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.

Keeping up appearances

British American Conductor Composer Maestro Stephen P Brown

Photo courtesy of www.humptybumptykids.com

I recently received some rather disappointing news. Normally, no-one would know except my poor wife who would end up tolerating my pottering around the house and moping through the kitchen cupboards kidding myself I needed something to munch on.

But the rest of the world wouldn’t know.

Blog posts would still appear on schedule, uplifting tweets would still get posted, and the occasional Facebook message would continue to find its way into the ether. Students would continue to strive for goals just out of their current reach, audiences would cheer and applaud, and colleagues would continue to rely on the ever-smiling, ever-present, ever-reliable SPB to be there for them.

All was always well, apparently.

Except this time. Tweeting has been difficult, I’ve fallen behind in my blog posts thinking I have nothing to say that anyone would want to read, and my Facebook presence has all but dissipated. Students noticed an absence of normally high expectations, audiences didn’t seem entertained, and colleagues noticed that laughter no longer filled the room.

The disappointing news hit me hard.

But there was one difference this time. At the beginning of the project I reached out to a bunch of people to see if anyone was interested in supporting my efforts – a mini Board, if you will. Eight brave souls jumped on board without hesitation (well, some hesitation for a couple of them). Upon conclusion of the project and its disappointing outcome, I had to reach out to every one of those supporters who believed I could pull it off.

To say I was nervous is an honest understatement.

Afterwards, something remarkable happened. Slowly, one by one, every single one of “The Great Eight” responded by email with incredible words of encouragement and humorous perspective. Comments like:

We still believe in you.

You are definitely a talented musician and composer. We are behind you 100%.

They’d probably have refused Bach & Beethoven, too.

I’m sure you will succeed in achieving your objective soon.

Keep believing in yourself Stephen – my money is still on you!

Isn’t that wonderful feedback?! However, these are not your run-of-the-mill stock phrases spurted out to make someone feel better. No, I know these people and trust them. These comments are real. They’re genuine. And coming from these specific Great Eight, these are comments I should actually take to heart. Then I realized something: perhaps sharing one’s disappointments with a handful of people close to you and/or the project will actually enhance your relationships, healthily build your confidence, and lift you out of any potentially depressing doldrums.

First, THANK YOU!

Second, I’d love to know if this really works, or if it was a one-off. Have you shared a particularly devastating disappointment with a small private group of people? What was their response? And how did it affect your own perspective and/or behavior?

Leave a comment below and let me know if sharing helps you. Tell me if you have a close circle of ‘listeners’ you can go to with disappointments (as well as successes). Perhaps I can learn from your own experiences.

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!

 

A day in the life of you…

Can you help me? I’m not sure what ‘being productive’ means anymore. Perhaps you can share your thoughts below.

Many times I’m asked “What do you actually DO?”

Today (yesterday, by the time this is published) I accomplished the following:

Shopped for a new suit, baked some cookies, had a lunch meeting and then an afternoon chat, kept up with most of my emails and social media, completed an online training and prepared the content of a new financial report schedule for my team, watched some audience development, volunteer and photography tips videos on Youtube, and read Ken Blanchard’s book “Full Steam Ahead.” Yes, you read that correctly: I read a book in one day. It happens.SPB Serena

Some of the blog posts I indulged in today were by Chris Guillebeau and Marie Forleo, and there were moments I actually sat to watch Hook and The Blind Side. My early afternoon 7 minute nap actually took 20 minutes today, and my 25 minute walk was only 15 because the hot wind made it impossible to walk at a decent pace and I got worn out very quickly – the sunburn probably didn’t help, either. (Thinks: maybe reasons for the longer than normal nap, too?)

As dinner is cleared from the table and dessert prepared, I hopped onto the computer to share a day in the life of me, and yet there is plenty more to come, at least another 4 or 6 hours’ worth.

I have no idea if this is a lot to accomplish, normal, or less than most people do. Can you help me? Outline in the comments below what a day in the life of YOU looks like, and I’ll be able to determine if I’m being productive or not. Thank you – I appreciate it.

We will all likely learn a thing or two from you, as well…

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Another Absolutely Best Of!

I’m working on some project documents and listening to Classic FM’s David Mellor (ex-Member of Parliament and even Cabinet member) enthusiastically share his top 20 classical music recordings of 2012 – both new and re-released. Sometimes it’s quite fascinating, especially Max Richter’s rewriting of Vivaldi’s famous Four Seasons violin concertos, two very different versions of Rachmaninoff’s beautiful Symphony No.2 even though the different albums won in different categories, and even Cole Porter’s “Let’s Do It” by Alexandre Tharaud. Yes, I’m just as confused as you. (Amazon affiliate links)

Top Ten List EVER?!Well, I’ve never been much of a fan of “Top” or “Best of” lists, even though it is clearly a marketing gem and seems to engage a great many people. (The fact that such programs can be prepared in advance so they can be aired during the holidays with no-one actually present at the radio or TV station isn’t lost on me.)

So, whilst wondering what gives David Mellor the right to pick and choose classical music recordings, and whether or not he’s just presenting someone else’s research/ compiled list (such as EMI, Sony, Virgin Classics, or any of Global Radio‘s other regular bed partners), I wondered what other lists are out there this year. I typed “Best of classical music 2012” into the centrally focused white box on the Google homepage which took a moment (0.44 seconds, to be a little more pedantic) to produce the results below.

And there we have it! These must truly be the absolute best of the best of classical music for 2012. Make of them what you will, and take particular note of the handful of references to live music (such as concerts). In fact, the exact opposite occurred – included in this “Best of” list are notable deaths! Can you and I change that? I think so. Maybe next year we can come up with our own “Best of 2013’s Classical Music” and make them ALL concerts!

My (or, in fact, Google’s) “Best of ‘Best of Classical Music 2012:'”

  1. 54th Annual Grammy Awards Nominees for Classical Music (2012)
  2. The Best Classical Music Recordings of 2012 – NYTimes.com
  3. The best classical music of 2012 | Music | The Guardian
  4. Amazon Hot New Releases: best Classical Music
  5. Classical Music and Opera: The Best of 2012
  6. 2012 in review: Notable deaths in classical music and dance
  7. Remembering the best classical music of 2012 – Times Union
  8. The Best in North Texas Classical Music in 2012 | FrontRow
  9. The Orchestra: The best classical music iPad app
  10. Best of 2012: Classical music | Mark Swed – latimes.com
  11. The Best and Worst of Classical Music in 2012 – WQXR
  12. best classical music songs
  13. best sad classical music
  14. best classical music for studying
  15. best classical guitar music

Do you agree with any of these? Put your own “Best of classical music 2012” list in the comments below. Even one entry will help us focus our efforts!

Really – what music or performer do you think we should look out for in 2013?

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World Orchestra Summit

“I’m about to turn the orchestra world on its head and spin it around a few times.”
Stephen P Brown

The current state of orchestras in the USA is embarrassingly unsound, to say the least. The Western World’s orchestral industry has been decimated by highly inflated costs and drastically reduced public interest. Orchestras all over the world are exploring options for future survival, a few unsuccessfully. I believe the basic foundation blocks upon which the “Industry” or “Establishment” has been built have been cracked for some time and are now crumbling under the weight of so many bandages. Whilst in college some 20+ years ago, I warned of orchestras failing after the turn of the century. No-one wanted to hear it then.

Considering all the talk I’ve been witness to in the past five years, the Industry is simply re-redressing its wounds with dirty bandages. A few brave souls are applying ointment, which will not have much impact on a broken bone, but their efforts are recognized and truly appreciated. A handful of orchestras are re-experiencing momentary respite from their woes, again.

I believe we need a fundamentally new structured approach to the whole thing:

  1. Any orchestra, service or product can only exist if it produces income.
  2. Income comes only from those who appreciate what music does to us individually and socially.
  3. We must educate future decision makers on how music affects humans directly.
  4. We should approach such education through performance, as well as other media.
  5. We must do what makes people feel good about themselves – all people.

The goal should be to share music with other humans, not sustain an orchestra, employ musicians, stroke our egos using a community resource, or worse: fearfully hanging on to the previous century’s way of life and expectations.

I believe it is time to start from scratch. I believe there is a sufficient pool of talent (administrative and musical) keen enough to try something brand new. I believe we should explore what that new approach should be, and implement it.

The World Orchestra Summit intends to bring together a carefully selected qualified population of those who have an existing interest in orchestral music to consider a defined model. Ideas will be shared that will greatly impact their lives and if they choose, the lives of their orchestras and audiences. A handful may want to jump on the new Orchestra train as it leaves the station on its inaugural journey.

  • It’s an arts conference like none before it.
  • It’s an opportunity to shake off readjusting, revamping, redoing, revisiting, reorganizing, regrouping, reconstructing, and re-anything.
  • It’s a safe testing ground to see if there is actual commitment to implement new options, or if the Establishment is so ingrained in the orchestra world’s mind that it is actually just trendy talking/ saying the right things.
  • It is an opportunity to begin with a blank sheet of paper and build a fresh, community- society- heart-based tool for reconnecting hard working, leisure seeking people with that inexplicable element of music that makes us laugh & cry and gives us goose bumps.

Are you ready for the World Orchestra Summit?

To get updates on its development via email, sign up at

http://WorldOrchestraSummit.com

 

Feedback for Tapestry Tampa Bay

Watch the whole video below…

Conductor Composer Stephen P Brown presented his brand new composition “Tapestry Tampa Bay” to a new audience in Safety Harbor, Florida, on March 23 2012. Feedback has been amazing and very positive, with requests to orchestrate some of the movements as well as over 5,000 views of the concert video.

Check out why…

“Brilliant composition. Those of you that missed this concert, you missed out on a great night of beautiful and entertaining music.” -Barbara

“Tapestry Tampa Bay” simply amazing.” -Hamby

“Absolutely inspiring.” -Bill

“I’ll be Back for More!” -Mary

“Excellent. Can’t wait for the CD.” -Carlos

“Stephen is fearless in a new adventure, ready for a new challenge with a quiet confidence.” -Dale

“I love the stories, and then the music plays them out.” -Vanessa

“Totally refreshing and enjoyable. Please do it again.” -Ron

“What a wonderful surprise. I hope a tour comes out of this.” -Jill

Check out the video of Tapestry Tampa Bay on YouTube, and remember to LIKE it! (Give it a thumbs up). Also add your comments, similar to those above, to the video site:

Remember: Stephen is on a mission to RECONNECT hard-working, leisure-seeking people with that inexplicable element of music that affects us with laughter, crying and goose bumps. You can help by sharing this post on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and even your own blog! Thank you.
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Downtown

The first of my two favorite movements in my latest composition. It also happens to be the last movement actually written. “Downtown.”

There are many downtowns in the Tampa Bay area that could be represented by music: Dunedin could display a Scottish or bagpipe influence – after all, even their high school marching band has pipers! Or we could look to the very edge of Tampa Bay at Tarpon Springs, and include a Greek music influence. Certainly fun. Hoopa!

Clearwater, Tampa itself, Bradenton, Seminole, St Petersburg, Ybor, Egypt Lake-Leto, all have cultural influences from around the world, so the decision became tough. In the end, I decided to simply title the work ‘downtown’ and not make obvious clichéd references to cultures.

The piece is busy. It starts with a piano and marimba duet and the structure grew very quickly from there – an ascending sequence (rising pattern that repeats itself) but with different instrumental colors. A lovely little piano phrase keeps interrupting until eventually, everyone’s gone home.

Or so it seems. A pulsating backbone pervades the area with Tampa Bay’s nightlife preparing for the regular onslaught of visitors and locals alike. Songs burst from every nightclub and many restaurants, and the crowds grow in size and energy.

Unfortunately, like most great nights out that suddenly come to an end, the marimba & piano remind us that it’s time to go back to work. The grand finale of this movement wraps up with a full stop traditional ‘The End’ ending. It’s a fun movement.