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Woman-Violin-Clipart-1You’ve seen and heard the evidence regarding the correlation between music education and math and science scores? That’s a great argument in your music education advocacy efforts – if you’re willing to continue to play second fiddle to other subjects in the hierarchy of education funding. This hypothesis concedes that math and science are top priorities, and that music is only a vehicle to enhance one’s ability to excel in those subjects. While cranberry sauce enhances the taste of turkey at Thanksgiving dinner, in difficult times we’ll do without cranberry sauce, but not without turkey.

I’ll assume that most who follow this blog believe in art for art’s sake. We believe that the arts in general and music specifically enrich our lives. As Winston Churchill once said when told that significant cuts to arts education would be necessary to fund the war efforts, “Then what the heck are we fighting for?” or words to that effect.

Yet when push comes to shove in allocating resources to our learning institutions, those subjects traditionally seen as the primary prerequisites for success in the workplace are given top priority. Art for art’s sake is simply not a compelling enough reason to fund music education programs in times of budget shortfalls.

In the early part of the 20th century, Dale Carnegie taught public speaking classes at the local YMCA for a very modest fee. He was amazed at how many disenchanted technical professionals in industries such as engineering sought out his courses. They had been led to believe throughout their education years that technical proficiency was the key to success. The real world workplace shattered their perception. They quickly learned the reality that softer skills such as communication, collaboration, leadership – dealing with real people with different personalities – were the keys to career advancement and success.  And those are the skills that are so effectviely developed and enhanced through music education.

Besides, many of the technical aspects of the engineering and science fields are being handled by high-speed computers or they are being outsourced overseas. Not that Math and Science are no longer important – they’re just not enough.

Yet there is good news on the horizon. The 21st century workplace is changing, and the skills needed to succeed are changing as well. As articulated by such authors as Daniel Pink, Sir Ken Robinson, and John Kao, the sensitivities of the artist are skills needed in the workplace now more than ever. In the book “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future,” Pink articulates that the ability to create products and services that have a unique genesis or story, make an emotional connection with customers, and have visually appealing attributes have never been in greater demand.

If the world is changing such that the sensitivities and skills of the artist are becoming increasingly necessary to succeed, then why choose a music education advocacy stance that concedes 2nd tier priority? Your thoughts?

WGN Chicago Interview

WGN Chicago Interview

When my book Everything We Needed to Know About Business, We Learned Playing Music was published in 2009, I believed that as the pace of change in the business world continued to accelerate, the concept of Music & Arts education as prerequisites for success would become more mainstream. Innovation and creativity are skills that must be practiced, developed, and refined. While we’re not there yet, it seems that the instances of testimony and observation regarding that connection are becoming more and more frequent.

Here are a few from news sources around the web:

(FORBES) “These Business Leaders Do Their Jobs Better by Applying Lessons from the Performing Arts”

(CTV NEWS OTTAWA) “Canadian Astronaut Touts Benefits of Learning Music”

(MAKING MUSIC MAGAZINE) “A Law Office with a Musical Side”

(CNN) “Everything I Need to Know, I Learned in Music Class” (Hey, that sounds familiar!!!)

Our Music Education Advocacy army is growing. Stay tuned…

According to an IBM study of 1,500 CEOs conducted in 2010, creativity is the most important quality of 21st Century leaders. Creativity and the creative process are hard to define, and can vary depending upon the nature of the work you are doing.  However, we do know certain characteristics common in creative people:

  1. Woman light bulb1The “Creativity Muscle” - The capacity to be creative is like a muscle – it either strengthens with use or withers with inactivity.  So you want to be creative? Take time to read a book, paint a picture, write a song, or snap a few photos – and do it consistently.  Don’t have time? Close your eyes and visualize something completely from your imagination – a vacation paradise, a fictitious form of transportation, or a prehistoric animal. Do it 5 minutes a day.  Everyday!  (THINK MUSIC AND ARTS EDUCATION ARE A WASTE OF YOUR CHILD’S EDUCATION TIME?  THINK AGAIN!)
  2. If You Believe You’re Creative, You’re Creative – Have you heard the quote, “Those who believe they can and those who believe they can’t are both usually right?” Creativity studies show that people who believe that they are creative tend to be creative. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Besides, we’re all born with the ability to be creative. If you doubt it, watch a group of 4-year olds when a teacher tells them to take out their crayons and a blank sheet of paper.
  3. Be Fearless – Creative people are fearless, and don’t worry about mistakes.  If you’re a manager who tends to have punitive measures in place in your organization, whether formal or informal, you’ll get consistent results from your employees.  Consistently mediocre.  Until the rewards of innovation are greater than the consequences of failure, your organization will never foster creativity.
  4. Awareness - There are ideas all around you.  Do you ever notice them?  Drive down the street.  Every sign you see – someone made the decision which color it should be, where precisely it should be located, and the font of the lettering.  Most great ideas are spawned by simple observations.  If you’re sleepwalking through life, you’ll never make them.  That cashier at the convenience store where you stopped for coffee this morning – what was her name (she had a nametag, I’ll bet), what was she wearing, what color was her hair, and how many people were in the store at the time…See what I mean.
  5. Reset Button - In his book The War of Art author Steven Pressfield discusses the mindset of the artist.  Paraphrasing – the artist doesn’t define his or herself by a particular piece of work.  They understand that it’s just one item and tomorrow there will be another blank canvass, ball of clay, music manuscript paper, etc.  Some efforts will be better than others, but it’s just a process.  Like a cornerback in football who just gave up a touchdown pass or a pitcher who gave up a home run, shake it off… AND GET BACK TO WORK!

 

If you’re not from New Orleans or haven’t lived here for an extended period, it’s hard to articulate how wonderful the environment is among musicians here, particularly the fellowship and the way they nurture young artists and share the message of the joy of music education.

But let me try.

Several years ago I noticed in the newspaper one Saturday morning that Delfeayo Marsalis (trombonist of the famous Marsalis family) was holding “Cool School,” a session for young kids explaining and illustrating what jazz was all about through story and performance. I entered the small daycare facility and found myself in the presence of about 15 children, a dozen or so parents, and six world-class musicians. I couldn’t help but think that people in New York would line up in droves to watch a program like this. It’s both a blessing and a curse that our expectations of accessibility to great music is so high that we don’t even bat an eye that such a performance is available in such an intimate setting.

A few years later I visited the iconic music club Tipitina’s in New Orleans for the Tipitina’s Foundation Sunday music workshop. Again, 3 world-class musicians – Tony Dagradi (sax), Johnny Vidacovich (drums), and Roland Guerin (bass) played, and this time they mentored young musicians.  The format of the workshop is that the trio performs a couple of tunes as an intro, and then invite children onto the stage to join them.  About 15-20 kids joined the kids with various instruments in hand joined in. The musicians provided a brief tutorial on a simple 3-chord blues, and off they went.

As Sales and Marketing Rep. at LAFARGUE PIANOS, I hear over and over stories of parents who bring in their children for music lessons because they themselves weren’t fortunate enough to play an instrument. Either their parents didn’t believe it was important, they couldn’t afford lessons, the school they went to didn’t have a program or considered it non-essential, they tried but didn’t take music lessons seriously and later regretted it, or they simply never took the initiative. In any case, they make great sacrifices of both time and money to open the door to music for their children.

As we struggle with diminishing resources allocated to music education, kudos to all of the musicians, non-profits, and parents who are helping to fill in the gaps.

Woman-Violin-Clipart-1According to independent survey results cited by NAMM, the trade association for music retailers, over 80% of individuals who never learn to play a musical instrument regret that they didn’t take the time to do so. When I attend home shows and people pass our booth, we often encourage those intrigued by the pianos to consider lessons. Our adult beginner classes are so enjoyable that participants never want to leave.

The number 1 response? “It’s too late for me to start now.”

What a shame.

When I set out to publish my book “Everything We Needed to Know About Business, We Learned Playing Music” several years ago, it seemed like a daunting task. Conducting and transcribing dozens of lengthy interviews, condensing them into readable segments, writing, re-writing, re-writing, re-writing…

Then someone gave me some great advice that I’ll never forget:

“The time will pass anyway. You might as well get started. You will either look back in 2-3 years and say ‘I did it,’ or you’ll be saying ‘I wish I had.”

It’s that simple.

bobby & craigI’ve written several dozen music articles and reviews for local publications and jazz websites as a sideline over the past 7 years. I write mostly for the satisfaction of shedding light on musicians whom I believe have had a level of publicity or recognition that pales in comparison to their considerable accomplishments.

My friend and musical colleague Bobby Lonero passed away recently. Bobby was best known for his spot-on renditions of Louis Prima’s Greatest Hits, making him a favorite of the considerable Italian-Sicilian-American community in New Orleans. Italian-American Marching Club events, St. Joseph’s Day festivities, parades, weddings, banquets – Bobby was a fixture and brought immense joy to all of those events for roughly 50+ years as a professional musician.

Bobby Lonero was not widely known beyond the metropolitan New Orleans area. He had an original song or two that received airplay and charted in the late fifties, but nothing that would be highly recognizable beyond the most devout music historians. Bobby’s greatest legacy will be the thousands of glasses of red wine raised in celebration, wedding dances of Fathers and daughters named Angelina, Marie, or Giovanna, music accompanying St. Joseph’s Day parades, and Tarantella’s danced on overcrowded New Orleans dance floors.

Bobby Lonero was not perfect. His financial difficulties sometimes strained relationships with fellow musicians. He could be forgetful and disorganized. He sometimes embellished the truth. But as is the case with most accomplished musicians, when the final tally is completed by the only accountant who matters, the smiles and the joy and the memories he created for others will far outweigh his faults. And it’s not even a close call.

So as I find proper epitaphs difficult to come by and very little fanfare on display as I reflect on Bobby’s life and career, 5 1/2 decades of a working musician’s life at least seems worthy of a simple blog post.

bobbyloneroBobby Lonero and the New Orleans Express were inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame roughly a decade ago. From late 2002-2004, I played several dozen jobs with Bobby’s band, so in some small way I guess my association with Bobby affords me a sense of music immortality.

I couldn’t attempt to compile a complete chronicle Bobby’s career. The formal documentation of his career is minimal, and most events would have to be pieced together from the recollections of the thousands of musicians who shared the stage with Bobby. Everyone has their own personal version, and this is mine.

My earliest memories of Bobby were of my parents going out to see Bobby’s band at local music/dance clubs in the early 70′s when dancing, drinking, mingling, and leisure suits were the order of the day. The culture was different then, before DJ’s, karaoke, and synthesized 1-man bands took over the night club scene. As a teen I took up the guitar and joined a garage rock band, with plans to conquer the world with our original songs. My dad once asked upon hearing one of those original songs why we didn’t focus more on cover songs. “Bobby Lonero plays other people’s songs, and he makes money playing music,” he would say.

Perhaps that was Bobby’s greatest strength and shortcoming. As time moved on, Bobby’s repertoire gravitated increasingly toward Louis Prima hits to satisfy his Italian-American following. Though he recorded and pursued original songs early in his career, he never quite caught the break that would give him a defining “signature” song that so many other New Orleans artists used to propel their careers. When we had conversations about songs that he had recorded and written, there were also stories of deals gone bad and promises not kept that doomed some of those songs and recordings to obscurity.

For decades I knew Bobby only casually as the musician I’d see at Italian events, parades, and celebrations. In 2002 our musical paths would cross serendipitously. My Uncle Walton “Duke” Duplantis was known to many in New Orleans as the host of Franky & Johnny’s restaurant who would sing Sinatra hits on the P.A. system along with the jukebox that still spun vinyl 45′s. When friends and extended family decided to give Duke one “Big Night,” a first class Black Tie events where the charismatic, yet perhaps unpolished vocalist could realize his musical aspirations, we all knew there was only one backup band who could fill the bill – Bobby Lonero and the New Orleans Express.

I had written charts for many of the Sinatra tunes that Duke was familiar with, and for several months Bobby, Duke and I worked out the kinks and honed in on the songlist, later bringing in the full band. The fruits of those efforts came to fruition in November of 2002 at a sold out Rosy’s Jazz Hall on Tchoupitoulas St., a night that will be remembered fondly by all who knew these 2 musicians, the background story, or both.

There would be annual “Duke’s Big Night” shows again in 2003 and 2004. We would play smaller clubs with a scaled down band in the months in between. After the 2004 show, I began to pursue some of my original music with other musicians, and Bobby and I lost touch musically. On occasion we would cross paths, and I’d help him out with transportation or a favor, or I’d buy him lunch.

I guess what I’ll always remember is how happy Bobby would be when things went well musically. The instrumental song “Europa” became somewhat of a signature song for me, as the saxophone player and I would trade off verses and licks throughout. Bobby always laughed and smiled at me when we tore that one up. We once worked out harmonized licks at the end of the bridge in the song “You Make Me Feel So Young,” and we were both in musical heaven when our two guitars plucked in unison.

We played an Italian Festival in Kenner years ago, and I’ll never forget one song in particular. I took a break for a couple of songs and walked the audience, and one of those songs was a crowd pleaser known as “Eh Gumbari.” He had a number of parents line up with young children along the front of the stage, each participating as the kids shouted out the various instrument names and the band echoed the sounds. It’s a wonder anyone would have the patience to pull off such a feat. But Bobby’s defining quality was that he so desperately wanted everyone to enjoy the music and that he wanted everyone involved. And rarely did Bobby fail to get such a reaction and participation from his audience.

I surprised him once in 2005 when my wife and I took a weekend getaway to the Mississippi Gulf Coast where, to our surprise, he was playing at one of the hotel lounges. He lit up with an ear to ear grin when we walked in and told the audience that a great musician and great guitarist with whom he had played many, many shows had just entered the bar. Bobby had such respect for fellow musicians. I don’t think I can ever recall an instance where he denied a request of a fellow musician to sit in when we were playing together.

He asked if I had any requests, and he obliged with “Banana Split for My Baby,” another real crowd pleaser.

I had the above photo of Bobby & I framed, and I brought it to him one day to sign. He wrote simply, “To a great player and a great friend. Your forever friend, Bobby.”

Here’s one final musical memory of Bobby – a poignant Christmas song I had the pleasure of performing with him live entitled “Christmas for Two.”

Jazz singer/songwriter Dave Frishberg once recorded a song entitled “You Would Rather Have the Blues,” a tongue-in-cheek narrative poking fun at people who are always looking for reasons to be unhappy. Though the song was written long before the social media revolution, one might surmise that the tune is aimed directly at the Twitter nation.

Alicia Keys performed the Star Spangled Banner kicking off tonight’s Super Bowl in the New Orleans between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Fancisco 49ers. It’s a role that has come under considerable scrutiny in recent years. Some artists lip-synch the song to a pre-recorded track, some sing live and get criticized for not sounding great, some have forgotten the lyrics. Some are blasted for taking too many liberties with the melody.

The version that Ms. Keys performed this evening was simply spectacular. The combination of her restrained piano accompaniment to her extraordinary vocals, both of which were performed live, was wonderfully simplistic and appropriately poignant. The chordal arrangement was thoughtful and reserved. Many vocalists prefer the safety blanket of a large orchestral backup, yet the honest emotion of piano and voice was consistent with the style of the artist and daunting to pull off in such a setting. And you never had the sense that she believed that she or her performance were bigger or more important than the song itself, a trait becoming rarer and rarer in the day of Megastars and Super Bowl production overkill.

Yet the initial response on the social media outlets focused on the length of the song, a whopping 2 minutes 30 seconds preceding a game that exceeded 4 hours. Amazing. It should be noted that most of the early reviews that focused on the performance itself have been very positive, some concurring with me that it ranked as one of the all time best at this event. If you didn’t care for Alicia’s performance, let me know who has done a better job performing the song LIVE in the history of the Super Bowl – a short list I’m sure.

By the way, Kudos to local New Orleans Piano Showroom, Lafargue Pianos. Technicians from the local Yamaha Piano dealer were summoned to give Ms. Keys’ Grand Piano some prep work, and the look and sound were outstanding.

Here’s a video of tonight’s performance…

http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-super-bowl/0ap2000000136099/Alicia-Keys-wows-singing-national-anthem

 

In 2008, I conducted a series of interviews with music educators, professionals, musicians, and advocates articulating the universal benefits of music education and participation. One of the most memorable of those discussions was with Dave Wish, founder and Executive Director of the non-profit, “Little Kids Rock.” LKR provides musical instruments and instruction to at-risk kids and teachers.

Great points made by Dave that should be staples of any music enthusiast’s/advocate’s discussions!

In a previous post we highlighted a YouTube video for the shampoo/hair products company Pantene featured a young deaf girl playing violin in a music competition. This “commercial for the viral video era” illustrated the future of advertising – the ability to engage hearts and minds, tell stories, and associate those popular snippets of media with your product – rather than simply 30 seconds on television telling people how wonderful your product or service might be.

This stunning video of a musical flash mob aboard the Copenhagen Metro in cooperation with Radio Klassik is another wonderful illustration of such an engaging short film, and nothing engages hearts and minds more effectively than music.

What I love most about the video are smiles on the faces of people of diverse ages and ethnicities, and the look of wonder and amazement on the faces of the young children.
Enjoy!

null I love movies about music/musicians, and I had heard great things about the movie Once, but didn’t get around to seeing it until recently. It’s about a singer/songwriter who performs on the streets of Ireland while working in a vacuum cleaner repair shop by day. He meets a piano player and they collaborate to bring their musical aspirations to life.

The storyline of artists struggling to develop their God-given talents pursue the dream in a world where the deck is stacked against them never gets old for me. It also brings to mind the reality of how committed one must be to overcome those odds. I once asked vocalist Irma Thomas, known as the “Soul Queen of New Orleans” what she did when times in the music business got tough. She stated simply, ” I went out and got a job.” Sometimes it’s that simple, but it’s never easy.

The movie also avoids so many of the typical movie clichés, making it more real and believable. It’s magical in its understated simplicity.

And the storyline mirrors the career of the musician who co-wrote the soundtrack and who played the lead role in the movie, Glen Hansard, who dropped out of school at age 13 to perform on the streets of Dublin and is now a successful songwriter and Academy award winner.

So you say you love music. That’s great. But when time are tough, you must ask yourself, “How committed am I and what am I willing to do to overcome the obstacles in front of me?

Here’s a performance of the Oscar-winning song “Falling Slowly” at the Sundance Film Festival.

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