Tag Archives: Music

When Clowns Were Good Guys, Bourbon St. Daiquiris, & City Soldiers in Song

dsc_0245In the late ‘80s, I tended bar at a Daiquiri place on Bourbon St. in New Orleans on weekends and during college breaks. Saturday nights were hectic as you’d image and we made good money for college students, but I really enjoyed working daytime shifts. You had more time to converse with people, find out where they are from, and generally observe the interesting cross-section of life that passes through the city on a daily basis.

Street performers add to the uniqueness of the French Quarter experience. There was a clown back then who would walk the street and offer to make little balloon animalsdsc_0252 for the kids for tips. Seems like fun, until you think about 8 hour days in the outdoors in New Orleans in the summertime in full makeup and costume. Typically temperatures reach 94-95 degrees with 90% humidity. He’d often walk into the bar to get a break from the weather and ask for a cup of ice water.

I recall watching him once as he stood at the bar exhausted, pulling a handkerchief from his pocket to wipe the dripping sweat from his forehead. I could see his makeup beginning to melt away, and I could see the fatigue in his eyes. I realized under the makeup that he was of an advanced age, certainly not immune to the physical effects of his environment and of the demanding nature of his work.dsc_0271

I gained an appreciation of the sacrifices of the cast of performers and characters who roamed the area and put a smile on peoples’ faces on a daily basis. With this in mind, years later I composed a song as a tribute to the street performers of New Orleans titled “City Soldier,” including the line:

“There’s a clown with a tattered costume roamin’ through the square today. He never says a word, but he makes balloons for the children every day. It’s a long way from the big top, but he doesn’t really seem to mind. The smiles on their little faces help him forget about those dreams he left behind…”

Here’s City Soldier, featuring Romy Kaye on vocals and Tony Dagradi on saxophone.

The 3 Questions Music Education Advocates Need to Answer


Woman-Violin-Clipart-1I know that Music Education Advocacy is a challenging battle.  Sometimes when a boxer takes enough beatings, it’s tough to get up off of the stool to go another round.  But we all know how important that fight is.  So here’s a thought to simplify that effort.  You really only need to answer 3 questions to be effective in music and arts education advocacy efforts:

1. What do you care about?

I know that the music teachers, advocates, and musicians who follow this blog and connect through social media care about music education.  Their love for music and their commitment to their craft are impressive and sincere.  No problem there.

2. Would anybody know it if they met you?

Here’s where many advocates fall short.  I’ve spent most of my professional career in sales and sales management.  One of the simplest definitions I’ve ever heard of sales came from Brian Tracy – Sales is the transfer of enthusiasm from the buyer to the seller.

When I lectured to music teachers during the promotional tour for my book Everything We Needed to Know About Business, We Learned Playing Music, I perceived a sense of resignation – a belief that the 2nd tier status that music education has generally been assigned relative to other subjects is a given – that the battle has been lost. Not so fast.

It would be a shame if we lost the enthusiasm for our argument just when the odds are turning in our favor. As we’ve discussed previously, the instances of reports and research from credible new sources regarding the connection between music education and career success continue to grow at an encouraging rate.  That certainly was not the case 5 years ago when the book was published.  Link to Web Articles

HERE’S THE GOOD NEWS:  Graduating Music Educators enter their careers armed with the reality that the sensitivities and skillsets of the artist are increasingly in demand in the workplace, even in traditionally “left-brain” industries and careers (well articulated by such author/speakers as Daniel Pink, John Kao, and Sir Ken Robinson).

But it won’t happen without passion – passion that is perceivable from the outside.  There’s always another priority, and generally one that’s worthwhile, that will compete for music and arts education funding if you don’t speak up and let your voice be heard.

Don’t let past disappointment get you down.  It’s a new day in education and in the workplace.

3. What are you willing to do about it?

There’s a wonderful collection of Music Education advocates sharing information and resources online and on social media.  Too often, however, we’re preaching to the choir.  Again using an analogy from my sales, you can only get so much mileage from existing customers.  Yes it’s easier to talk to them and you rarely experience rejection, but eventually, you need to pick up the phone and make a few cold calls.

We need to take the fight to those who aren’t inclined to see things our way.  In Nov. 2013, I helped assemble and moderate a panel of business leaders in the New Orleans community who are also advocates of music education based on the role it played in their lives and careers.  Former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten was asked by a music teacher what she should do at her school to garner support, he instructed her to “assemble a panel like this” for your parents, faculty, and your community.

Keep tabs on your former music students in the community.  Engage them, and have them engage others – people who can make a difference – especially those who need to be enlightened.

And don’t ever give up!

Stunning Musical Flash Mob in Copenhagen

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.

Musical Interludes: Clearing the Mind and Re-charging Your Batteries

When I was in college, I always kept a guitar or electric piano close by. When I needed a break from studying (or “cramming” in most cases), I found that the release of music for 15-20 minutes really helped re-charge my batteries, so to speak.

I attended the November meeting of the National Speakers Association New Orleans chapter yesterday, with featured speaker Scott Ginsberg, an amazing guy and a fellow guitar player. Scott is a prolific writer and professional speaker. He echoed those same semtiments regarding music. Scott picks up the guitar and plays when he needs a break from the computer.

We got into a discussion regarding why playing guitar (or any instrument) is such a great release. Here are some of the throughts that followed:

“Playing music allows me to:
– clear my mind”
– not have to think, or”
– think in a way that removes barriers and comes from a selfless place”
– express the best part of myself”
– be who I am”
– relax in a way that I can’t otherwise”
– lose myself”

Why do you play?

Running a Non-Profit Board or Running a Band – 5 Common Lessons

I’m a strong believer in the concept that learning is trenscendent – the concept that every bit of education can be applied in other, sometimes seemingly unrelated endeavors.

This week I attended “Camp NSA” for incoming chapter presidents of the National Speakers Association, a non-profit association for those in the professional speaking business. Here are a few of the common themes of the training and the lessons that can be applied to music:

1. Facilitation
The President of a chapter facilitates a board of directors. A facilitator, not a CEO. If coordinating the efforts of a band, regardless of whether or not you’re the self-appointed leader, your job is to create an environment where the talents of others come forward and shine. The singer might get the spotlight most often, but everyone gets a chance to demonstrate their expertise and get appreciation from the audience.

2. Conflict Resolution
In any group or organization, there are going to be conflicts that must be resolved. Avoid “triangulation,” where discussions are taking place behind the backs of members of the group. In bands there are egos and conflicts. Get agreement up front that encourages healthy debate among members, but remain unified once a decision is reached.

3. Make it a Positive Experience
Recruiting board members becomes increasingly difficult if the experiences of past board members have not been particularly positive, and the same is true of a band. Recognize members for their contributions, and ensure that they are enjoying the experience. Board members are often volunteer positions, and musicians don’t always make enough money for that to be the primary motivation for being in the band.

4. Learn From Experience
In a non-profit, boards should document past successes and failures for the benefits of future boards, otherwise you end up reinventing the wheel over and over again. Bands should take time to reflect on great gigs, songs, live shows, and merchandise to examine them so that they can replicate successes.

5. When kicking around ideas, be open-minded
Let new ideas come forward freely. Modify, offer suggestions, enhance, redefine, say “Let’s try this,” but don’t judge. Same for music. Let the band play around with new musical ideas so that several approaches have been tried. A new bass line or drum beat might cause you to look at a song from a completely different perspective.

Art For Art’s Sake, Music for Music’s Sake

We spend a lot of time justifying arts education from all different angles. That’s fine. But let’s not lose sight of what’s important. More and more in the future, as we see that our insatiable appetites for consumerism fail to satisy our hunger for happiness, our choices will be driven by quality of life determinations. Here’s what a colleague has to say about justifying the arts:

“In education, there is a connection between all of the pieces,” said Michael Guillot, former Vice-President for Patron Services and Chief Advancement Officer for the North Carolina Symphony. “Language, music, mathematics, and science are connected to our cognitive functioning. Any time I improve cognitive functioning in one place, odds are I’m going to get it in other places as well.

“But I’ve got to tell you, the other case we make is that in and of itself, art is worthy. If it had no effect on those others, it really wouldn’t matter. It is a pursuit of quality of life, of personal joy, of meaning…And I don’t want to get away from that.”



Brief excerpts from the interviews that I compiled researching my new book. You’ll get a sense of the joy that I experienced discussing the power of playing music with these amazing CEOs and business leaders/musicians!

Early Book Reviews

“Craig’s new book is a gem and I enthusiastically recommend it to you. Craig has chosen an outstanding topic and interviewed leaders from a wide variety of domains about their musical backgrounds. Music does indeed matter…and Craig shows the way. I remain particularly impressed because Craig walks this walk…he is himself a musician and composer.

His post-Katrina ode to the Crescent City is heartfelt and wonderful. The book will be out in September…put it on the must buy list.” July 24, 2009

Michael Guillot, Scholar – Practitioner, Antioch University