Creative Vulnerability

A few weeks ago, I learned that one of my composition students had received a “runner up” award in a composing competition.   At first, I was a little disappointed and I began wondering how this wonderful string quartet could have only been worthy of second place.  Soon however, these initial and - I’ll admit - childish reactions were replaced with a genuine sense of happiness over the success my student had achieved. 

It’s funny the second-hand emotions a teacher experiences through the successes and tribulations of their students.  In a way, it’s kind of like being a parent.  You invest your time and passion in the growth of a young individual, and when that investment pays dividends, you celebrate, when things don’t go as planned, you minimize the damage to the best of your ability.

When you are a creative individual, no matter what the endeavor, your ideas are subject to criticism.  Whether you are a politician with a novel solution to an enduring problem, or an artist with a new melody, you’ve laid out a very personal vision that can be lauded, or attacked.   Personal ideas take a lot of time, energy, and passion to create and articulate.  As creators then, we strongly associate ourselves with our ideas and become intensely vulnerable to their criticism. 

Young school-aged students are not, in my opinion, emotionally equipped to absorb such criticism.  As teachers, we need to be gatekeepers - opening up gates to positive opportunities while insulating our students from those activities, or people, who will take them to the woodshed.  At this fragile age, one negative comment can leave them running for exits, not allowing them to achieve their artistic potential.


It’s a difficult balancing act, however.  As teachers, we want our students to be their best, and sometimes that involves some criticism.   In my own teaching, I try to be as positive as possible, always pointing out things I like first, then gently suggesting some alternative ideas the student might explore. 

But in the end, I think it’s up to the student to decide what changes they’d like to make to their piece, because, after all, it is their piece of music.  By respecting their creative freedom as artists, we bolster them at the same time. 

Students that continue creating beyond high school will find out soon enough the harsh world of criticism that awaits. Through nurturing in their early creative ventures, and by gaining the emotional maturity that comes with a few more years of seasoning, they’ll be ready for it. 

Tough Times, Tough Choices

Whether you want to hear the stories, or not, bleak economic news is everywhere. From zero net jobs being created in August to a forecast of an unchanged unemployment rate for 2012, it’s really becoming a struggle to remain positive about America’s economic future.

A few months ago, I had heard that some companies were not even reviewing the resumes of prospective jobseekers, unless they were currently employed. A friend confirmed this through his own experience, noting that an HR Rep from ...

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Mixed Feelings on Milt

The famed American Composer Milton Babbitt died earlier this year at the age of 94. Babbitt was an important and controversial musical figure who was most notably associated with the American serialist movement of the Post World War II era.

Babbitt was employed by RCA in the fifties and is credited with the invention of the electronic synthesizer. He also was a very gifted composition teacher with prominent students such as Paul Lansky, Mario Davidovsky, and Stephen Sondheim.

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2011 Call for Singers - Five Seasons Chamber Choir

On December 22nd, 1808 a mammoth four-hour concert in Vienna featured the premiere of both the 5th and 6th symphonies of Beethoven performed by local musicians under the composer's direction.  Can you imagine what a thrill that must have been to premiere two of the most important works in the history of the symphony?

As a musical culture, we've gotten away from our roots.  In the old days concerts with local composers, musicians and audiences were the norm, not the exception.  

How would you like to be part of getting back to those roots?  If you're a ...
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If I Could Do It Over...

It’s not too often that a movie comes out that really makes you think. For the most part, movies are a distraction from reality, a pleasant side-trip to the grind of daily living. 

The Butterfly Effect
was one of those movies that really made me think – and we’re talking about the kind of thinking that goes on for several days. If you haven’t seen it, the main actor has the power to redo a series of events from his childhood. I can’t remember the plot entirely, but his best friend in the movie struggles with drugs, and ...
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Why I Coach

If you’re a frequent reader of these pages, you’ve noticed that I’m a big advocate of the idea that changing the world starts in our own communities. First and foremost, I believe we can help the world by doing our best in raising our own children the right way. Secondly, we can volunteer in our communities in areas that we’re passionate about to positively affect the lives of others.

A few years ago, my daughter expressed an interest in playing basketball on a team. The parks ...

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Shaq Attack!

The guest conductor confidently strode to the podium, respectfully acknowledged the audience, and prepared his baton for the first downbeat.  The holiday audience sat at rapt attention waiting for orchestra to break into the program’s next selection “Sleigh Ride”.

Sounds like just another one of hundreds of predictable holiday pops concerts across the world, right? 


This conductor had a considerable edge on most ...

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The Crossover Phenomenon

In 1995-96 I was in my second year of graduate school.  I was writing a very serious marimba piece because, after all, I was on my toward becoming a very serious composer.  I was using some fairly complicated pitch structures, a la Anton Webern.  Suddenly, after the first half of the composition was written, I began hearing a groove pattern that was anything but serious.  

I'm not sure there's an official definition of groove music, but the idea is that you lay down a really nasty line and repeat it often, because it's so catchy. ...
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On Blogging

A year ago, I decided to begin blogging on this site. I was curious to explore the new rage and see if blogging could help me connect to other folks interested in music on the net. During the year, there were over 9,000 visits to my blog, showing a steady increase on a monthly basis. In December of 2009, my first month of blogging, I attracted 84 visits to the blog. In October of this year there were 1,678 visits.

One of the reasons I began blogging, was to promote traffic to my website more consistently. I planned to provide fresh content on a weekly basis to give interested ...

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Express Yourself

A few years ago I was reading a review of several works by an up-and-coming 15 year old composer. The reviewer praised the young composer’s craft, his inventiveness, and the maturity with which he handled musical form. At the review’s end, however, the reviewer made a curious comment. He mentioned that he couldn’t wait to hear the composer’s work in a few years, after he had experienced his share of hardships with a few girlfriends.

What the reviewer was getting at, of course, was the idea that the young composer’s music would have more ... << MORE >>

Monthly Archives

Category Archives

Recent Posts

  1. Creative Vulnerability
    Thursday, September 29, 2011
  2. Tough Times, Tough Choices
    Thursday, September 15, 2011
  3. Mixed Feelings on Milt
    Friday, August 26, 2011
  4. 2011 Call for Singers - Five Seasons Chamber Choir
    Saturday, April 09, 2011
  5. If I Could Do It Over...
    Friday, January 28, 2011
  6. Why I Coach
    Thursday, January 13, 2011
  7. Shaq Attack!
    Saturday, January 01, 2011
  8. The Crossover Phenomenon
    Saturday, December 18, 2010
  9. On Blogging
    Tuesday, December 07, 2010
  10. Express Yourself
    Tuesday, December 07, 2010

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