage to do, make sure you do it a little bit better every single day. This applies whether you are playing an instrument or singing, whether exploring music online or attending a musical event in person, talking to others, or sharing your unique experiences. Just take a few seconds every single day, and make your practice, attendance, or personal interactions a little bit better than they were before. 

Every day you want to move a little bit closer to being the best version of you that you can be, get a little bit closer to growing, to becoming more than you are now. I hope you’re feeling inspired and motivated, because this is exciting. This is what music does for us. It gives us the opportunity to grow. It gives us the confidence that we need in life and that we can help spread. It gives us the courage to do and to share things. So you want to move a little bit closer to the best person you can be, every single day. 

And then also every single day, all this will make you a little bit wiser.  You’ll be able to make better decisions about life, the universe and everything based on the fact that you took the courage to do things, share things, and actually grow. This is the fundamental building block and the principles on which the Dunedin Music Society is built. This is why I share these things with you. It’s because there is so much more to music than just the music itself. 

This was the last part of a four-part series, including

  1. Life starts when the game is over

2. The courage to “do”

3. The courage to share

The courage to share

Part 3 of a 4-part series beginning here.

Courage isn’t needed merely to do things like turn up to a concert, go to a rehearsal, or pick up an instrument and learn your craft; it’s also necessary for actually sharing those things with others as well. There are three reasons why courage is necessary for sharing, the first being that our experiences are unique. Nobody else has the same experiences that we do. We might also need courage to share because we’re afraid of ridicule, or because what we are experiencing is just so new.

It takes courage to share. Often we're told to without knowing why.

Our experiences are unique

Everyone has a different experience when participating in live music. For example, if you’re a listener and you’re creating a story in your head about the music, your story may be completely different than the story in my head, which may also be completely different to the story the composer wrote the music about. Music is a fascinating thing, because the story just helps us deal with emotions. And when you leave that musical environment, whether it be the concert hall where you heard the performance or the rehearsal in which you played it, to just then quash that experience is terrible. It is such a waste. So having the courage to share that you experienced with somebody else, and let them listen and enjoy it as well, does help you grow as a person. In the live music environment, sharing what’s going on enhances all of our experiences because they’re truly unique. Trying to persuade someone else to have the same experience as you is silly as well.

Frightened of ridicule

Putting yourself out there is also where courage comes from, because we as humans are frightened of ridicule. We’re frightened of people saying, “oh, that was silly.” We’re frightened of being dismissed. And it’s real. It genuinely happens all the time. Sharing what we feel puts us in a place of vulnerability where we may get ridiculed, and we’d all usually rather not do that. So I say, step up and get the courage to share!

Everything was once new

Everything that you’ve experienced in life, at one point was brand new. The music had never been heard before. What we now consider either familiar or mainstream music, even classical music, was once brand new and may not have been liked at the time of its premiere. Think of Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’; this is a very famous story. It’s now a fabulous piece of repertoire that most orchestras around the world play. It might be perceived as a little weird for people with extremely conservative musical tastes, but it’s still fun and exciting. There’s a lot people can experience with this piece, and I do recommend you try and experience it when you can. However, in 1913, when that piece premiered in Paris, there was literally a riot in the opera house. Although the piece is mostly played by orchestras now, it was being
presented as a ballet on stage in Paris, and the audience members were actually throwing chairs at each other because they hated it so much! Now it’s part of the standard repertoire, although it was new at that time.

The courage to share our unique experiences with other people does put us out there and make us vulnerable. That’s the truth; and we are frightened of being made fun of, but ridicule and remarks only demonstrate ignorance and lack of compassion. So have the courage to share your unique experiences with other people, because if it is or once was new for you, it may be new for them, too. Then again, it may not be new for them, but you won’t know unless you open up and share.

Next week is last part of this series: “The courage to grow”

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The courage to “do”

Follows last week’s article here

The first way we can display and spread confidence around us in the musical realm is by having the courage to actually take a step forward. This could mean to play an instrument, perform, go to a concert and listen to music, volunteer at a local community music organization… but the idea is to actually do something. 

Fears are basically excuses. When you use your fears as an excuse not to do something, there's no courage involved. And we need the courage to do things in order for confidence to spread and our world to become a better place to live.
Fears are basically excuses. When you use your fears as an excuse not to do something, there’s no courage involved. And we need the courage to do things in order for confidence to spread and our world to become a better place to live.

And when we’re talking about having courage, don’t forget that we’re talking about doing something in spite of your fear, despite you not wanting to. The definition of courage is deciding to take some action regardless of any natural fears that you may have. 

Performers learn a craft

What performers do is actually learn a craft. They learn how to do something specific, for example, how to play a musical instrument of their choosing, and that’s what they’re going to share with the rest of the world. That’s how they’re going to make your life better; by using their craft to help them communicate whatever emotions they’re trying to communicate through the music. 

This is a lot deeper than many musicians ever dive. And I think one of the main reasons why music has become sheer entertainment over the years is that musicians have forgotten the language that they’re speaking. They just turn up, play the notes on the page and perform the technique, and then they’re done. But as musicians, we’re actually communicating something. As we’ve explored before, there’s a two-way conversation between the performer and the audience. 

Audiences learn to experience

So performers learn a craft to communicate, while audience members, for their part, learn to give in to the experience. They learn to receive what the performers are giving them and use their imagination to hear and listen to it. If as an audience member you focus on actually listening to the music that’s being shared with you, and you feel that physical energy, the sound waves are hitting you from all directions, then you learn and get to experience something. You also learn a sense of occasion and behavior, which you can then take elsewhere, outside the concert hall or other performance environment. But overall, you get to learn how to have an experience and share it back in the moment. 

You can also learn to discuss that with others who aren’t present by telling them all about the encounter, and that will improve your life. So audiences learn to have an experience. What I will say is that it does take courage to actually turn up to a concert, especially if it’s a piece of repertoire that you’ve never heard of before or a style you’ve not experienced before, or you think you don’t like. It takes courage to turn up and experience it anyway. This also applies to performance, doing the piece of music that you don’t like, or that you haven’t explored before, or picking up an instrument that you haven’t tried to play before. The courage to step up and do something is truly awesome, and it’s a way that confidence spreads. 

We as a human race happen to need a lot of confidence right now. There’s so much skepticism and cynicism in the world. Beyond the idea of “thinking positively”, which might sound too cliched and New-Age, we can actually build confidence in this thing called music, which is so much deeper and far more important than almost anything else when it comes to our emotional and mental well-being.  

Your fears are excuses 

So, why do we not just step out and do things? It’s because of our fears, right? Courage is basically saying that regardless of the fear and trepidation we may have, we’re going to go ahead and do the thing anyway. So why do we not do it? Why do we have these fears? 

There are three basic fears in life;  first, fears for our safety, which may be drawn from negative past experiences. Then there are fears surrounding our home, and finally our future;  we worry about the future. Those are the three primary things. 

Our fears can be genuine. Please don’t get me wrong on this. Fears are real, and I get it. I’m not talking about dismissing or diminishing any fears from our past, concerns for our safety and worries about the future. What I’m saying is that those fears prevent us from having the courage to go and do things. So fears are basically excuses. When you use your fears as an excuse not to do something, there’s no courage involved. And we need the courage to do things in order for confidence to spread and our world to become a better place to live.

Have you heard any of my recent podcast interviews? Here are some to start with:

Life starts when the game is over

Here’s a topic that a lot of people in music struggle with: confidence. It sounds weird for performers to struggle with confidence, right? But I think there are lots of reasons behind this.

Life starts when the game is over

One of them is the fact that we have spent so many years learning how to play our instruments, but as students of our craft, we have also always been in critical environments. There are plenty of people who are just there to critique us and to pick apart what we do. Our teachers, adjudicators, audition panels, our peers, yes, even our competition! All of these people are there to pick apart every aspect of what we do. Because of this, we often end up focusing on the three notes that we didn’t play perfectly, and we forget about the other 3,000 notes that we did play perfectly well. For some peculiar reason, because of this weird chase for perfection in our lives as musicians, we focus on the negative and we forget about everything else that we actually did right.

The ultimate goal?

When you’re in an environment where that happens time and time again, and that’s all you hear, that can be a big knock to your confidence. Of course you’re going to question everything and forget to celebrate your wins. In these environments we forget to say “good job”, “well done.” So a lot of musicians, professional and amateur, are very nervous about performing. They get themselves worked up. They don’t think they’re good enough. They don’t think their performance is as good as it should be. Therefore, musicians in general seek to build their own confidence through both other performers and their audiences. I want to explore what that means and what that looks like, because we tend to think of the performance of the concert itself as the ultimate goal.

The concert is the ultimate dream. There is nothing else beyond the performance. You rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse (and hopefully you practice as well before you get into rehearsals with the group!). Then you do your performance and think it’s all over. Well, I would actually go so far as to suggest that the performance is just the beginning. Once you actually have a performance, you’re communicating something. We’ve explored this in the past, the idea that music is the language of emotions, or as some call it, the language of the soul. So when musicians are performing and audiences are receiving and listening, and then they give their feedback, and you have two-way communication, there’s a lot more going on there than meets the eye. And in fact, that’s the beginning of something deeper, you might even say spiritual. There is something going on around us that doesn’t need to stop just because the performance is finished.

When you come off the stage

A performance is the sharing of specific pieces of music with the communication of specific emotions. But can you imagine having a deep conversation with somebody and never again revisiting that topic? Even if you don’t say the same things or explore the same story, it’s not like you’re never going to talk again. So I like what Terry Crews said about this. In one of his interviews, former professional football player Terry Crews said that “your life starts when the game is over.” He suggests that the game itself is not the ultimate goal, but that life begins to happen when you come off the field. I recommend that we approach concerts in the same way, too; when you walk off the stage, that’s when life begins. You can do this every week, every month, every year, however many times you perform or go to a concert and listen. Once you leave the concert hall, life is now different. Hopefully it’s changed in some way for you.

I learned a lesson about how confidence spreads as a very young performer. I was playing percussion in the back of an orchestra and we were in a very tight space; we literally couldn’t fit anyone else in this space. Our rehearsal was dragging on and we were getting bored. I used to follow the scores when I wasn’t playing, but most of the percussion section usually read a book or a newspaper. So I put my score down, and my friend and I looked at each other, as if to whisper, “let’s try an experiment.”
And we just lifted ourselves. We made a choice. We made a decision to put all of our energy and effort into playing the next passage that we had to play. And we did. It was fascinating, because as we stood up straight and decided to pay attention, we noticed that the horn players who were sitting right in front of the percussion section started sitting up as well.

A wave of energy

It was very interesting. It wasn’t that we were playing louder, we were just playing with more intention and confidence ourselves. We really wanted to play well in that rehearsal, so the horn players picked that up and started doing the same thing. And then, you know what happened? The woodwinds did the same. And in fact, you could see this demeanor reach even to the second violins. They were sitting up too, no longer slumping down. The postures improved and backs were straight. The same thing happened with the trumpets and trombones over on the left side of the stage. And then it moved over to the violas, and finally into the first violins. Throughout the orchestra as a whole, you could literally see a wave of energy over the space of seven to ten minutes, just increasing and moving forward from back to front. And by the end of the rehearsal, everyone had had a great time. We thought it was one of the best rehearsals that we’d ever had because of the contagious confidence that we decided to put forward.

So, how can we actually display and spread confidence ourselves? There are three things I’d like to explore over the next few weeks, if you’ll join me…

Somebody somewhere is paying for something

Finally, the last thing we’re going to discuss in this little series “Creating Opportunities to Participate in Live Music” which may be a little controversial to some (and it doesn’t matter where you are in the world or what kind of music it is), is that somebody somewhere pays for something. 

Music costs money. 

Somebody somewhere has to pay for something. Always.

Nothing is costless

That’s the bottom line: nothing is costless. Everything has a cost to it. And I’m not just talking about money. I’m talking about a cost of time and expertise as well. Even for audience members,  it’s costing them to attend an event. Obviously if you buy a ticket or donate, there’s an easy way to measure the monetary value of that, but it’s also costing you your time, energy and effort, the decision to actually put it in your calendar, to make sure you’ve invited people to come with you (hint!) and to actually attend. 

In addition, with the parking, the meals out before or after meeting the performers, or whatever it is that you do after the concert, it’s costing you something to be involved there, too. We’ve gotten to a point in society where we’re expecting other people to pick up the tab, and sometimes they might… it does happen. Right now through the Dunedin Music Society’s COVID Catch-up Challenge, we are specifically looking for people who can support our organization so that other people, a broader base of people can actually get involved in and experience the emotional well-being that music provides for them. The problem arises when we start to expect it. Remember, nothing is costless. One of the big dangers over the last 40 to 50 years is that folks have been looking for these kinds of “free” environments, particularly in the arts. 

I don’t understand why, but it seems to affect mostly the musical and performing arts. Maybe it’s because so many people try to do it themselves; why would you pay a hundred dollars to have a professional musician come in and perform for you, when Person B, although they may not do a comparable job in terms of quality, will do it for free because they love doing it? That second person may pay their bills some other way, so they can do music for free because it’s a hobby. So of course, a lot of people will go for that because they don’t have to pay. We’ve all heard the old adage: out of the ability to have things fast, cheap, or of good quality, you can have two of the three, but never all three…right? And these days, most of Western society goes for fast and cheap every single time. That’s created an environment where we expect music performances to be available for free. 

The venue, the performers, the instruments, the equipment, all of that is lumped together. I ask my career coaching students all the time whether they attended college on a scholarship. When they answer yes, they didn’t pay a penny, I remind them that maybe they didn’t pay themselves, but somebody invested in them to help them learn to become an expert in what they do. Somebody somewhere always pays. 

Star Trek’s Utopia has no money 

In the famous series Star Trek, the Utopia they were striving for had no money. In one of the movies, William Shatner explained to somebody how each person just works for the good of everyone else. But the thing is that they had no actual currency. It didn’t exist in their society. In our society, it does exist as a medium of exchange, and there are no indications to suggest that it’s going away anytime soon. You simply can’t live in a society where everything is free. 

While money exists, money is not evil. Everyone gets that quote from the Bible wrong. It’s not the money itself, but the love of money that can stir evil. And as long as this system of exchange exists, somebody somewhere has to pay for things. The Utopian environment portrayed in Star Trek doesn’t exist. So we’re not living in that environment. Maybe we’ll get to that point in our lifetime, and it will be ideal, I don’t know for sure. But right now, the opportunity that we have to enjoy and participate in live music is going to cost money. 

Pooling resources

What I recommend is this:  I recommend we pool our resources. Let’s work together. As we said before, “It’s up to us, Hamish!” to actually bring music to our local communities, but we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We don’t have to duplicate what everyone else is doing, which is a waste of time, energy and human effort.

We live together in this community, and whether we know each other well or not, we are neighbors. We are the community. So it’s up to us to work with the people around us. In conclusion, those are the three things I think are important to remember when we are actually looking for opportunities to create and participate in live music;  it is up to us. It works both ways. And somebody somewhere always has to pay.

If you missed any part of this series, here are all four articles:

  1. Creating opportunities for live music
  2. Who is responsible for creating opportunities to participate in live music?
  3. It works both ways
  4. Somebody somewhere is paying for something (this article)

Have you heard the recent interviews over on Classic Jabber? Worth a listen, coz I’m sure you’ll laugh, learn and want to share, too 🙂