How to be Unawesome. Really.

I recently read an excellent book by Scott Stratten which is basically about communication. This is a book I do actually recommend and have given away several copies already – get it here (Amazon affiliate link). It includes many stories of excellent customer service as well as some examples we wouldn’t want to follow. Unfortunately we can all add to the latter and perhaps less so of the former. But if everyone was excellent, that would be the norm and none of us would have any chance to stand out against the crowd, right?

(Amazon affiliate link)


After moving to the Tampa Bay area I had a document to sign and return. It came to me with a pre-paid FedEx envelope so all I had to do was drop it off at a FedEx location or drop box, right? So I looked online for one, and saw some EXCELLENT news – there was one within walking distance! I clicked on the business’s link and it was confirmed in the list of that location’s services. Yey.

As I hadn’t had my daily dose of either chocolate or coffee that day, I was feeling particularly snarky and decided the walk outside would do me good. I walk and swim every non-wet day anyway, but this extra sojourn was welcomed.

The document was duly signed, sealed and my lazy afternoon walk began. Soaking up the sun was making me feel less snarky already.

I entered the strip mall store and noticed it was busy with things and two nicely uniformed young ladies. (In fact, the only man I’ve ever seen in there has been the owner. Hmm.) Two cheerful hellos bellowed throughout the store and my attention was immediately drawn to two bright white smiles. Nice. Customers are made to feel welcome, there’s a neatness about this mail/post/courier service store, and the sun is still shining upon this glorious day.

“Hi! Can I just leave this with you, please?” I held up my FedEx envelope.

“Oh, sorry, no we don’t take FedEx.”

“Oh. Really? Your website says you do.”

“Oh. Really? Let me just check with the owner – I wasn’t aware.”

It was a little annoying that there was a wait, but that was preferable to a “No” or leaving the envelope to get lost or thrown out.

Whilst on the phone the sweet service provider blushed, and I could already tell she was being put between a rock and a hard place. By now I was getting miffed and making up stories in my head about what the owner was saying. Eventually she carefully hung up.

“Sorry, sir. We don’t take FedEx packages.”

Hrumph.

Remember my lack of coffee and chocolate was making me snarky earlier that day? It just resurfaced. I could have walked out, but I was feeling snarky. I’d been misled and wronged and wanted it righted, and it made me annoyed that the owner left it to an otherwise helpful and seemingly conscientious late-teen to deal with what might have been an irate customer.

“But your website says you take FedEx packages.”

“I know, but the owner just told me we don’t anymore.”

“OK. But I came here because your website’s list of services definitely includes FedEx.”

“Sorry, sir.”

“Can I talk to the owner, please?”

“No, I’m afraid not.” She blushed again. Is her employer really that much of a bully? I was about to find out.

“Sorry? Didn’t you just speak to him or her?”

“Yes.”

“Could you call them back, please?”

“We’re not allowed to let customers speak to him.”

Now I felt like an ogre that was putting this girl in an awkward position, and was just about to walk out when I realized it wasn’t me at all, but this owner. I could have left it, but… did I mention I was having a Snarky Day?

“I’m sorry you’re caught in the middle of your boss’s incompetence and my bad mood, but I would really like to speak to the owner, please.” Just at that moment a tall white haired chap appeared from the ‘back room’. Both girls blushed and immediately took a step backwards to let this Presence go wherever he wanted – right in the middle of the service counter on this occasion. Not being slow on the uptake, I looked at my nervous clerk and gently said,

“Hi. Can I leave this with you, please?”

The gentleman glanced directly at my FedEx envelope and answered on behalf of the clerk I was speaking to, “No. We don’t take FedEx.”

“Oh. Sorry, but your website says you do.”

“We don’t.”

(I’m thinking, who’s the “we” in this?)

“But your website says you do.”

“This is a UPS store.”

“Uh-huh. But your website says you take FedEx, too. ”

“We don’t”

“And United States Postal Service.”

“Yes, we do.”

“But not FedEx.”

“No.”

“Even though your website says you do.”

“We don’t.”

“But your website says you do.” I winked at the clerk who was both blushing (still) and kinda giggling.

“That was probably from when we were a Mailroom Plus store about five years ago.”

“OK. But I came here because your website says you take FedEx.” (See? I’m not slow – I recognize an excuse when I’m thumped with one.)

“We don’t. Is there something else I can help you with?” At this point there was actually eye contact because the owner had finished taping a small box.

“Well, you haven’t helped me at all so far, but do you know where I can take my FedEx package?”

“No.” I guess I asked for that one.

“Is there a drop box around here, or another store?”

“I don’t know.”

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? This chap has been in the mail/courier business in this location for at least five years and doesn’t know where there’s a FedEx drop off location?

“Thank you,” I smiled to the clerk. She smiled back and I walked out.

At which point a FedEx truck drove up to the store front and the driver jumped out with an envelope. When he came out of the store empty handed I asked if he would kindly take my envelope. “Sure!” he said, and scanned it straight away. I asked if he knew of a drop off location nearby and he said,

“Well, sometimes this guy will take them but when he doesn’t, there’s a Mailboxes Etc store in the strip mall about 1/2 a mile away.”

“Thank you.”

To me, that bitter old store owner who appears to bully his staff is delivering truly inconsistent un-doctored deeply-rooted medal-worthy Unawesome service. A perfect example of how not to earn new business or keep the customers you do have. At least I can drop off my UPS and USPS  pre-labeled pre-paid mail within walking distance, and I don’t have to give him any of my money.

Flashing is popular again

 

More and more musicians are doing it.

Apparently there were over 40 reported incidents worldwide in 2013.

Fortunately, many of them were caught on camera.

Which of the following incidents from the past few years are worthy of international attention, and which are lucky not to find themselves in the Establishment’s penal custody for flashing in public?

I’ll tell you my fave if you tell me yours! Share your thoughts and your favorites in the comments below…

1.

 

2.

 

3.

 

4.

Haven’t reached my favourite one, yet! Remember – I’m a percussionist at heart…

5.

 

6.

 

7.

Er, yeah. That’ll be it. Love it! What a welcome off the commute train 🙂

8.

Share your thoughts below, as well as links to any other of your favorite orchestra flashmobs

I have to say, though, it was tough limiting this to orchestral music – there are so many dance and singing flashmobs I thoroughly enjoy, especially the original train station one of the Sound of Music that started the modern public movement, quickly heading to 30m views!

(Of course, this was, in turn, inspired by the 2001 prison “Thriller” flashmob, now on 53m views: http://youtu.be/hMnk7lh9M3o)

What is Classical Music?

violinist

Enjoying live [classical] music concerts could be one of the most exciting relationships you’ll ever develop.

 

But here’s one thing any valuable and interesting article or document shouldn’t start with: a definition.

The term “Classical Music” is difficult to embrace for three reasons:
– It conjures up images of rich elitism, boringness and dead white men.
– It actually refers to a specific period in musical history (1750-1830)
– Much of society is prejudiced against anything associated with it.

The enigmatic Founder and Artistic Director of The Discovery Orchestra, George Marriner Maull, visited two inner-city schools one week and worked with young children on “listening.” The heart-warming outcome is that every child was fully engaged, improved their communication skills, and loved the music.

Interestingly, when Maestro Maull starting working with the music he deliberately did not mention the composers’ names or when the music was written or give it a stylistic label, which is the normal practice when giving a workshop or lecture (heck, I even did it when giving this post a title!). The children just thoroughly enjoyed the music which happened to be written by some chaps named Bach and Vivaldi some 300 years ago. To them, it could have been last written last year.

George Marriner Maull and the Discovery Orchestra

Fascinating. And we have a problem.

Unfortunately, by the time these children become adults they may very well be turned off of the “Classical Music” genre or style they’ve come to appreciate and enjoy, just because society tells them to.

We could explore the sociological and psychological reasons why that might be, and perhaps that should be the topic of a future missive, but it’s not this one. Instead, let’s recognize that the term “Classical Music” has, despite it’s actual reference to a specific period in history, come to refer to anything not in the popular mainstream realms of music, or which has another generic label.

Jazz is jazz, rock is rock, and so on. Many styles of music have their own sub-styles, but as far as you and I are concerned, let’s define Classical Music as:

Audio entertainment that is constructed around in-depth formulas and functions of sound presented with the intent of active and engaged listening and feeling, mostly using instruments that do not require electricity to function.

Sounds boring? Maybe.

Audio entertainment that is constructed around in-depth formulas and functions of sound presented with the intent of active and engaged listening and feeling, mostly using instruments that do not require electricity to function.

Have you really actively listened at a concert and engaged with what you hear? If you’re relatively new to classical music, probably not. Usually your mind wanders to problems of the day, what you’ll have for dinner later, or the lovely dangling earrings of the person sitting three rows in front of you.

It takes a certain amount of effort to listen to and engage in anything worthwhile, and classical music is no exception. But it’s hard for us when everything is so physical and instant these days. Instant gratification = surface material. Those who want more, who want meaningful relationships, who want something solid, grounded, stable, reliable, a cornerstone… can thoroughly enjoy classical music.

What do you think? Am I close? Is that definition too broad or too technical or just too plain… “huh?” Let me know in the comments below what you think of my definition, and if you have a better one – I really want to know!

Here’s a game we can all play

captain-up-widgetIf you have visited my website during the past month, you may have noticed a little floating bar on the right that says “sign in to play” and I know some of you have wondered what that’s all about.

Here’s the game:

  • Every time you comment, share or like one of my posts or pages, you earn points.
  • Every time you perform one of my #PsalmQuest pieces, you earn massive points!
  • In fact, every time you visit this website, you earn points!

Over time, you achieve badges and levels of competence that are great fun to keep track of. Really – it’s fun, and very easy to suddenly rack up some serious numbers! (Scroll down to the Leaderboard, and see Robert’s example below.)

Grand Prize

But there’s a grand prize at stake: whoever has the most points towards the end of my #PsalmQuest will be invited to the last concert of the last Festival of Psalms in May 2020. Yes, this is a long-term game, but you could get an invitation to come visit me in Tampa Bay! And if you’re a musician, that means you’d get the chance to perform as the opening act in front of thousands of audience members and possibly even broadcast live globally.

The last Festival of Psalms concert will be in Tampa Bay in 2020Awesome, right?! I’d love to see you here, and share the stage with you, so let’s get to it! Sign in, and remember that every time you use the social media buttons to share/ tweet/ plus or comment, you get points. Look how many points Robert, a private car service owner in New Hampshire, received after first signing up and commenting and sharing: over 6,000!

Quickly earn points and be invited to attend the last Festival of Psalms concert! (Click it to tweet it)

It’s amazing how quickly the points add up, so please go sign in now to play, and start earning your invitation to Tampa Bay!

#PsalmQuest concerts

There’s a list of world-wide concerts of my #PsalmQuest pieces right here on my website. How do I know? Because every time someone plays one of my pieces, they simply add a comment on the #PsalmQuest Concerts Page telling us when and where, and that’s how performers can score massive points towards their invitation! Maybe you know someone to be the first?

Of course, you can also use that same page to see if there are any concerts near you that you would like to attend! Scroll through so you don’t miss any.

(Here’s the URL in case the link above does not work: https://www.stephenpbrown.com/concerts/)

Sign in to play, click to share, and earn those points!

Please… be our conductor!

Uh-oh!

I completely forgot to write a blog post this week! So, instead, here’s an entertaining video.

If you ever want to be a conductor, the best advice I can offer is to be in the right place at the right time: I hope you find a similar opportunity near you soon!

 

 

My first rehearsal with the Clearwater Chorus went very well this week, and I’m in the middle of composing a piece for solo harp, plus the usual projects and daily grind.

Highest Chart Position Yet!

Well, I was going to write another “How I compose” post, but this topic topped the chart – literally.

Reverbnation is an online outlet for all unsigned/ independent musicians – any style, any genre, any age, any stage of life. There are currently 2.5m (that’s 2,500,000) performers active on Reverbnation promoting their wares, and guess what…

The Charts

Conductor Composer Stephen P Brown is #3 in the Reverbnation US Classical Music ChartI’m #1 in the Tampa Bay Classical Music Chart!

But,

I’m also #3 in the US Classical Music Chart!!!

AND

I’m #10 in the GLOBAL Classical Music Chart!!!!!!!!!!

Yes, that deserves 10 exclamation marks.

Because of YOU!

This is incredible news, and it’s all down to YOU. Thank you. Thank you for listening to my music, especially at the outset of this huge composition quest.

And if you want to see me get to #1 in the US, or even globally, please do use the social media buttons below to share this great news! Especially on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Reddit, SumbleUpon, Google+ and LinkedIn. Go on – be generous and SHARE THIS POST!

Or, click it to tweet it:
See latest #classicalmusic chart positions for unsigned independent musician @Stephen_P_Brown 

Thanks, again.

Lots more wonderful original music on its way…

Global chart position

By the way, if your read the chart table above, you’ll notice I’m #1421 globally in ALL GENRES – that means, every style of music. Out of all 2.5m musicians on Reverbnation, this classical musician is #1421! Cool, huh? (Just did a quick calculation: that puts me in the top 0.06% of all independent performers globally!)

You may also be interested to know who is the #1 independent Classical Musician in the US? Well, it’s Jarrod Radnich:

Do you think it might help if I arrange some movie music as opposed to compose original traditional classical? Hmm…

(Or is it the hair?)

17 insane (but probably true) things about music

This is just a fun post. None of these facts have been verified, but I bet at least one of them will put a smile on your face! Have a great week 🙂

Conductor Composer Stephen P Brown - Conductor Arturo Toscanini

Toscanini’s radio programs started the silent orchestra concert revolution in the 1930s

1. There is a law in New Hampshire that prevents you from tapping your feet, nodding your head, or in any other way keep time to music whilst in a tavern (pub), restaurant or cafe.

2. In the 1930s, applause caused Toscanini’s radio concerts to be too long so the audience was asked to be quiet. Until then, classical music concerts were extremely rowdy with people standing, walking around, drinking & eating, and having complete conversations while the musicians performed.

3. No one knows where Mozart is buried.

4. Warner Communications paid $28 million for the copyright to the song Happy Birthday.

5. The Japanese national anthem is expressed in only four lines. The Greek anthem runs 158 verses.

6. In France, between the hours of 8AM and 8PM, 70% of music on the radio must be by French artists. (Maybe not so insane?)

7. James Brown had 99 “Hot 100” Billboard entries, yet never had a number one Hot 100 hit.

8. British leader Oliver Cromwell outlawed Christmas Carols in England from 1647-1660.

9. When rural Pakistani folksinger Zarsanga sings in public, fans routinely mark the choruses of her most popular Peshto-language songs with mass shotgun-firing.

10. Diana Ross appeared on at least one hit single every year between 1964 and 1996, an incredible 33 years.

11. At age 4, Mozart composed a concerto for the clavier (“piano” predecessor).

12. Dvorak’s symphony nicknamed “From The New World” contains music mostly inspired by his native Bohemia (Czech Rep). It’s actually a musical letter he wrote whilst working in the US, often reminiscing about his homeland.

13. The famed “Here Comes the Bride” march is actually from Wagner’s opera Lohengrin and is the transition into the newlyweds’ [dramatic] bedroom scene, after the wedding had taken place.

Conductor Composer Stephen P Brown share an insane fact about music

14. A piece of music written in 1964 by Lamonte Young, is called “The Tortoise Recalling the Drone of the Holy Numbers as They Were Revealed in the Dreams of the Whirlwind and the Obsidian Gang, Illustrated by the Sawmill, the Green Sawtooth Ocelot, and the High-tension Line Stepdown Transformer.”

15. No-one knows how much of Mozart’s Requiem was composed by Mozart, as it was completed by several others after his death. Salieri was not one of them.

16. Apparently, Franz Schubert never owned a piano. He always went to one of his friends house when he needed one.

17. The first conductor to use a baton (Jean-Baptiste Lully, 1632-1687) stabbed himself with it during a concert, and eventually died of gangrene.

Click here to tweet this list!

Do you know of any other strange facts about music? Add them in the comments below.

.

When to say no

Last night I performed at an awards ceremony. It was a great show directed by a great showman Peter Stark (the former American ballet dancer, not the English conductor).

One of the musical highlights for me was conducting a special arrangement of “Kashmir” made famous by Led Zeppelin, and more recently by the electric string quartet “Escala“. Our arrangement was for full orchestra, rock band, vocal soloist and two choirs – love it.

 

 

But also on the programme was a peppy little number I wrote myself – the last movement of my Marimba Concerto 1. I led a performance of the whole piece earlier this week with Glenda Lopez as the soloist, so back when it was suggested we use a shortened version for the awards ceremony, I was thrilled to have it played twice in the same week!

As time went by my paranoia for the little details (or maybe it’s OCD… who knows?) got the better of me and I inquired as to whether or not anyone had checked with Glenda to see if she was also available to perform the second concert. Good job, too – she wasn’t.

A frantic search began to find a marimba soloist. At one point it was suggested “Stephen – you’re a percussionist! Why don’t you play it?!” To me, that’s kind of like asking the cookware frontman George Foreman to box again. Or Nadia Comaneci to balance on the beams again – I’m not convinced she’d achieve another perfect “10” at any modern Olympics.

So the search continued.

But it was proving difficult to find someone – even the local music schools and universities had finished and the majority of marimba students were heading home or off to summer camps before the awards ceremony. So yes, you know where this story is going…

I gave in and said “OK. I’ll do it.”

Unfortunately, during last night’s performance I made some mistakes whilst playing my own composition (not being able to warm-up and driving for several hours not long before probably didn’t help, either). The vast majority of the audience probably didn’t notice: they even cheered during the applause. And almost no-one in that audience had heard the piece before so they were probably not able to determine what was a mistake and what wasn’t. Perhaps the novelty factor of the marimba overshadowed the musical dodginess of the performance?

But the musicians in the audience & orchestra, my peers and several local community experts… Maybe they were being nice in complimenting me afterwards, but it’s not a contemporary piece: it’s a fun, peppy, tonal, predictable little melody, so I’m sure those “in the know” noticed. I’m just pleased I’ve learned how to ‘perform’ well and not let little errors get in the way of the audience’ enjoyment.

(Here’s a computer rendition of what the shortened last movement should sound like)

[ca_audio url=”https://www.stephenpbrown.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Marimba-Concerto-1_mvt3short.mp3″ width=”300″ height=”30″ css_class=”codeart-google-mp3-player” autoplay=”false”]

 

I felt and still feel awful that a has-been percussionist couldn’t give an outstanding performance, whether or not anyone agrees.

Conclusion?

I should have said “no.”

I should not have agreed to play the piece, and worked harder to help find a suitable soloist. Or even changed the repertoire. With either of these two solutions the audience would have been treated to an amazing performance and I would have shined doing what I do best – encouraging other musicians to give THEIR best (i.e. Conducting).

Am I alone?

Do you sometimes make judgments to help out whilst knowing deep inside it’s not the best solution?

Has there been a time you SHOULD have said “no” to doing something?

Please do share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below, where the best action and learning always happens, and then share this post using the buttons below: the more people we have commenting the more we can learn from each other.

 

Dreamy… to start with.

The composer Zoltan Kodaly has a special place in my heart and history. I like much of his music, which is very folk-based. He was the chap that pioneered formal classical music based on local regional folk & popular music. He actually traveled around his native Hungary with wax cylinders recording peasants, villagers and gypsies singing their made-up songs. Then he composed pieces of music based on them, and inspired his colleague Bela Bartok to base much of his music on folk tunes and hence the formal genre now known as ‘ethnomusicology‘ was born.

Hungarian Cimbalom Ida Toth Tarjani, 1987 Kodaly Hary Janos Stephen P Brown

Hungarian Cimbalom player Ida Toth Tarjani, 1987

Perhaps Kodaly’s most famous piece is a suite from his opera Hary Janos which features a weird instrument called a cimbalom – it’s like a sideways piano played with sticks instead of keys. When I was playing this piece in Budapest I actually got to have a 3 hour lesson (through an interpreter) with the famous soloist we were playing with, Ida Toth Tarjani. I still fondly look through her autographed instruction manuals with intrigue as I still don’t understand the Hungarian language.

But Kodaly was also present on that trip. Scarily so. In one of the towns we toured through, the orchestra played in a modern concert hall with large huge headshots of Kodaly and Bartok on the sides of the stage overlooking proceedings. During the Hary Janos Suite by Kodaly I made a mistake and played a cymbal crash in the wrong place (something I did again in a Tchaikovsky piece when playing for Henry Mancini a few months later. I was 17 and we were on a barge!). After playing it in the right place I sat down and continued counting the beats until my next entry.

As I counted, I was naturally embarrassed and desperately hoping no-one noticed. But I felt a presence, a “look”. It wasn’t the conductor. My fellow players were giggling at me. Inconspicuously I turned around and looked up, and there was the 12 foot face of Kodaly glaring down at me from on high! The composer did not approve.

I’ve played the piece many times since and never had a problem.

Another of my favorite pieces that Kodaly wrote is the Dances of Galanta. As it happens, this is not based on actual folk songs Kodaly collected but because he became so studious at them, he was able to compose original music that sounded like folk music. It starts out wonderfully dreamy and evocative, but I love the fast-pace ending. Click on the video to watch, and ENJOY!

 

Memory lane: Was it good, bad or empty?

Each month I keep an eye on the conversations I’m having with people to find topics for my next #OrchChat – an hour of discussion on Twitter about orchestras. Usually the three topics of each chat are quite diverse but so far have somehow bled into each other. It’s really a fascinating hour.

Click here to read the transcript of January’s #OrchChat

Over the past couple of weeks there is one conversation that has cropped up several times from several sources, including the excellent & brief daily snippet of arts news You’ve Cott Mail, and I was just wondering about your experience in the arts. This topic just might be included in February’s #OrchChat (on the 12th at 6pm ET).

Were you in a youth orchestra, choir or musical?

Were you in a youth orchestra, choir or musical?

For example, when you were in school or even college, did you ever sing or play a musical instrument? Were you in a play or musical? Did you ever attend a school concert or show that a friend or sibling was in? What about in the community?

My point of barraging you with these questions is to find out what, if any, experience you had with music and the performing arts, especially whether or not you enjoyed it.

Are there any specific memories of good feelings or events that come to mind?

Have a think about it.

Then send me an email with your observations and experiences. If you feel like sharing, go global so all the world can learn: add a post to my Facebook page.