Music is Important 9

Music is Important

“Give that kid a drum to bang on,” said no parent ever. Kids are just going to make noise and I was reminded of that this week with little nephews-become-parents and extended family with little ones around. You don’t have to give a kid an instrument for music to happen – but it might sound better if you do. Maybe I’ll go with that explanation for parents and school districts to buy musical instruments, because someone needs to listen to what music can do for growing up young people.

Music is important for social development and math.

Everyone just read on the effects of music on the brain, ok? It’s obvious, needed, essential, and full of moments of beauty too. I was watching a class on music education at Visible Music College recently and saw five cool pop musicians learning how to play violin, harp, and clarinet. Not your coolest stage instruments, generally. But I was reminded of the intense focus and calm and progress and success kids (of all ages) go through when they pursue music. The mind bends towards the variety of sounds, intense or subtle, and the patterns work on our brains to develop concentration, determination, and a resonant calm. All kids need music in their schools all the way through to graduation. Making something beautiful or meaningful and intense with your hands and mouth is fantastic.

Music is important.

#kensteorts

Music is Important 8

Otis Redding said “Don’t mess with Cupid”. I took that message to heart while lying on shag carpet with big, brown Koss headphones on and was suddenly wary of that girl I liked across my fifth grade classroom. Maybe I even carried that message into my adult life and kept a distance from those who might damage my heart. When I get low or distant in a relationship today, Otis’ gripping voice reminds me in my head of the dangers of love and how desperate lament was in my adult future. Maybe he gives me permission in a way to be mournful of how hard it is and that we all experience frustration in life and love and can bemoan that together.

Music is important in freeing emotion and pain and we humans need that.

Music also has a way of teaching us as we listen. We may not even notice the lessons we are assimilating from the artists that bring us so much pleasure and release. I will often notice how a song just feels tied to an emotion or event from my past or just some recent memory with a chorus ringing through. For instance, Taylor Swift’s 2011 hit “Mean” (an artist I rarely take notice of) reminds me of driving through the winding roads outside Nashville when I first heard it, moved by the bridge. And Run DMC’s 1987 classic “Christmas in Hollis” (also only think of this around Christmas, obviously) reminds me of Corey (Cayerio) and Robin Sanders, dear friends and their sweet (big) babies in Homewood, Florida. Then, a long line of early 80’s metal songs that remind me of my teenage bedroom learning riffs from vinyl records.

More than singular moments, music transforms our perceptions of the world and helps us identify emotional outlets and ideas and flow into the world of those artists a little bit to share the human touch with someone outside ourselves. With our world so isolated and verbally hostile, I recommend some Otis therapy for everyone.

Music is important.

#kensteorts

Music is Important 7

Everyone loves a successful concert.

My friend Jim Green passed away last week in Memphis with only fifty years of life behind him. Jim was a dynamic and big personality, experienced in making things happen and bringing people together for incredible music concerts. More specifically, he booked shows daily and nationally and smartly, so he wasn’t bringing people together by personally singing sweet songs, he was working the entertainment industry. Many people appreciated that.

Jim was direct and clear, which made his interaction with musicians and artists (“creatives” like me)….interesting. I loved it and we spent hours on the phone (he had that business acumen of being able to stay on the phone for a long time or being completely done with the call instantly, depending on his feel for the moment). I heard his excitement for music and shows and artists and people gathering and doing business. I was all in.

We had been planning some really exciting connections with Crosstown Theatre in Memphis and his steady booking of artists at venues across the city. He was genuinely excited and grateful for the connection of people working in the same field. Always seeing the way competition can flow alongside rather than against, Jim was ready for a new day in Memphis music it seemed and also wanting to share his knowledge with students. Granted, he may have scared some of them, but the ready ones would be fired up.

It wasn’t to happen in 2020. I will miss him and I will miss the counterbalance of creatives doing art and visionaries doing business. This interaction is needed and when we can all appreciate the individuals involved in both creation of music and art AND the business of entertainment, it’s special.

[Rick Tarrant announcing student artists at one of Jim Green’s last booked shows through our partnership with Lafayette’s in February 2020]

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Music is Important 6

Music Is Important

Listening is the greatest lesson I never wanted to learn from school. I remember the teacher constantly pushing the class to listen – listen to her teach, listen to each other, listen to the video, listen to the woodwinds (“For all that is holy, woodwinds, why can’t you learn your part?”). Okay, so I was in Band, but we were all involved in some activity that required a lot of listening. “Don’t just hear….listen!” was the cry.

I spent twelve hours alone in the car this weekend in three states listening to radio – music and local chatter. As I wrote previously, music is one of those embedded opportunities for people to listen to what others are feeling and saying. We say it from our cars, from our stores, from our homes, and everywhere we go. We have a wide diversity of experiences that are reflected in our music. Songs “take us back” or get us ready for a workout or bring joy and even praise to our lips. Artists touch our deep hurts and express our wildest dreams, bringing freedom and peace to our minds. Entire genres of music speak to our angst and passions and experience in a deep way.

As it turns out, it is true. Listen to others and learn.

[Devin Westbrook listens to his band and guides their work on his song in the Visible Music College Studios in Memphis in May 2020]. Photo courtesy Ken Steorts.

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Music is Important 5

Music is Important 5

Dozens of UK Christian churches sang “The Blessing” over their country this week, engaging in a common religious practice of the Christian church for twenty centuries (and many thousands of years prior in Judaism), singing songs of gratefulness to God and songs of blessing “over” their homeland. They gave this gift to everyone via the global internet and demonstrated a love for others through the gift and voice they have, sharing across multiple types of churches, ethnic backgrounds of people, and parts of the United Kingdom. I received it as intended – over my many friends across the Atlantic, and doubly, as a applied blessing to my own homeland, the United States of America.
 
A lot of “United” in that first paragraph, and I stay focused on that word today in the wake of understandable grief-turned-anger over remnants of hundreds of years (since time began?) of demonstrated negligence and certainly violence against peoples. This week, as the nation boils here in the farther West, music is still and also needed. Painful music, assertive music, healing music, and frustrated music. Many are united in the music of absolute grief over another senseless and very public murder, as am I. I could quote “People Get Ready” or “What’s Going On?” or something from the Stax catalog from here in Memphis, but it would ring hollow – instead I work for justice through Visible Music College weekly and I invoke today “The Blessing” with a powerful “May His favor be upon you, and a thousand generations, and their children, and their children.”
 
 
Music is important.
 

Music is Important 4

I’m an Air Force brat. Although I never liked that designation (probably because I was one), I grew up on United States Air Force bases. I was born in Northern California and spent time in four other states “on base” as a kid and around people of every type – military people. My parents were of humble origin in West Virginia and Mississippi and my dad’s promotion through the ranks of the Air Force brought a brand new mobility and ability to travel and meet folks and go to school together, play together on teams, and listen to music together.

So, even though I knew John Denver’s “Country Roads” as a sacred anthem of the WV family, I heard every style of music “on base” and my friends were diverse and yet aligned for purpose in the Air Force. I would never trade that experience of officers and enlisted families, people from every state, social class, ethnic origin, and career path all living and working together. It makes for a worldview of openness to other people, varied opinions, and range of music, as I stress daily: WE ALL LOVE OUR MUSIC – and we can share that music joyfully.

My dad’s favorite music is marching band military music. Not a popular genre. But I love that he loves it and I’m a trumpet player of sorts, so yeah, I like it. Powerful stuff. And through time, a lot of military music has signaled war and coming doom on peoples. But this Memorial Day, I celebrate in peace time with my dad, thirty-year Air Force veteran, and with those who love the United States of America. I happily memorialize the thousands of committed men and women who have given their lives for freedom over the years and around the world. When I hear the big bands or the marching bands play patriotic music for my country, I do celebrate the music itself, important, and the message and meaning embedded in our culture.

I thought I would keep moving along and have a different topic each week, beginning with “A Visible Created World” and then “Music is Important” and then….Music is Important 2, 3, and now 4. It just is completely true that music is vital to our lives and underestimated and overlooked in support and planning and (sometimes) quality execution. So I celebrate all music and will keep doing that until the series plays out. Just yesterday, someone had some hip hop beats playing in the car next to my convertible and my passenger was a trumpet player. I said, “What would be cool would be for you to break out your horn and drop this Spanish style trumpet line over those beats out the car window together with his music bed.” That is the “Music is Important” spirit, fun and shared.

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Music is Important 3

Click off the sound on the YouTube video that inspires you. Mute the video ad. Watch the sweeping drone aerial shots of mountainous glory with no music bed purchased by the creator. Heck, even check out the auto insurance advertisement with no music. Imagine that.

If you do really imagine the world with no music, and really do it, there becomes a little rise of desperation that you will notice. Music is so vitally intertwined with our response mechanisms to content we experience daily. Desperation builds around the loss of meaning and reduction of inspiration and failure to communicate any story.

We need music in our lives.

My wife Joy and I watched “The Quiet Place” this week and she had never seen it. What a great pleasure for me to see her hesitantly take in the world of fear, a world without talking and just very low sounds. I won’t spoil this thriller of a movie but I noticed one new thing as I watched it – when the first song that comes on, from an artist I definitely do not appreciate much, it was so welcome, so warm, so homey, and sweet to my ears that I noticeably relaxed and exhaled and rested as it played (in the headphones only in the movie). What a delight to hear a singing voice with so much silence and tension.

If this pandemic has shown us globally anything good at all, it is the need for connection and the longing for interaction through the realities we face all the time of life and death. Music makes that connection more focused and deeper for context and celebration and grieving and thoughtfulness. Maybe the world has slowed down a bit in the past months for you and now you can have time to sit and listen to music. Maybe you can get out those old vinyl records or tune into that terrestrial radio station that plays obscure music down low on the dial and explore people’s stories. I know my adult sons have shared music with me at a higher rate this month.

So, even though it is sometimes that same sonorous soundtrack to inspire your purchase of some cleaning product by sweeping across gorgeous countryside with ambient piano jangling, or the beat that gets you going in the morning without your workout, or the little tune a child stings while working on a project – listen to music. We need it in our lives, it is important, and those who create it are inspired by all of our stories as they create something new from 12 tones and their experience. Listen.

Music is important.

#kensteorts

Music is Important 2

Music is Important⁠ ⁠

Every day I hear a song that gives me a pleasant memory. I might be in a store somewhere (back when we could be in stores), or walking through my neighborhood, or listening to my family activities in other rooms, and a song will always rise to give me some positive feeling daily. I will remember where I was when I first heard it, or who I was with, or that one special night with friends before or after the concert. It transports me to that place.⁠

Music is important.⁠

Not just important because it can transport me, but it can lift people from a dark place. It can express when we don’t know how, and it can soothe and smooth the hard spots in our heart or in this life. By now, everyone also knows it helps form the brain better, it opens up pathways with the “Mozart effect”, and schools with music programs tend to do better with student performance than those without arts. Music does a lot of complex and foundational work in human beings.⁠

I’ve written about this a number of times and keep saying it because people keep forgetting. Music is really, really important. This article is about how music forms our view of others and how we interact with each other based on music. When we go out into this “visible, created world” and meet a new person, there are a lot of surface and peripheral things we see about them and begin to interpret who they are by this. We take our experience of who we have met in the past that look like them, or talk like them, or do the same job they do. We can get a few facts about a new person and start categorizing them into those people we want to spend time with and those we don’t.⁠

Music is categorized like that too online, but music itself is above all that – it speaks to us, brings us new energy, and new friends. Listen to the score of your day and see if you can expand what you know, who you know, and how you listen today. Here is a photo of someone teaching music – one of our greatest gifts.⁠

Music is important.

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Music is Important 1

This Visible Created World:

It was the single most gorgeous photo I ever took. A quick, unplanned roadside stop just entering Grand Teton National Park in Northwestern Wyoming with my family. I pulled over, jumped out, ran to the other side of the car, lined up my old iPhone 6s, and shot a pic. Something in that moment was illuminated, or flashed, in my mind. As I checked the photo on the little screen, I saw it. Unmistakably, this was “the photo” for the trip. Ten crazy days in five states and multiple parks with our family of four – this was the photo. None of us in it.

Just this visible created world.

As a creative person, a musician, a speaker and an educational entrepreneur with the Visible Music College systems and partners and daily work of my life, I would be tempted to write about the “Visible-created world” and the miracle of music education in fundamentally changing artists into professionals or tentative songwriters into powerful voices in culture. But there is something far deeper than a college or song or record label. More than human made items and textbooks and merchandise.

This visible and created world.

I see a greater Artist who has imagined and designed and guided the creation of all things globally. I see the incredible series of captured moments in each life. Each one, created and meaningful. I see a global connectedness of these stories and persons that unfold into larger narratives of community and support through an often troubled and tenuous personal existence. And we are all creators. Yes, it is most obvious in the musician or the potter, but we also create food and finance and family. And gardens, and businesses, and healthful people. We, as little creators, visible to each other, outside our sacred spaces, reverberate in our daily connection to one another just as Bonhoeffer intoned the meaning of “the visible community” some 80 years ago in The Cost of Discipleship.

Visible Music College is a part of that visible community. We are in and of the visible, created world. We work globally to train artistic people to grow personally and professionally in a dozen places with hundreds of faces and all styles of music and art.

Look long into the visible created world – and embrace it for yourself.

#kensteorts