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Great quote regarding evolution of humanity

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

“If long cherished ideals and time honoured institutions, if certain social assumptions and religious formulae have ceased to promote the welfare of the generality of mankind, if they no longer minister to the needs of a continually evolving humanity, let them be swept away and relegated to the limbo of obsolecent and forgotten doctrines.”

– from www.bahai.org

great quote that reflects my beleifs

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

“It is not enough to criticize society without offering a workable alternative.”

– Jacque Fresco


The Importance Of Music In Society

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

This is my 100th blog post, so I wanted it to be a good one! I’ve been saving this Welcome address to freshman class at Boston Conservatory given by Karl Paulnack, pianist and director of music division at Boston Conservatory for just such an occasion. In an age of free downloading when many question the value of music, It is long, but a must read for everyone:

“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 cover 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 did 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 that 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 heartwrenchingly 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 Greeks: 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 afterwards, 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.”

– Karl Paulnack, pianist and director of music division at the Boston Conservatory

The Quest for Balance in My Life

Monday, April 6th, 2009

For the last couple years, I’ve been on a quest for balance in my life. Just basic things like a couple days off a week and the time necessary to create the best work possible regardless of budget elude me.

I’d like to argue that a decent income can no longer get you a bit of savings and a roof over your head due to the poor planning and selfishness of previous generations, but when it comes down to it, I have taken on far more than I should financially making it so that I need to work constantly. This has little to do with me being a workaholic, being inefficient, or not charging enough, the amount I work is basically out of necessity to cover expenses.

Seeing the now famous documentary ‘The Story Of Stuff’ again recently was a reality check for me. I couldn’t stop thinking, how did I become one of those people, that in their quest for stuff they thought they needed, (no matter how ‘necessary’) had sacrificed balance in life? Sure, I deserve to have a nice car, and own a great home, but the reality of the world, where I live in North America anyway, is that it’s not really possible for most people if you want to have balance and freedom in your life.

I’ve realized that having time, for myself, and things important to me besides my work is not only essential to helping me be the person I’m meant to be, but it is more important to me than any of those things that society tells us we need, or think will bring happiness. In fact, I’ve started getting rid of as much as I can, starting with things that are worth money, including big things like my new car, and my home. And before you think I’ve lost it, I’m not the only successful business owner to do so, Derek Sivers, founder of the largest indie music retailer in the world wrote a great blog about doing just this called ‘Ahh, to own nothing’.

Getting rid of stuff that ties you down is so freeing and liberating!

And I’ve started to build my businesses with the same philosophy, so I can operate anywhere, without being tied down to one place. It’s a monumental task, but thanks to developments in management techniques, outsourcing and technology, It can now be done.

Next, I’m focusing on the 20% of my actions that are actually effective, and reducing or eliminating the 80% that aren’t. A great book I just finally read that is helping me with this ‘The Power Of Focus’.

At this point, I’m working on getting a few days off a month. By the end of the year, I expect to have a 5 day work week like most of the planet…

So what has helped you achieve the balance you want in life?

Amazing video about human progress

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Check out this amazing video about human progress and change through technology:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5o9nmUB2qls

New Depeche Mode video: ‘Wrong’

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Finally had a chance to watch the latest Depeche Mode video from their upcoming album, “Sounds Of The Universe” Released April 20th.

I love how it eludes to the direction so many lives have taken particularly in North America that are on a path that is completely the opposite of where they should be, and it’s gotten to a point where they can’t turn things around no matter how much they may want to…

Did my own mash up of a Depeche Mode remix last year…

Great quote on change, copyright reform

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

“It is time we recall what the nation learned 75 years ago: The remedy to a failed war is not to wage an ever more violent war; it is to sue for peace.”

– Lawrence Lessig

From a great article on copyright reform, “Prosecuting Online File Sharing Turns A Generation Criminal

A time for giving & what that means to me

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

The year end holiday festivities are upon us, and you always hear that ‘Christmas is a time for giving’, and of course because you have to exchange gifts, lots of giving goes on… But I always think it’s a little sad that the idea of St. Nick giving to those who had nothing to cheer their hearts (not because they got stuff, but because someone showed caring and compassion) has become something that is more materialistic.
Don’t get me wrong, I think gift giving is fantastic, I just usually prefer to do it when I feel like it or find the right thing for a person…

But I feel to truly be giving in the sense of the word that inspired the first Christmas, a lot of change has to happen, not only in society but in the heart of individuals. It seems this is very difficult for most of us, especially in the west as we live in a selfish society. We’re absorbed with ourselves, and taught from an early age that we need to not only do things that will benefit ourselves, but that everything we need in life comes from us (A rapidly growing and dangerous new age idea that seems to be causing a generation of confused ego obsessed individuals).
This has caused a lot of unhappiness, as it has been scientifically proven that giving makes one happier than being selfish (Youngsteadt). Luckily people are starting to learn about these ideas, and how dangerous ego is to happiness, and I hope it creates a shift from the unhealthy attitude that has spread the world in recent generations.

China and other countries in Asia seem to think differently about this. That is because they are more of a culture of service. They’re used to serving, giving and and working hard, and it is just a way of life that has been learned from a young age.

Indian Women Service project
So then if we want to define giving, we need to establish the true meaning of giving, because just giving money to help those who are in need is a temporary band-aid fix, and that has been proven for over 30 years with the results of the persistent problems in Africa as well as North America that have been fed large amounts of money. Giving in this way doesn’t solve the root of the problem of need. I believe the root of the problem of need is due to greed that creates an imbalance. I believe that this tendency towards greed is eliminated by becoming an individual of service to humanity in ones daily life.

In defining giving then, the solution to the root of the problem comes back to the attitudes of individuals. In order to truly be giving people, and not just at a certain time of the year, at a young age, people need to get used to the idea of being of service to others, to society, to humanity, by accepting that it is a normal part of their life.

One of the few organization I know that seems to be truly helping to do this through effective methods that will have long term results worldwide is the Baha’i communities around the world, especially in the last 10 years. Since the 1970’s, when they proved such programs effective in Columbia, Baha’i’s have committed to this idea of giving by becoming of service, starting with the needs of their local community. Because the numbers are still small, the results are subtle, but still effective.
There are countless examples of the effect of giving through service in this way, here are a few:

Systematic service training showing results worldwide

Ugandand project doesn’t stop at literacy

Baha’i Youth program in Italy gives hope

Poverty Eradication

So this year, if you really, truly want to give, become an individual of service, and give the ultimate gift of all! Join one of the many Baha’i programs that are training individuals to do this in your local neighborhood.
It is likely to make you feel happier, and make your life feel more meaningful!

I decided to 9 years ago, and it is been a very fulfilling and enlightening experience for me.

I hope this post hasn’t come across as overly idealistic or preachy, but when you’ve seen real solutions to the problems of the world first hand, it’s hard not to share them.

Thanks for reading, and have a great holiday season!

Emphasis on music education in China

Friday, December 5th, 2008

Every time I go to China, despite stereotypes, misconceptions and communism, I see great advantages to the culture there, especially in big cities like Shanghai and Beijing. But I didn’t realise how important the arts really were until reading this article form Asia Times:

www.atimes.com/atimes/China/JL02Ad01.html

Warning, if your american, this may likely offend you, because the truth hurts!

Key point mentioned is that “American musical education remains the best in the world, the legacy of the European refugees who staffed the great conservatories, and the best Asian musicians come to America to study. [However] According to the head of one conservatory, Americans simply don’t have the discipline to practice eight hours a day.”

The irrelevant news media

Saturday, October 18th, 2008

For years now, I’ve been racking my brain as to why the media seems to have no interest in even attempting to explain what is really going on in the music industry rather than spread PR driven hype from major corporations…
This quote really says it all:

“That’s what’s wrong with newspapers.  Writing articles so neutral as to be uninformative.  What’s that cliche?  If tomorrow Dick Cheney said the earth was flat, even the “New York Times” would write: “Roundness of the Earth in question.”   – Bob Lefsetz

I have two essential things to say of my own regarding this problem in our society that you will ‘get’ in terms of their source depending on who you are: “independent investigation of truth”, and “Don’t believe the hype”