Musical Insights

August 4, 2010

The TED Conferences (self-described as “riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world”) are a highly acclaimed series of presentations from the world’s most influential thinkers, innovators, and artists. Brilliant minds speaking about important topics in an approachable way.

I wanted to draw attention to one music-focused talk that I found particularly interesting. Watching the video would probably be one of the better uses of 20 minutes you ever spend in your life, but I wanted to point out some highlights and insights:

Benjamin Zander on music and passion

  • Zander, in a compellingly funny and animated way, attempts to prove that A.) no one is tone deaf, and B.) that classical music is not dead. Both lofty ideas that are convincingly explained.
  • I’m not gonna go on until every single person in this room, downstairs, and in Aspen, and everybody else looking, will come to love and understand classical music.” You may be skeptical at this point, but aside from that: why does this statement matter? He goes on: “You’ll notice there’s not the slightest doubt in my mind that this is gonna work… it’s one of the characteristics of a leader that he not doubt for one moment the capacity of the people he’s leading to realize whatever he’s dreaming. Imagine if Martin Luther King said ‘I have a dream!…. of course I’m not sure they’ll be up to it…’ “
  • He proceeds to play a Chopin prelude and, with some explanation (“This is a B, and this is a C. And the job of the C is to make the B sound sad.”) and one simple seed of an idea, transforms the listener into fully appreciating the piece on an emotional level. He includes comparisons to Shakespeare, Nelson Mandela, birds, Irish street kids, and an Auschwitz survivor along the way.
  • The conductor of an orchestra doesn’t make a sound… he depends for his power on his ability to make other people powerful. My job was to awaken possibility in other people.”

While music is one of the best ways to tap into emotions and creativity, I also argue that music is another form of philosophy. It’s one of the reasons I chose to study music at a university level, and why I continue to apply musical theory to almost every endeavor I take on. It’s a facet that Zander seems to appreciate as well. Studying and listening to music can unlock and refine a whole array of skills that are as useful in the music world as they are in other disciplines.

  • The sheer art of listening (which is a learned skill, mind you, and requires lots of practice…) is probably the most essential ability one can possess when working with colleagues or holding a leadership position. Studying music teaches you to listen differently, more carefully, and to be perceptive of nuance and subtlety.
  • Playing music with other people makes apparent the necessity for generosity, trust, cooperation, and teamwork. None of these things are ever mentioned when playing a 12-bar blues with some friends, but the best musicians (and leaders) practice all of them at all times.
  • Music theory blends mathematical concepts with imagination, emotion, and creativity. This delicate balance of structural integrity and freedom is a struggle faced by most entrepreneurs and CEO’s the world over. Building an organization, whether it’s a church or school or community or business, requires a successful balance of Policy and Ideas. Procedure and Dreaming. This is something musicians practice daily.

Music-as-Philosophy is a topic best saved for a separate post, but the point is: music appreciation leads to the appreciation of other facets of life. Music is simply a means to an insightful end.

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Why Music Matters.

July 26, 2010


Kandinsky on Art

April 26, 2010

… lend your ears to music, open your eyes to painting, and … stop thinking! Just ask yourself whether the work has enabled you to “walk about” into a hitherto unknown world. If the answer is yes, what more do you want?

– Kandinsky, 1910


The Business of Wine and Music

December 4, 2009

Check out the latest offering from Crushpad, a San Francisco-based company that lets people create their own barrels of wine. It’s called TinyBottles: 50ml pours of wines that can be purchased for as little as 10% of a full bottle. Here’s the reasoning behind this new wine sampler size. From the Crushpad newsletter:

“In our ruminations on the future of online wine, we started thinking about similar “long tail” industries and how the internet has impacted them.  To me, music is probably the closest to wine – zillions of products, subjective evaluation criteria, and historically controlled by a small number of distributors.  While wine and music started on the internet about the same time, the music industry has completely transformed while wine is just about the same.  There are several reasons for this (and I’m happy to chat about them), but certainly one reason is that, online, consumers are able to listen to songs before they buy them.


The Tao of Music

November 11, 2009

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I was flipping through the book Everyday Tao and came across the entry for Music:

There was once a zither student whose master, frustrated by his pupil’s lack of musical progress for so many years, pronounced him unsuitable for learning. To understand how devastating this was to the young man, one must remember that playing the zither was considered a very high and demanding art, practiced only by refined and learned people. In addition, one’s master was like a parent. He or she was usually as dedicated to teaching as a parent is to rearing a child. So to be rejected by his teacher was a great shock to the student.

The master abandoned the young man on the shores of an island, leaving the student only a zither. Left to his own resources, the disappointed pupil provided first for his survival. The island, although uninhabited, had enough wild fruit and vegetables to sustain him. In the time that followed, he listened to the singing of birds, the chorus of the waves, the melodies of the wind. He spent long periods of time in meditation and musical practice. By the time he was rescued, several years later, he had become a virtuoso player and composer, far greater than his master: he had entered into Tao.

And so it is with us. We need teaching. But there is a point beyond which teaching cannot provide for us. Only direct experience can give us the final dimensions we need. That means learning from nature, and learning from ourselves. As long as we remember that, there can be no mistake.

So start playing.


Music as Life

July 15, 2009

t.s.eliot

You are the music
While the music lasts.

– T.S. Eliot, The Four Quartets

Related post: The Finale

[From Wikipedia: “Four Quartets is a set of four poems written by T. S. Eliot that were published individually over a six year period… The central focus of the Four Quartets is man’s relationship with time, the universe, and the divine.”]


Dr. Cornel West on Jazz…

June 22, 2009

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“In classical music, love is based on bitin’ — imitation. It’s not based on interpretation. A jazz musician, if he plays someone else’s song, has a responsibility to make a distinct and original statement.”

Dr. Cornel West, philosopher, author, professor (b. June 2, 1953)