Food for Thought
A Compilation of Thought-Provoking Articles and Videos
from Far and Wide on All Kinds of Things
The 20 Most Popular TED Talks of All Time. You can’t read everything about everything, but you can harvest terrific inspiration and ideas from TED talks, where experts on wildly diverse topics distill their life interest and research in 18 highly engaging and digestible minutes. Listen to at least one a week, and consider starting with these 20.
Video of Claire Chase’s Bienen School of Music Convocation speech. June 2013. Ms. Chase is a 2012 MacArthur Foundation Fellow, flutist and arts entrepreneur who has been credited with forging a new model for the commissioning, recording, and live performance of contemporary classical music. She is the founder and artistic director of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), a celebrated ensemble devoted to advancing new music and playing an expansive repertoire, that was founded in 2001.
"Do Schools Kills Creativity?" - "Sir Ken Robinson makes an entertaining and profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity."
Why Salsa Dancing is Good for Us [i.e. classical musicians] - from Greg Sandow’s blog
TED - Ideas worth spreading - "Riveting talks by remarkable people" [on streaming video]
50 Life Secrets and Tips - article on the site High Existence (#1 Memorize something every day. ...)
90% of All Self-Help Books Say the Same Thing - A dozen pithy dictums of sage advice on the examined life...
Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address (15:05)
Richard St. John’s 8 Secrets of Success (3 minute video)
JK Rowling on The Fringe Benefits of Failure (commencement address at Harvard University)
Dan Pink on the Surprising Science of Motivation
Conductor Benjamin Zander is "arguably the most accessible communicator about classical music since Leonard Bernstein. Zander moves audiences with his unbridled passion and enthusiasm." - London Sunday Times
Stuart Brown on the importance of play. "Nothing lights up the brain like play." "The opposite of play is not work, but depression." "We are designed to play through our whole lifetime."
"In this soaring demonstration, deaf percussionist Evelyn Glennie illustrates how listening to music involves much more than simply letting sound waves hit your eardrums."
“Percussionists Go from Background to Podium” - NY Times article on percussion in classical music. Are drums the new violins?
10 Life-Enhancing Things You Can Do in Ten Minutes or Less
Randy Pausch's Last Lecture - Computer science professor Pausch knew he was dying of pancreatic cancer. His last lecture (Sept. 17, 2007; 76 min.) before an audience of 400 at Carnegie-Mellon Institute entitled "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams" was not about dying. It was about "the importance of overcoming obstacles, enabling the dreams of others, seizing every moment" of the day - it was about how to live your life. The lecture was an instant international sensation. Many millions have viewed the lecture online. This link is to a web site that leads to others about Randy Pausch, including a video of the lecture itself, an iTunes download, DVD, free transcript, and more. See also his home page, Not to be missed!
Pixar's Randy Nelson on collaborative learning and achieving success:
Click here to access the text of a brilliant address given by pianist Karl Paulnack at the Boston Conservatory on the place and value of music in society today.
The Truth About Grit - the real key to success and high achievement
Role of the Arts in Advancing Human Rights - Video - Part of a speech (go to minute 56:50) by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
American Rhetoric is a site that houses great speeches - a "Speech Bank", as it were. You have easy access to "Top 100 Speeches of the 20th Century" [#1 MLK: "I Have a Dream", many with both text, audio, and photos] as well as many other kinds of speeches, even movie speeches [hear Sir Thomas More address the court in "Man for All Seasons" or Brando's "Stella" monologue or the Cowardly Lion talk about courage. Try browsing here instead of watching Seinfeld reruns some time...
Missed Opportunity - Greg Sandow's reflections on how schools of music ignore/neglect the opportunity to publicize the free concerts available to all at the music school.
Future of Music - by Dave Kusek, Vice president at Berklee College of Music. Not on the horn, but thought-provoking.
A Young, Hip Classical Crowd. The forward-thinking thoughts of Greg Sandow (in the WSJ, no less) reports on the hip classical music shows going on at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC.
Classical Music - On Demand - Artsjournal's Henry Fogel thoughts on current and future technology and classical recordings.
Berlin Moves - Greg Sandow's reactions to the players of the Berlin Philharmonic as they move their bodies freely during performances, almost dancing the music as they play it.
Flow - psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi gives a [video] talk on "Flow", the state of happiness people feel when they are completely absorbed in the task at hand, doing it for its own sake without ego involvement or awareness of time passing. Flow is also the title of his seminal book on the subject.
This video is a song version (uncredited) of Mary Schmich's fantasy commencement address (published as an essay in the Chicago Tribune in 1997), often falsely attributed to Kurt Vonnegut. There are several video realizations of this audio track available at YouTube - do a search there for "Wear Sunscreen" to see the others.
Abraham Maslow’s 8 Ways to Self-Actualize
1. Experience things fully, vividly, selflessly. Throw yourself into the experiencing of something: concentrate on it fully, let it totally absorb you
2. Life is an ongoing process of choosing between safety (out of fear and need for defense) and risk (for the sake of progress and growth): Make the growth choice a dozen times a day.
3. Let the self emerge. Try to shut out the external clues as to what you should think, feel, say, and so on, and let your experience enable you to say what you truly feel.
4. When in doubt, be honest. If you look into yourself and are honest, you will also take responsibility. Taking responsibility is self-actualizing.
5. Listen to your own tastes. Be prepared to be unpopular.
6. Use your intelligence, work to do well the things you want to do, no matter how insignificant they seem to be.
7. Make peak experiencing more likely: get rid of illusions and false notions. Learn what you are good at and what your potentialities are not.
8. Find out who you are, what you are, what you like and don’t like, what is good and what is bad for you, where you are going, what your mission is. Opening yourself up to yourself in this way means identifying defenses - and then finding the courage to give them up.
"Musicians add second careers to their repertoires," article in the L.A. Times.
“Making Art in the Now World” - article in the L. A. Times
"What Historical Recordings can tell us about "Authentic Performance" - article by Henry Fogel in ArtsJournal
Elizabeth Gilbert: A different way to think about creative genius
Musical Expression for Everyone - TED presentation by Tod Machover of MIT’s Media Lab: ways to get everyone involved in making music.
Welcome address to freshman parents at Boston Conservatory, given by Karl Paulnack, pianist and director of music division at Boston Conservatory.
One of my parents' deepest fears, I suspect, is that society would not properly value me as a musician, that I wouldn't be appreciated. I had very good grades in high school, I was good in science and math, and they imagined that as a doctor or a research chemist or an engineer, I might be more appreciated than I would be as a musician. I still remember my mother's remark when I announced my decision to apply to music school-she said, "you're WASTING your SAT scores." On some level, I think, my parents were not sure themselves what the value of music was, what its purpose was. And they LOVED music, they listened to classical music all the time. They just weren't really clear about its function. So let me talk about that a little bit, because we live in a society that puts music in the "arts and entertainment" section of the newspaper, and serious music, the kind your kids are about to engage in, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with entertainment, in fact it's the opposite of entertainment. Let me talk a little bit about music, and how it works.
The first people to understand how music really works were the ancient Greeks. And this is going to fascinate you; the Greeks said that music and astronomy were two sides of the same coin. Astronomy was seen as the study of relationships between observable, permanent, external objects, and music was seen as the study of relationships between invisible, internal, hidden objects. Music has a way of finding the big, invisible moving pieces inside our hearts and souls and helping us figure out the position of things inside us. Let me give you some examples of how this works.
One of the most profound musical compositions of all time is the Quartet for the End of Time written by French composer Olivier Messiaen in 1940. Messiaen was 31 years old when France entered the war against Nazi Germany. He was captured by the Germans in June of 1940, sent across Germany in a cattle car and imprisoned in a concentration camp.
He was fortunate to find a sympathetic prison guard who gave him paper and a place to compose. There were three other musicians in the camp, a cellist, a violinist, and a clarinetist, and Messiaen wrote his quartet with these specific players in mind. It was performed in January 1941 for four thousand prisoners and guards in the prison camp. Today it is one of the most famous masterworks in the repertoire.
Given what we have since learned about life in the concentration camps, why would anyone in his right mind waste time and energy writing or playing music? There was barely enough energy on a good day to find food and water, to avoid a beating, to stay warm, to escape torture-why would anyone bother with music? And yet-from the camps, we have poetry, we have music, we have visual art; it wasn't just this one fanatic Messiaen; many, many people created art. Why? Well, in a place where people are only focused on survival, on the bare necessities, the obvious conclusion is that art must be, somehow, essential for life. The camps were without money, without hope, without commerce, without recreation, without basic respect, but they were not without art. Art is part of survival; art is part of the human spirit, an unquenchable expression of who we are. Art is one of the ways in which we say, "I am alive, and my life has meaning."
On September 12, 2001 I was a resident of Manhattan. That morning I reached a new understanding of my art and its relationship to the world. I sat down at the piano that morning at 10 AM to practice as was my daily routine; I did it by force of habit, without thinking about it. I lifted the cove r on the keyboard, and opened my music, and put my hands on the keys and took my hands off the keys. And I sat there and thought, does this even matter? Isn't this completely irrelevant? Playing the piano right now, given what happened in this city yesterday, seems silly, absurd, irreverent, pointless. Why am I here? What place has a musician in this moment in time? Who needs a piano player right now? I was completely lost.
And then I, along with the rest of New York, went through the journey of getting through that week. I did not play the piano that day, and in fact I contemplated briefly whether I would ever want to play the piano again. And then I observed how we got through the day.
At least in my neighborhood, we didn't shoot hoops or play Scrabble. We didn't play cards to pass the time, we didn't watch TV, we didn't shop, we most certainly d id not go to the mall. The first organized activity that I saw in New York, that same day, was singing. People sang. People sang around fire houses, people sang "We Shall Overcome". Lots of people sang America the Beautiful. The first organized public event that I remember was the Brahms Requiem, later t hat week, at Lincoln Center, with the New York Philharmonic. The first organized public expression of grief, our first communal response to that historic event, was a concert. That was the beginning of a sense that life might go on. The US Military secured the airspace, but recovery was led by the arts, and by music in particular, that very night.
From these two experiences, I have come to understand that music is not part of "arts and entertainment" as the newspaper section would have us believe. It's not a luxury, a lavish thing that we fund from leftovers of our budgets, not a plaything or an amusement or a pass time. Music is a basic need of human survival. Music is one of the ways we make sense of our lives, one of the ways in which we express feelings when we have no words, a way for us to understand things with our hearts when we can't with our minds.
Some of you may know Samuel Barber's heart wrenchingly beautiful piece Adagio for Strings. If you don't know it by that name, then some of you may know it as the background music which accompanied the Oliver Stone movie Platoon, a film about the Vietnam War. If you know that piece of music either way, you know it has the ability to crack your heart open like a walnut; it can make you cry over sadness you didn't know you had. Music can slip beneath our conscious reality to get at what's really going on inside us the way a good therapist does.
I bet that you have never been to a wedding where there was absolutely no music. There might have been only a little music, there might have been some really bad music, but I bet you there was some music. And something very predictable happens at weddings -people get all pent up with all kinds of emotions, and then there's some musical moment where the action of the wedding stops and someone sings or plays the flute or something. And even if the music is lame, even if the quality isn't good, predictably 30 or 40 percent of the people who are going to cry at a wedding cry a couple of moments after the music starts. Why? The Greeks. Music allows us to move around those big invisible pieces of ourselves and rearrange our insides so that we can express what we feel even when we can't talk about it. Can you imagine watching Indiana Jones or Superman or Star Wars with the dialogue but no music? What is it about the music swelling up at just the right moment in ET so that all the softies in the audience start crying at exactly the same moment? I guarantee you if you showed the movie with the music stripped out, it wouldn't happen that way. The G reeks: Music is the understanding of the relationship between invisible internal objects.
I'll give you one more example, the story of the most important concert of my life. I must tell you I have played a little less than a thousand concerts in my life so far. I have played in places that I thought were important. I like playing in Carnegie Hall; I enjoyed playing in Paris; it made me very happy to please the critics in St. Petersburg. I have played for people I thought were important; music critics of major newspapers, foreign heads of state. The most important concert of my entire life took place in a nursing home in Fargo, ND, about 4 years ago.
I was playing with a very dear friend of mine who is a violinist. We began, as we often do, with Aaron Copland's Sonata, which was written during World War II and dedicated to a young friend of Copland's, a young pilot who was shot down during the war. Now we often talk to our audiences about the pieces we are going to play rather than providing them with written program notes. But in this case, because we began the concert with this piece, we decided to talk about the piece later in the program and to just come out and play the music without explanation.
Midway through the piece, an elderly man seated in a wheelchair near the front of the concert hall began to weep. This man, whom I later met, was clearly a soldier-even in his 70's, it was clear from his buzz-cut hair, square jaw and general demeanor that he had spent a good deal of his life in the military. I thought it a little bit odd that someone would be moved to tears by that particular movement of that particular piece, but it wasn't the first time I've heard crying in a concert and we went on with the concert and finished the piece.
When we came out to play the next piece on the program, we decided to talk about both the first and second pieces, and we described the circumstances in which the Copland was written and mentioned its dedication to a downed pilot. The man in the front of the audience became so disturbed that he had to leave the auditorium. I honestly figured that we would not see him again, but he did come backstage afterward, tears and all , to explain himself.
What he told us was this: "During World War II, I was a pilot, and I was in an aerial combat situation where one of my team's planes was hit. I watched my friend bail out, and watched his parachute open, but the Japanese planes which had engaged us returned and machine gunned across the parachute chords so as to separate the parachute from the pilot, and I watched my friend drop away into the ocean, realizing that he was lost. I have not thought about this for many years, but during that first piece of music you played, this memory returned to me so vividly that it was as though I was reliving it. I didn't understand why this was happening, why now, but then when you came out to explain that this piece of music was written to commemorate a lost pilot, it was a little more than I could handle. How does the music do that? How did it find those feelings and those memories in me?" Remember the Greeks: music is the study of invisible relationships between internal objects. This concert in Fargo was the most important work I have ever done. For me to play for this old soldier and help him connect, somehow, with Aaron Copland, and to connect their memories of their lost friends, to help him remember and mourn his friend, this is my work. This is why music matters.
What follows is part of the talk I will give to this year's freshman class when I welcome them a few days from now. The responsibility I will charge your sons and daughters with is this: "If we were a medical school, and you were here as a med student practicing appendectomies, you'd take your work very seriously because you would imagine that some night at two AM someone is going to waltz into your emergency room and you're going to have to save their life. Well, my friends, someday at 8 PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft.
You're not here to become an entertainer, and you don't have to sell yourself. The truth is you don't have anything to sell; being a musician isn't about dispensing a product, like selling used Chevies. I'm not an entertainer; I'm a lot closer to a paramedic, a firefighter, a rescue worker. You're here to become a sort of therapist for the human soul, a spiritual version of a chiropractor, physical therapist, someone who works with our insides to see if they get things to line up, to see if we can come into harmony with ourselves and be healthy and happy and well.
Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I expect you not only to master music; I expect you to save the planet. If there is a future wave of wellness on this planet, of harmony, of peace, of an end to war, of mutual understanding, of equality, of fairness, I don't expect it will come from a government, a military force or a corporation. I no longer even expect it to come from the religions of the world, which together seem to have brought us as much war as they have peace. If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that's what we do... As in the concentration camp and the evening of 9/11, the artists are the ones who might be able to help us with our internal, invisible lives.