A Whole New Mind

In college, I lived on campus in the engineering residence halls for three years as a music major. I would often get in discussions and debates about current events, philosophy, theology, and various matters of personal preference. In the rare event that I made a good point and my opponent did not have an immeadiate response, he’d say something like “yeah, but what do you know, you’re an arts and crafts major.”

Justin surrounded by engineering students

My engineering friends knew this would always get a rise out of me because they sensed my victim mentality when it comes to the value of performance arts. I remember those debates with friends so well because I was at a loss. I was not able to provide a defense of my vocation to these engineering students who were taught in their first weeder courses that their degree area was superior and posessed the greatest chance of making decent money and improving society as a whole. While I’m not sure if studying music is superior to other areas, it is essential to provide some kind of a defense of it.

One of the greatest arguments for why fund the arts can be found in Daniel Pink‘s book, A Whole New Mind: Why right-brainers will rule the future. Here is an excerpt from the introduction:

“The last few decades have belonged to a certain kind of person with a certain kind of mind–computer programmers who could crank code, lawyers who could craft contracts, MBAs who could crunch numbers. But the keys to the kingdom are changing hands. The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind–creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers, and meaning makers. These people–artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers–will now reap society’s richest rewards and share its greatest joys.”

Pink’s major point in this book is that, due to various factors (abundance, Asia, automation), our society and economy are changing from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age. While left-brained, knowledge-based skills will continue to be important, it is now essential to develop the right-brained sensibilities of emotional intelligence, beauty, and spirituality. This involves being able to connect with the human psyche, not just bring information but meaning, not just function but beauty, and not just math and science but arts, too. He divides these into six senses: design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning. Of course, I appreciate his use of the symphony metaphor!

I first became aware of this book at the Texas Music Educators Association Convention in 2009. Dan Pink gave the keynote speech which is available in its entirety at TMEA.org. He began by telling the audience something they’ve always believed but never been able to effectively prove as well, that “arts education is not this kind of nice ornamental thing in our kid’s life, but arts education is economically fundamental to preparing our kids for their future.” He believed that our education system does not readily speak to the need for right-brain directed skills, but that the arts do. I love this slide:

His response to reading this was “gee, I wonder where our kids could learn that?!” The answer is that all of the above skills and abilities may be developed over the course of just about any music rehearsal (except for understanding the business context of engineering).

I count this as an influence for why I chose to write about Classical music because Classical music need advocates. If students are not being educated in the arts, their capacity to understand, appreciate, and participate will cease and their money will be spent elsewhere. This is already happening, given a number of non-profit performance organizations going bankrupt. One major example is the Philadelphia Orchestra, one of our nation’s oldest, most prolific and famous orchestras.

My hope is that you would read Dan Pink’s book, continue to read my blog, and go to a concert or two in your area this summer or fall. There are often many free concerts in parks this time of year. Bring a donation. Buy one of their recordings. Meet the musicians after the concert and give them specific feedback. If you don’t, your right brain may get out of shape from lack of exercise!


Continuing in the series of influences for my Big Idea is the YouTube Symphony Orchestra. In 2008, YouTube announced that it was taking video auditions for an orchestra that would give a concert at Carnegie Hall in New York in 2009. Videos were posted of conductors and professional symphony musicians giving instructions for how the audition materials were to be performed. Many amateur musicians made their audition debut by simply downloading the music, watching the video master classes, and uploading their audtion to YouTube. The 101-member orchestra was selected and it rehearsed for a week in New York City before giving a concert. This concert may be watched in two parts: part one and part two. Other than several bad transitions, this concert was filled with great music and talent.

After the success of the first YTSO, another one was assembled in 2011 at a much grander scale. This time, the venue was the Sydney Opera House in Australia. There are three major themes associated with this orchestra that inspire me:

Great visuals. In both concerts, Obscura Digital provided digital projections that illustrated the music. Images were projected inside the concert halls as well as on the outside of the sails of the Sydney Opera House in dramatic fashion. As you can see below, they are absolutely stunning. During the 2011 concert, a sand artist illustrated one of the pieces. It is pretty impressive stuff. (see 1:47:42 below). As I said in my last post, there are no limits to what the imagination can make of this music.

Digital projections during “Mothership” by Obscura Digital

Personal stories. In between pieces were videos of various performers in the concert. Each expressed what being in the YTSO was like and what music meant to them personally. Here are three:

“Music puts out your fears, your deepest emotions, your angers, everything you have inside you.” – Maria Chiossi, harp (Brescia, Italy)

“I have always had music going on in my head. This is why I love being a musician. When you actually feel the audience feeling what you are feeling, it’s great!” – Xiomara Mass, oboe (Oberlin College, Ohio, USA – originally from Puerto Rico)

“I’ve put my entire career in the hands of the internet. These are my teachers. Musicians who are no longer alive, but who left their works behind, recorded in black and white. I learn from them. I incorporate their movements into mine. When I play a new piece, I upload it. I want people to know who I am, what I do, and to appreciate it.” – Stepan Grytsay, violin (Salta, Argentina – originally from Ukrane)

Knowing part of the performers’ stories helps establish a bond between the performer, the music, and the listener. I wish that our culture revered Classical musicians in much the same way as we do Hollywood actors. When I hear performances, it can be difficult to place the performance in context when I know nothing of the performer. I have an interest not just in the performer’s resume, as though he were applying for the job of my patronage, but I am interested in his influences and life experiences. I am interested in what lead him to this point to be playing this piece at this moment in time. Right now, the audience members have to do a lot of research to follow their favorite instrumentalist or singer.

Classical music advocacy. The scope and grand scale of these videos reminds me of the Olympics. It gets me excited about Classical music, art, world cultures, and God’s unique creation in each artist the way that the Olympics excite me about sports and athleticism. The diversity of instruments, sounds, and styles that the symphony orchestra displays may be easily compared to the diversity of humanity. I’ll be sure to write more about this in a future post. Michael Tilson Thomas opened the 2011 concert with this statement:

“Classical music is a wonderful 1200 year-old tradition that witnesses everything that it has meant and what it means right now to be human.”


I have embedded the entire Grand Finale Concert below. Just in case you do not wish to watch the entire two hours and twenty-two minutes, I have prioritized in order of those I believe are a “must see” with some brief commentary:

1:25:00 (intro at 1:23:08): Bates: Mothership – Mason Bates, composer-in-residence for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (13:42) – Mothership is a great example of the really cool things modern composers are doing with orchestras. This is one of the highlights of the concert because it includes the world premiere of a brand new composition that features improvisation, electronic music, virtuoso soloists, and incredible visual projections. For the studio recording of this work with other example improvisations, watch this video. Even though improvisation was a major part of classical music, it seems it fell away in the interests of preserving the music in its original form. As Mason Bates puts it, Mothership brings that back. Here are the featured soloists:

John Burgess (Canberra, Australia), electric double bass
Ali Bello (New York), violin
Paulo Calligopoulos (Sau Paulo, Brazil), electric guitar
Su Chang (Beijing, China), guzheng

1:08:01: Barton: Prelude – William Barton, didgeridoo (5:07) – I love William Barton’s improvisation here. Listening to his playing is sheer joy and impresses upon me the incredible number of sounds one instrument can make, such as the didgeridoo.

48:13 (intro at 46:51): Brittan: Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (16:35) – If you haven’t heard this piece, be sure to check it out. It features each of the instruments in a modern symphony orchestra and helps audience members match the sound with the instrument that produces it. This is as good a performance of Young Person’s Guide as any I’ve heard. Watch the intro (46:51) if you get a chance.

Renee Fleming

41:20: Mozart: Cara Bell’idol Mio (3:07) – Renee Fleming, soprano with the Sydney Children’s Choir – I forgot how beautiful children’s choirs can be. They convey such a great sense of purity, innocence, and a sweetness that only children’s voices can. When I think about how broken and stressed this world is, listening to this music makes that melt away. This piece features Renee Fleming, opera star extraordinaire, and the Sydney Children’s choir. Check out Renee Fleming’s website – it is very classy. Her voice is captivating, as is this piece by Mozart.

17:56 – Grainger: Arrival Platform Humlet (3:07)
As with all of Grainger’s dances, this one is very playful. It has a mysterious energy as though the character in the piece were plotting something mischievous. I appreciate the contrast between playful, carefree sections and intense explosions of sound.

36:30: Ginastera: Estancia, Mvt 4: Danza Final (3:26)
This is some great music from Latin America. The Danza Final really gets my blood pumping and reminds me of one of my favorite drum & bugle corps shows of all time – Blue Devils 1999: Rhythms at the End of Time (click to watch)

1:47:42: Abbas & Jackobsen: Ascending Bird: Suite for String Orchestra – Richard Tognetti and Colin Jackobsen, violinists; Kseniya Simonova, sand artist (7:15)
1:58:56: Stravinsky: Firebird Suite, Mvts 5, 6 & 7 (13:06)
3:15: Berlioz: Roman Carnival Overture (8:17)
1:20:32: Strauss: Fanfare for the Vienna Philharmonic (2:19)
22:18 – J.S. Bach: Toccata in F major (7:04) – Cameron Carpenter, organ
32:41: Ginastera: Estancia, Mvt. 2: Danza del Trigo (3:09)
1:37:33: Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto, Mvt. 3 – Stephan Jackiw, violin (6:48)
1:13:08: Constable: Suna – Synergy Percussion Ensemble (3:59)
2:14:46 (encore) Schubert: Rosemunde Overture

Did you like any of these pieces? What stood out to you?

Fantasia and imagination

I turned 16 years old on January 1, 2000 – Y2K. While many people were huddled in their bomb shelters at home surrounded by months of non-perishable food stuffs due to the Y2K scare, my family and I went to the local IMAX theater to see Disney’s Fantasia 2000. This event changed my life.

Fantasia is another form of music in motion. Walt Disney and Leopold Stokowski teamed up to select seven orchestral works that were animated for the movie theater. Some of these animations were abstract, some depicted real stories with characters, and some featured Disney characters, such as Mickey in the The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Dukas. It was released in 1940 and was to be the first of an on going series of Classical music pieces set to animation that would rotate in and out of the theater. No pieces were added, but Fantasia was re-released in theatres again in 1985 and it was remastered for a 1990 release for VHS as well.

Roy Disney, producer of Fantasia 2000

Roy Disney (Walt’s nephew) used the profits from the re-release of Fantasia to produce Fantasia 2000. While the original Fantasia used many new animation techniques and “Fantasound,” one of the first multi-channel recording systems, Fantasia 2000 used many new techniques as well. Most notable among them were IMAX technology and computer animation. The commentary and special features on the DVD are fascinating.

For this new Fantasia, Roy Disney teamed with James Levine to select these eight pieces:

Beethoven: Symphony No. 5, Mvt. 1 (shortened version)
*Respighi: The Pines of Rome, Mvts 1, 3 & 4 (shortened versions)
Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue
Shostakovich: Piano Concerto No. 2, Allegro
Saint-Saens: Carnival of the Animals, Finale (shortened version)
Dukas: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Grieg: Pomp and Circumstance, Marches 1-4
*Stravinsky: Firebird Suite, Mvts. 4-7

*Works I’d like to discuss on this blog in detail.

Here is the official movie trailer:

This film demonstrates something I call “mutual inspiration.” When art media are crossed, such as Classical music and animation (visual art), the artists from both sides may be inspired by one another. Many of the animators for Fantasia 2000 noted that they chose to pursue a career in animation because they had watched the original Fantasia and saw how the music could inspire great visual art. I pursued a career in music in part because of how exciting Classical music became when I learned to use my imagination and picture in my mind what the music was depicting. Disney’s achievement in this film was his use of animation to enhance the tangible emotions found in Classical music.

In future posts, I want to explore the way Classical music expresses emotions in ways that few other art forms can. One possible format is to pick one emotion per week and choose a different piece each day that expresses that emotion in a profound way. Emotions may include anger, rage, fear/suspense, ecstasy, peace/tranquility, and the various emotions wrapped up in love.

Getting back on topic, Fantasia 2000 is an influence because it demonstrates the great potential of human imagination in relation to Classical music. Between the two Fantasias, 15 pieces were animated out of the thousands of powerful, inspiring works the genre has to offer. This is not to mention the thousands of ways these pieces could be animated.

In my experience, it is impossible to enjoy Classical music without using my imagination and developing specific images, ideas, or characters in my mind. To me, the music has no meaning if it does not speak to some part of human experience, including my specific memories: love gained, love lost or love missed, elation in success or depression in failure, innocence or the loss of it, loneliness, personal intimacy, and divine transcendence.

Get it? Use you imagination!

Here is a quote from my next topic, the YouTube Symphony Orchestra:

“Classical music is a wonderful 1200 year-old tradition that witnesses everything that it has meant and what it means right now to be human.”  – Michael Tilson Thomas

Music in Motion

Marcus High School Band – Flower Mound, Texas

I gained exposure to much of my favorite Classical music through my experience in public school performing arts. Like Disney’s Fantasia and Fantasia 2000, marching bands and drum & bugle corps animate music with formations, props, and various forms of choreography and dance. These marching ensembles combine art forms in the same way that the opera genre combines vocal and instrumental music, visual art, theater, and technical theater. I am most inspired by those ensembles who choose symphonic pieces such as the Marcus High School Marching Band, Phantom Regiment Drum & Bugle Corps, and Star of Indiana Drum & Bugle Corps.

While Star of Indiana no longer exists, they produced a show called “Blast!”. Instead of performing on a football field with over a hundred people, a couple dozen took the show to the stage. Blast! includes professional brass players, percussionists, and dancers who perform shows on Broadway in the style of drum & bugle corps, but more refined and varied than a typical marching show. Their repertoire includes various famous Classical works as well as jazz, rock, and even techno music. For many young people, just seeing this DVD is inspiration enough to start to play and instrument or take dance lessons.

Many consider Classical music to be boring. These marching and dance ensembles bring out the sheer excitement, electricity, and intense emotion intrinsic in this kind of music. When I write about Classical music, I want to draw from the excitement and show just how much of an incredible experience listening to and performing Classical music can be. I want to set music to videos and slide shows of related paintings, photography, even animated GIFs to convey the meaning and emotion of the music.

Big idea

I want to create a multimedia presentation, perhaps an eBook, on the pieces of music that are most meaningful to me. I want to narrate what is happening in those pieces and what I listen for. I would include pictures, audio clips, videos, and related pieces that remind me of the works being presented. I would discuss some of the music theory behind it, but only in order to shed light on how the composer achieves the affect of the music or to explain why that particular piece is unique.

While I believe presenting facts about the music and its composer is important to developing and enhancing the listener’s appreciation of it, I want to tie in people’s personal experiences with the music. I hope to include prominent reviews of the music and perhaps some short interviews with music professors, performers, and composers. I am also interested in the opinions of those who may not be trained in classical music, but appreciate it as well.

In order to choose the format of my presentation, I plan to do a survey of related literature. This will help me find inspiration and narrow what it is I have to contribute.


Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra
My wife and I attended Fort Worth Symphony concerts on and off for the last several years we’ve lived in Texas. For me, each concert was a delight and I was fully engaged. For Dawn, her levels of delight varied. The times where she enjoyed the concerts the most are when a visual element was added, not to upstage the music, but to enhance the audience’s understanding and imagination of the music. Her appreciation grew when time was taken to highlight sections of the music with imagery.

Two examples are of concerts with Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite and Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe Suite, and of Holst’s The Planets. For the two suites, which are both based on mythology, paintings of ancient Russian mythology and the story of Daphnis and Chloe were displayed on a large screen above the orchestra. With The Planets, the most recent images taken by NASA of the other 7 planets were displayed in high definition in the most dramatic way. The slide shows were timed to the music so that paintings that inspired greater emotion displayed at an emotional high point in the music.

It gave me much pleasure to see her excited about Classical music. I want to incorporate a visual element to my presentation of classical music if not so others can appreciate it better, than just for her. I love you, Dawn!

Benjamin Zander’s Ted Talk
In this brilliant presentation, Zander used a Chopin piano prelude to prove that everyone can “come to love and understand Classical music.” He spoke about what it is like to perform the music, gave a very simple framework for the form of the music (going from the note B to the note A, the C is played to make the B sound sad, etc), mentioned a few related works (Mozart Symphony No. 40, Shakespeare’s Hamlet), and spoke of vision and following the long line from the beginning to the end (a life lesson).

I appreciated how he validated that many don’t have an interest in classical music, some are lulled to sleep, and some lost focus after a couple minutes and wonder “What’s for lunch?” I think it is important to validate people’s objections to listening to and appreciating it. The way Benjamin Zander overcame this is by relating the music to something personal to the audience. He told a story of how a listener was impacted by this and was able to mourn the death of his brother for the first time by listening to the Chopin prelude. This is one approach that I want to use in advocating for classical music.

Those are the two biggest influences. In future posts, I will discuss other media that influence my desire to write, including:

Fantasia and Fantasia 2000
Keeping Score (PBS)
The Philadelphia Orchestra filing for bankruptcy
Dan Pink – TMEA Keynote speech (from his book, A Whole New Mind)

Until then, thanks for reading!


How does the saying go? “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.

What about those who can’t teach? I guess they write.

Why I am starting this blog. I love music. I cant stop thinking about music throughout the day. Especially music for large ensembles: orchestras, bands, and choirs. The genres include baroque, classical, romantic, modern, minimalist, swing, bebop, hard bop, cool jazz, funk, contemporary jazz, and some rock music. If it is artful.

In another post I’d like to share what criteria I look for in music in order to consider it good music. I recognize, of course, that people have different preferences in music and that all are valid. There is a whole research field out there on musical preference and why people like music. I want to look more into that.

Another reason. I have two music degrees and I work for Office Depot. No one I know thinks this is right, including myself. Or, if they think it is right, they think it is only for now, and that God is working in me and developing my identity in Him. My testimony includes how, at least at an unconscious level, I staked my worth in my achievement in music. I decided to pursue music because if I couldn’t get my peers in school to like me, at least they would respect me and my talent. When I learned that I would neither perform nor teach, I was devastated. I will be sure to write about my musical experiences, including how they came to a screeching halt, in a future post.

While music is not the thing that determines my worth, it is still a large part of me. I’ve tried to suppress it over the last three years because I cared too much about it. But I can’t. Time for some cliches: I can’t keep it inside! I can’t hide it in a bushel basket! This little light of mine, I’ve gotta let it shine! Carpe Diem! Seize the day! You only have one life to live, so live it to the fullest! There is no time like the present!

In other words, I feel compelled to share my love of music. I want to express what it means to me personally as well as the emotional, psychological, spiritual, educational, and social value it possesses. I want to advocate for music, especially the symphony orchestra and the programs that make them possible. I want to break down the barriers that people have to experiencing music the way I and many others have. As an educator, my philosophy is to develop in students a life-long participation and appreciation of music. While I am not confident school programs do this with the distractions of contests, chair placements, and football games, I do want to support these programs. I want to see schools take a holistic approach, making music a relevant part of all areas of education, not just performing arts. English literature, history, religion, philosophy, science, and even math are not separate subjects from music. Perhaps one day my writing could support my philosophy of education in school programs.

For now, the goal is to write about music and see if I can sustain it over time. I need to find out if this is a form of musical expression that suits me. I need to see if I can find my writer’s voice and develop my own style. I need to know if what I have to contribute is worthwhile. Actually, I’m not sure if I care about that right now. I want to write about it even if no one cares.

My audience may include my wife, my mother, father, sister, brothers-in-law, and closest friends. If none of you read this, that’s ok. I’m happy to hear your feedback, but this will be an experimental space. I may ramble on and on. I may go off on bunny trails, my thoughts may be incoherent, and things may be poorly organized. I am a beginner, after all.

Subjects will include what I have discussed above, but mainly I want to write about my favorite pieces of music. Most of these will be music written for orchestra, choir, and band. Most of them will be in the romantic era of Western Music, though I have some modern works and tunes by jazz and rock artists I’d like to discuss as well.

In truth, if I can prove that I can sustain a lifestyle of writing, I’d like to be a music critic. Perhaps a musicologist. While I haven’t researched exactly what those things are, I think a music critic is someone who writes critically about music. Ok, probably more explanation is needed than that. In my understanding, music critics write reviews about concerts, ensembles, new works. They also write biographies or blog about the latest trends in music. They do research, they judge contests, and they probably do their fair share of teaching. They are historians, but also futurists. They dream of how music can play a role in our changing society and give educators ideas on the function of music.

Maybe Musicologist is the correct term, though I don’t like the negative connotation associated with that title. Musicologists seem like dry, boring, bookworms who are only interested in their own research and high-minded academics. They seem to find everything that is wrong with music and reduce it into something less than valuable. In short, I don’t enjoy the way they express themselves. Perhaps they feel a burden to prove themselves to “those who know” about music. I feel the opposite burden: I must prove myself to “those who don’t know.” Only if I want to get paid, anyway!

I have an idea of how I can get started on this exploration of musical writing, but it will have to wait until the next post.

Thanks for reading.