Leave a comment

Since Everyone Deserves A Chance To Fly, Let It Go!

We celebrate the rugged individual, we fete the rebel, we praise the rule-breaker, and revere those who crash through the barriers. We celebrate those who defy the constraints of the boxes in which they find themselves, those who “think different …” 

At least, in our dreams we do. But in reality?

Inspired by a link shared recently by a real-life friend I admire very much and the ensuing comments of her acquaintances, I would like to share links to two songs that tell us – and perhaps women and girls in particular – that it’s a good thing to break out, to defy convention, to take flight, and go your own way. One comes from the current hit movie, “Frozen,” and the other from the recent Broadway smash, “Wicked.” 

Let It GoImageFeatured in both is Idina Menzel’s captivating voice, which, with it’s “knock-down-the-back-wall” power, creates a compelling emotional rush that makes anyone believe that, with a great tune and a hot new dress, the world is yours for the taking.

Both songs serve the same function in the stories they tell: of two heroines, one conventional and one not, and the unconventional one’s decision that the uniqueness that she has heretofore been taught to believe was a weakness, is, in fact, a great strength, and it’s time to escape the oppressive worlds that would contain the full expression of her power.

Personally, I love songs like this. I’m sure everyone has one in their personal soundtrack of life, ready to be used during the long days, the hard workouts, after the bad break-up.

But are we telling our kids they can do or be anything they want, then rushing them out into a world that forces them into wickedImageconformity? Are we getting them ready to thrive in their own individuality, to survive on their uniqueness? Or are we setting them up for disappointment when their dreams of independence are smashed against the cement wall of intransient reality? 

Schools are increasingly flooded in standardized tests, and filled with kids given prescription medication to ensure their behavior in class. Every school is being invited to glom onto a “common” core. Skills that show individuality and initiative – music, art, drama – are increasingly cut in favor of classes where success is measured by everybody getting the same answer. We want no child left behind, but no child to get too far outside the lines, either.

The ADHD kids have it worse. Not only do they have to fight their own impulses, but they have to face a world rigged for micromanagement, a uniform world set up to deal with unique individuals like antibodies in the bloodstream deal with an unrecognized organism. This is going to trigger the worst kinds of responses, such as increased rebellion, escapism, or simply checking out because of the boredom of it all.

Will their uniqueness become a scarlet letter, an albatross around their necks in a world that treasures its uniformity and group-think?  Wether one sticks out on the high end, as too rich or powerful, or at the low, as poor and racked with instability, individualism is no longer trusted that easily. People on a mass scale are insulating themselves more and more from the challenge by burrowing deep within “The Group.” Nails that stick up get hammered down. Squeaky wheels used to get the grease. Now they just get replaced.

Maybe it’s our fault for being mean to each other, for making fun of one another on late night TV. Maybe it’s the greed, and the impossible task of having enough stuff to feel satisfied that we appear just as we should to our neighbors. Maybe, with the things that used to be considered long-run institutions failing ever more – employment and marriage, for example – we’re feeling the anxiety of not wanting to stick our necks out too far when there is the very real possibility that promises and your heart will get broken, anyway.

I don’t know. I’ve been shown, over and over, that not everyone thinks like I do, so that’s why I tell you this is how I feel. I just feel like it’s harder than ever to be an individual, to be who you really are.  

My own life includes many examples of the rip current of conformity pulling at my feet: It’s crazy to expect to have a music career; going it alone is too risky, you tried that once, it’ll never work. That kind of thing. At sundry times I, too, have shouted, “No more! I just want to get a regular job, a mortgage and a car payment, and to live a normal life like everybody else!”

At one such time of rebellious conformity, I vowed that my next job would be of the Wall Street variety, for a large bank. That’s where all the money is after all, and that’s all I wanted to be interested in. I made some calls, polished the résumé. I soon found myself sitting across the desk from a man whose great great grandfather’s name, one of the most venerable names in investment banking, was on the building. And he liked me. He asked some pointed, very insightful questions. I must have answered satisfactorily. He asked his second in command to come in. Lots of handshakes, lots of looking one another up and down. I told them to set up a desk for me. I was ready to go to work. 

But when I left to find my car again in their covered parking structure, I couldn’t shake the weird feeling that I just tried to sell my children to gypsies. I got in the car and drove, aimlessly. I called my then-wife, no answer. I called my best friend. No answer. My brother out of state, and my parents in state. I called a friend and leader from church. Radio silence. I was truly on my own. 

I ended up driving way out by the airport, somewhat near an employment center where the year before I volunteered time as a résumé consultant. I went in. I spent some time chatting with a very nice old gent on a church mission with his wife of many years. We talked about nothing, really, but I felt better, decompressed, and soon made my way home. Since none of the people I tried to call answered their phones in that strange moment of desperation, I told no one about that feeling of almost succeeding at giving in to the pressure to conform, how near I came to fulfilling that wish to just be what everyone else expected of me. (It is unfortunate that I have to report that moments such as those are the most unhappy moments of my life.)

The fact the we realize we are different shows that we are, in fact, different from everybody else. We really shouldn’t expect to be anything else. Does anything else in nature bend to uniformity? Famously, snowflakes are unique, and so are leaves and the trees from which they fall. Neither are hills and mountains alike. Are we not also spiritual creations akin to all of Nature which surrounds us? Can we really expect our minds, or our personalities, to break with the pattern of every one of God’s creations, to be absolutely the same?

Embracing this fact of non-uniformity can be liberating, just as the voices of Elsa and Elphaba would have us believe. But this does imply, however, that uniqueness includes some “imperfections,” some inflection points when we feel that we don’t quite measure up next to whomever we are tempted to compare ourselves. But this should be accepted only as a matter of perspective, our own perspective. And it’s usually wrong to think of ourselves as insufficient (although it’s okay to be wrong, now the we understand that being “imperfect” is not what we thought it meant). Do not substitute “unique” or “special” with “flawed.” Consider the snowflakes. Which are “better?” Or two leaves; which is the “perfect” one? Or two flowers, and so on …

Confidence to be our unique, individual selves comes when we learn to accept our singular character, with all of its potential to be like absolutely no one else, AND with all of the things that we will be tempted to call “flaws.” We may not like those flaws, but we have to accept them. Then, like testing of a piece of material, such as metal or rock, we  we might benefit from finding those weak spots so we can strengthen them, or work around them. That’s another place where the world fails us miserably, with the attitude that any flaw requires a scandalous response and complete rejection of the whole person. Let us remind ourselves of how many perfect people the demand for perfection has produced.

So what to do? Let’s take a moment to conjure up a world where being an individual is still rewarded, uniqueness is not punished, and where the individual is free to thrive. There’s no such thing as whole cloth. We are all strands in an enormous tapestry, but we are individual strands, nonetheless. Every individual has the capacity to contribute to the whole just the way they are. Everyone has a unique right to exist as the person they are.

in short, if everyone deserves a chance to fly, and if the cold doesn’t bother you anyway, this is the place we all should live. 

 

Let It Go

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YVVTZgwYwVo

Defying Gravity

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3g4ekwTd6Ig

Leave a comment

My Digital Album

My Digital Album

Leave a comment

Listen To My New Album! “Eddie Carr, Composer”

Over the years, it’s been a privilege and a thrill to write all kinds of music for all kinds of groups, from jazz combos and salsa bands to projects for film and theatre.

“Composer” is an album of a little bit of everything. It starts with three tunes written recently for my alt rock/fusion jazz combo, The Eddie Carr Five, followed by two originals for big band jazz ensemble. What follows are selections from films, theatrical projects, and other things that I consider some of my favorite work.

I decided to launch it exclusively on line, on bandcamp.com, a reliable and proven distributor of digital musical product.

And here’s the deal:

Yes, you you can buy a whole album of 25 tracks for just $9, or you can buy individual tunes, for $1 each.

Still, I know that many people just listen to the music for free. And that’s okay. I do that a lot, too. It’s one of the cool things about the internet. And frankly, every composer or artist should be very grateful for the people who listen to our music, even if we don’t get a dime for it.

But here is what I would like to ask of you. Listen to it all, and even come back whenever you’d like, to listen as often as you’d like.

But every once in a while, buy a tune or two. Pitch in a dollar if you don’t have a lot right now, or spend more if you can. In fact, you can set your own price on Bandcamp.

See, for most of my life I’ve been making music. During certain times I’ve been more productive at it than at others, and it’s absolutely true that I am happier and more positive when I am making more music. Obviously, then, I would like to do that as much as possible.

What ever you “contribute to the cause” makes it possible for me to spend more of my time making music, which makes me happy. And if you like what you hear, then I assume it makes you happy, too. And if it does, that makes me feel even better!

Whatever you contribute I promise to use to support myself as I make more music. Oh, my daughters will probably get some of it indirectly, of course.

So please buy when you can. The more you do, the more music I will make. I’ll keep putting it on Bandcamp, and you can keep listening.

I hope that makes us all happy!

1 Comment

In Response to “Careers In Jazz”

I will use today’s entry in “All I Really Need To Know” to respond to an interesting article That I was turned on to by a Facebook friend and fellow jazz musician.

It begins with a large photo of Depression-era men lined up outside of a free soup kitchen. This is the bright spot. From there, it laments that thousands of yearly university jazz students will graduate to realize their diplomas are worthless. Ostensibly, they make this realization on the way to visit the pawn shop, a jarring rite of passage for the once musical elite.

The rest of the missive is written in the tone of a jazzer who as stepped out of the true light and has lost his way in the mists of darkness that surround it. He has no doubt let loose his grip in the iron rod of the One True Music, and, without it’s guidance toward the life-giving fruit of the Jazz Tree of Truth and Light, now wanders an angry cynic, a former pilgrim lost to an unholy land. He suffers the typical cycle of grief; there is shock, anger, pleading, denial, depression, and ultimately resignation.

Nonetheless, I cannot fault him for being untruthful, for he is not. Any jazz musician – indeed, any professional musician at all – who reads this rather lengthy article all the way through will in turn smile at its insights, then occasionally guffaw, snort, furrow one’s brows, argue with, and be insulted by its conclusions, before turning away to spending what’s left of the night engaged in a destructive addictive behavior of choice, anything from whiskey to Candy Crush.

Certainly, the most idealistic of people are those who believe that there is a way to hammer out a full career from their personal dedication to the arts. These are those who find the term “starving for your art” an endearing badge of honor, not sign of danger. But sometimes these sensitive idealists fall the hardest, finding the force of reality most crushing, indeed. I’ve hoped that I would find ways to bridge the bright idealism of the creative with the harsh realism of the world around me. I studied business in hopes that it would help sustain my music career. I’ve sought positions where my creativity might be an asset in my attempts to build a career. It seems like every time I seem to find a good balancing point, something happens that forces me to start all over again. It is with my own bit of cynicism that I muse that life may be just one of those old-fashioned plate-spinning acts.

But that’s going to be true no matter what career you choose, or what career chooses you. I’ve met some pretty bitter lawyers, doctors, and airline pilots, too. I suppose the best anyone can hope for is to be keen enough to feel when a bout of the blues is coming on, and make some adjustments. There is no single job, no singe true course, that constitute the one and only path to success and happiness. Knowing when to tack and when to tack back is probably the closest thing to a formula for success. So jazz musicians – and everyone else – REJOICE! Keep trying, and when that fails, try something else!

And for purposes of full disclosure, using the “Jazz Classes” Mr. Anschell describes in his article, I am an Epiphyte, but one who thinks he is a Silver Spoon. As with virtually all jazz musicians, I dreamt of being a Chosen One, but just as the title implies, one must be chosen for that, and making that call was and is out of my hands. I tried to be a Career Professional, but found the work required to sustain a proper Plan B career to be overwhelming. Having a Working Jazz Wife was a plan that was rejected for me, by my ex-wife. I dabble at being an educator, as it salvages what little self-esteem I have left after having lived the hard-scrabble life of a Gig Whore. In fact, there’s not even enough self-esteem left in the tank to be a Survivalist. Plus, my 16 year old Buick wouldn’t survive the wear and tear of delivering pizzas.

And yes, I did seriously consider a role in Industry, and even got an MBA to prepare me for it. But apparently, there are some things that even a delusional, worn-down, former whore and epiphyte reject won’t do.

Enjoy!

“Careers in Jazz” is a June, 2012 article written by Bill Anschell in his “Notes from the Lobby” column in the online magazine All About Jazz (“Serving jazz worldwide since 1995”) – retrieved 11/15/2013 at http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=33754&pg=6&page=1#.UoXW8mTwJZd

2 Comments

The Way Of The Trumpet Lesson #1: Don’t Forget To Breathe!

It seems only natural, oh Grasshopper, that breathing is the first step in playing any wind instrument, but especially the trumpet. The trumpet sounds because the metal vibrates. The metal vibrates because the lips vibrate. The lips vibrate because moving air makes them vibrate. The moving air comes from the player breathing it in, first, then breathing it out in a focused manner. 

We shouldn’t really have to be taught how to breathe. If you have not been doing it successfully since the moment you were born, after all, you wouldn’t be reading this. But when we take a thing like a trumpet and put it to our lips, suddenly, it’s as if we have forgotten what to do and have to learn all over again. Let’s remind ourselves that it is not that hard.

A good trumpet breath is a fairly deep one, and that’s what makes it healthy. Think of filling up a large container with water, and how gravity pulls the water to the bottom to fill the container from the bottom up.  In fact, the Spanish have a great device for carrying wine or water called a “bota bag,” that, because of it’s soft sides, might provide a great visualization of how to think about this. 

Fill it up from the bottom, then let the sides expand. You may actually hear this happening. First your belly expands out and down, then the life-giving air rolls up the front of your core, and the ribs expand. The upper part of the chest then lifts up and out as air takes up the last spaces at the top of your lungs. That is, at least, how we think of it. No need to raise or scrunch the shoulders around the neck. That only creates tense muscles. 

 And no need to overfill!  This may go against how some of us were taught. In fact, when I was in drum & bugle corps, we did breathing exercises to full up the lungs in four counts, then eight, then twelve, ultimately gulping in the last few desperate gasps of air.  Granted, the idea was to get us to increase ourlung Imagecapacity by stretching to take in ever more air. Also, if you are a marching musician, your body is also going to insist on sharing some of that new air to transport oxygen through your blood stream. But cramming “extra” air into your lungs may just be an exercise in creating unwanted constrictions. 

 Instead, think of taking in enough air. A long passage played loud and high will require more air that a short passage in the low register, for example. Make sure you can take in enough air to get all the way through it. 

 There are many resources online and off that talk about “yoga breathing.” Look them up see how they apply to breathing for trumpet playing. 

 While you’re at it, see someone like  trumpeters Bobby Shew or Jim Manley to learn about the “wedge method,” or how to properly focus the air when blowing out. They will talk about using your diaphragm and other core muscles in the stomach and lower back to compress that healthy air you’ve breathed in. The idea is to compress the air by driving your bellybutton backwards toward your spinal cord. When you do this, the air will have no choice but to go up and out to escape through your windpipe and mouth. Exactly what we want! And why did we want to be so careful to not allow any tension in your upper chest, shoulders, or neck? Because we want that air to move with little or no obstacles! Let your core muscles compress, “Wedging” that air up and out very naturally. 

 When it gets to where your lips are placed against the mouthpiece, only then is there some resistance, naturally! But until then, breathe deeply, making sure to get enough air, then wedge it out through proper use of your core muscles, and let it flow unobstructed and tension-free right up to your embouchure and into the horn. 

 “Don’t Forget to Breathe” is also excellent advice for our daily lives. Life often makes us hurry. It often makes us worry. When we do either, we tense up. Breathing gets shallow, restricted. Shallow breathing makes our muscles even more tense by limiting the life-giving oxygen source. “Slow down, take a deep breath;” as cliched as it may sound, it is excellent advice. Oxygenate your body. Unclench. Remember that, like any other part of your body, the brain needs a consistent flow of healthy, oxygen-rich blood. Breathing deep will lower your blood pressure, slow your pulse rate, doing you a world of physical good in the most simplest of ways. 

 Say it often when you play, say it often during your daily life: Don’t Forget To Breathe!

 This, too, is The Way Of The Trumpet.

2 Comments

Why the Creative And The Sensitive Seem To Lead Difficult And Troubled Lives

Most people are content to live their lives within the lines of that are drawn for them. There are a few of us, however, who are not. We will spend our lives rebelling against such limits, rubbing up against them until our skin is chafed and our muscles sore. Others will look at us and shake their heads. They’ll see us rage or cry in frustration, and they’ll implore us to accept “reality,” see that we’ve “failed,” and move on. When we’re tired out and need rest, they’ll call us lazy. When we imagine and hope for something better, they’ll dismiss us as dreamers. They will call our ongoing struggle “tilting at windmills,” or banging your head against the wall, or worse, “living in a fantasy world.”

Ultimately, however, this struggle will lead to freedom. Great freedom. Freedom to see ourselves as we really are, and not as a form of what others tell us we are. Freedom from doubt about our purpose in life, our reason for existing in the first place. And freedom to make new ideas clear to others, to show and to teach, to expand new understanding to our brothers and sisters.

But such freedom is a prize that must be earned, and is not earned easily. Before it is ours to use as we please, we need to learn additional lessons about life itself, lessons that those who live happily in the structure provided, frankly, do not need to learn.

There are no roadmaps for what lies outside the lines. There are no paths worn into the ground by countless others who have already gone that way, because you are picking your own path, and you may be the only one traveling in that direction for quite some time. Sometimes it’s nerve-wracking to have gone beyond the last signpost, to be where every little change is a decision that is yours, and yours alone, to make.

Yo complicate things even more, the creative and sensitive are not the kind to ignore a stimulus, even if we wish we could. Our brains are hardwired to take in as much of the distracting stuff as we possible can. That’s why sometimes we often feel overwhelmed. Why we often conclude that we’re the only one who feels a certain way about something, the only one who feels things so strongly about an idea, or feels a pain so sharply. We recognize that we’re way off shore, beyond the edge of the map. It’’s easy to feel lonely or frightened by this. But at the same time, we feel that strange compulsion to carry on, to see what new thing is just over the horizon, or at the top of that mountain.

But sailing the uncharted waters and traveling the undiscovered country can be done successfully. After you’re out there a while, you learn on your own which way is which. Your dreams, desires, and ambitions help you develop your own “true north,” and the tools you develop to stay on task, such as discipline, determination, and will, comprise your own unique compass.

But it will take us extra time to get there. Extra time is needed to learn to have confidence in our instincts, because there are no bright lines to show us the way; extra time to discipline ourselves, because there is no one else out there to tell us what to do and when; extra time to learn what to do with the freedom, so that we don’t waste it on selfishness or self-indulgence; extra time to learn to use that freedom responsibly, how it use it, when and where to use it, and, most importantly, why to use it. Indeed, if our newfound freedoms were “superpowers,” will we use them for good, or evil?

So do not be impatient over the additional time required of us to prepare. Do not grow weary of the extra lessons heaped upon us, often in rapid succession. All these things create self-sufficiency, and are necessary if we wish to live happily outside the boundaries, if we wish to lead an extraordinary life, and most importantly, if we wish to lead others into these same, special promised lands.

Learn to know who you are and why that leads you where you’re going. Learn to know where you are. Learn to show the way there to others. Learn that all of the undiscovered country is in fact already known to God, yet it is yours for the asking. Learn what it takes to make it your own.

Then, and only then, will it truly be yours.

Leave a comment

On The Importance of Having Meaning, Trust Your Instincts

When I was interviewing with various universities for a spot in an MBA program, one interview was held with a designated interviewer-alum of one very highly ranked school. He invited me out to the headquarters of his renowned investment bank. He took me on an impressive tour of their glass and steel tower, showing me trading floors, a media center,  and finally a conference room with an all-encompassing view of the city where we sat down together for our chat. He asked the typical questions about my background, my goals, and my professional life. After listening patiently to the story of my winding career path as both musician and accidental entrepreneur, he finally asked me, “So, was any of your career planned, or was it just careening from one thing to another?”

My honest answer was, “Some of it was planned, a lot of it was careening.”

I don’t know what he expected for an answer, but I did not come away thinking I had said what he wanted me to say. I did, however, get the opportunity to give him some great life-experience advice about raising multicultural small children that I know sunk in; I could see in his eyes that he was giving it serious thought. But I had a gut feeling that, as for as admission to his alma mater was concerned, I did not hit it out of the park. I did not feel that he got any sense of meaning out of my career. I was just a trumpet player who happened to luck upon a yet to be proven e-commerce idea. It’s not like I intentionally set out to conquer the business or high tech worlds, or so I imagined it seemed to the interviewer.

Two occasions, as recent as yesterday evening, in fact, made me think back on this interview in the context of careers with meaning. The first was was this article in Forbes, discussing a study out of the prestigious European business school, INSEAD.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/insead/2013/06/19/is-there-life-after-an-mba/2/

The article describes  what was learned when current MBAs looked at the lives of the graduating class of 2002. The “aha” moment for many of these talented, ambitious post-MBAs was the discovery that the desire for meaning in their work trumped their need for high incomes and prestigious titles.

The second thing that brought me to think about meaning in work was a conversation with a friend about “women’s intuition.” She shared that a male friend had acknowledged her ability to see through a common social smokescreen, and that it amounted to her possessing a “sixth sense.” It seemed similar to something that I believe in, the “gut feeling.”

Malcolm Gladwell wrote an entire, well-researched book, “Blink,” about why such instincts are most often correct (http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_1_5?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=blink%20by%20malcolm%20gladwell&sprefix=Blink%2Cstripbooks%2C248).

I was reminded of the academic research position I held a short number of years ago, working for a primary investigator who turned out to be a less than honest administrator. Though kept in the dark about the behind-the-scenes machinations in my new place of work, I knew within the first three weeks that all was not as it seemed. It took too long to get my office ready, it was too hard to get a computer or phone. Heck, the whole thing began badly during negotiations for the position with a bizarre debate, not over salary, but over some technicality concerning what the job title could or could not be because of the source of funding, the reluctance of HR to rename a job posting, appearances to other staffers, or some combination of such things.

I should have beat a hasty retreat at that very moment. Instead, I stuck it out until it cost me all of my peace of mind and thousands of dollars in legal fees trying to extricate myself from the trouble caused by an administrator who cared only about getting away with abusing the system. One of the lessons (of many, believe me) I learned from that experience was that I would have saved a lot of time and anguish if I would have trusted that gut feeling. When plain and simple things do not line up the way they should, one’s gut or intuition are right there to tell you give you an almost instantaneous sense, or feeling, that something might be amiss long before one’s analytical skills come up with a data-driven answer.

Trust your gut feeling and intuition when it comes to finding the meaning in your work, too. If you have to twist your thoughts and feelings to convince yourself that there is meaning in something you are about to do, or already doing, chances are good that there is probably very little real meaning to be found there.

We do have some ready models of meaning. Being a parent has meaning. Things that involve serving others tend to have meaning. Being creative and innovative might, as well. When others express gratitude for what you do, that is a good sign that there is some meaning there. Certainly, music groups believe there is much meaning in what they do, because musicians can pursue multiple goals when they perform, such as playing well individually (the pursuit excellence), entertaining the audience, and expressing oneself artistically.

Surely, a few of my jobs had meaning (even the non-music jobs!). Some of my jobs, in my estimation, had no meaning whatsoever. Others started with it, then lost meaning at some point. I had a tough time with those. I couldn’t infuse them with meaning, either. It’s either in your heart, or it’s not.

Some of these jobs paid less than I hoped, while others paid the right amount. But the best work offered an intrinsic reward that knows no monetary value, such as seeing a young musician discover a way to play a piece of music better than ever before, or creating something from the ground up like a usable business plan for a hard-working start-up company.

Either way, that gut feeling was there, usually from the very beginning. When it was a positive feeling, it made it easier to dive in head first and give it my all right from the very start. But when that intuition was setting off alarm bells – even soft, subtle alarms – there was no amount of smiling, glad-handing, hoping for the best, twisting the facts, or talking oneself into it that could sufficiently imbue the job with real meaning. Might as well cut to the chase, pick a place to try again, and save yourself the grief of having to endure the slow death-spiral of your own optimism.

An added benefit: you will never become heartless if you lead with your heart, and you will never be found gutless if you trust your gut. That is all.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,767 other followers

%d bloggers like this: