music

mediocre

Have you ever felt like your hobbies weren’t good enough? Or maybe you considered starting a new hobby but never began because the bar for excellence seemed way out of reach.

If so, it’s a downright shame.

Personally, I’ve taken on many-a hobby over the years, some to a greater extent than others, but I’ve found all of them rewarding in their own ways. 

I dove into the fine craft of painting miniatures just so I could have nice figures for a board game that a friend had given me. It’s not something I plan to do again, but I was happy with the outcome and glad to have a deeper understanding of the process.

Lately, I’ve been trying my hand at piano. As is often the case for a skill with a broad spectrum of talent, I began thinking, “hey, I’m not too bad at this!” and quickly shifted to, “oh, this is super hard, I don’t know if I’ll ever get very good.”

But you know what? I still enjoy hitting those keys and making some kind of sound that isn’t totally terrible. Right now, I’m just happy if I can go through one full scale, back to front, without messing up the fingering.

All this to say, you should check out this article by Tim Wu 

In Praise of Mediocrity

In it, he makes a strong case for not only having a hobby, but also enjoying it regardless of your skill level.

I tend to agree; it takes a lot of the pressure off and makes things more fun that way. After all isn’t that what a hobby should be all about?

worship

I’ve been experiencing some anxiety lately. I’ve come to the conclusion that anxiety is the feeling everything is wrong even when nothing is wrong at the moment. At least that’s how it seems to me.

I imagine there are a few things I’ve taken in that have contributed to this: interviews with Elon Musk about AI, podcasts discussing space debris and Earth-facing CMEs, and also watching a play through of The Last of Us, a zombie apocalypse game. Oh yeah, also California fires and more active shooters. Mild things, really.

To combat this, I keep thinking of something I heard during a Levi Lusko sermon. It is impossible to worship and worry at the same time.

Those of you who don’t come from a faith background may have a harder time understanding this, but one thing I’ve noticed in a lot of church-goers is a certain attitude toward worship.

Worship is often thought of in the context of singing. It’s something that happens during the part of a service when the band (or choir, or worship leader) is leading the congregation with music. Or maybe worship happens when you’re driving or doing some chores at home and a “worship” song is playing.

That all may be part of it, but it’s not the thing itself. For instance, you could be doing household chores in worship with or without the musical accompaniment. And you could be doing them in a non-worshipful way as well.

The idea that worship is more than a song is hardly a new one. I can think of a song (ironically) about that very thing. Still, I found the notion that worship and worry can’t coexist to be a striking one. It got me thinking, what makes something an act of worship in the first place?

I do agree that all our best qualities shine forth when we’re in worship. If I’m worshiping, I’m not living in fear or anger, I’m not stressed out or anxious—I’m in a state of satisfaction and peace, I experience wholeness. But why is that?

Worship happens when you’re living the way you were meant to, when you’re being you, and when you’re doing what you’re supposed to. Many times, doing the work (the hard stuff you know you need to do) is doing worship.

There are portions in the Bible where things like rocks and trees can be found offering praise. This always struck me as fascinating and strange. How can something without a consciousness or freewill engage in any manner of worship?

But that’s the thing, a rock or a tree is always being exactly what it is—no more and no less. We humans, however, have something special—a choice. 

I’ve definitely known people who are not living as they ought, who aren’t being true to themselves, and who aren’t doing what they were made to do. They aren’t living in worship. Instead, they’re living in all those negative qualities—fear, anger, worry, and so on. They’re anxious, they’re addicted, they’re out of control. They harm themselves and harm others.

There’s a lot more to worship than all that, but I believe being creative and living your creative calling can be a big part of worship. It’s living in one-ness, centralized, being as you’re meant to be. It sounds kinda fluffy-puffy and maybe even a little feely-wheely, but I don’t think it’s too hard to tell when you’re doing it and when you aren’t.

I hope today finds you in a state of worship and not worry.

the planets

If you’ve listened to Gustav Holst’s orchestral suite, The Planets, you probably thought the same thing I did: it sounds a lot like Star Wars. And I mean a whole lot. The similarities are especially noticeable in the first movement, Mars, which is very similar to The Imperial March.

They’re so similar, in fact, at times it sounds like one was ripped straight from the other. Since The Planets came first (1916), does that make the original Star Wars composer, John Williams, a big copy cat?

In Holst’s work, each movement of the suite is based on the astrological nature of a planet in our Solar System. You might say it’s a fairly high-concept album. In more modern times, musical artists like Ryan O'Neal and Sufjan Stevens have done similar projects with planet-based songs. I expect during the time, Holst’s theme was quite unique.

Inspiration is a strange thing. Legally, there are rules concerning how similar one's work is allowed to be to another without it being considered stealing. I remember someone telling me about 10% is allowable. Even then, it gets muddy. I’m thinking Under Pressure vs. Ice, Ice Baby sorts of things. And I hope we can all agree that Vanilla Ice ain’t got nothin’ on David Bowie.

Beyond the a question of what is legal, I wonder what is right? I don’t think Williams denies  the influence The Planets had on his score for Star Wars, but does that still make it ok? That’s a tough one. 

The soundtrack for Star Wars is an excellent piece of work on its own (in my opinion), and it’s impossible to say what shape it would have taken without Holst’s influence. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but when massive success and recognition comes from adopting portions of another person’s work into your own, a certain amount of credit (and even financial compensation) is due to the originator. 

A worker is worthy of their wages—that’s no less true when it’s a creative work.

It’s hard to draw a line, but I think every artist deserves to receive recognition and value when their own work leads to the advancement of another’s.

Apparently, there was also a lawsuit based on Hans Zimmer’s score for Gladiator, which duplicated some aspects of The Planets. So Williams wasn’t the only one influenced. And so it goes with great works of art—other people notice and they can’t help but want to do something similar. That’s not a bad thing.

I often think about this when I see people on YouTube getting paid to play someone else’s game. I’m not against it, and have even enjoyed watching a few playthroughs myself, but I also wonder whether or not it benefits the game company. People might not buy a game they can watch someone play, but then again the game is getting free publicity.

When it comes to inspired work, one important question to ask is who has the most to gain and who has the most to lose?

Where do you think the line should be drawn between inspiration and stealing? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

your own thing

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Brief one today.

First, a confession. I really like Maggie Rogers’ music. I don’t know, it just moves me. Ya know?

I only recently watched her success story video, which you can find on YouTube here.

In it, Pharrell Williams (Mr. “Happy” himself), listens to Maggie’s song during a music class critique and is clearly blown away. 

Even better than his facial expressions throughout (and Maggie losing herself to the music) is his feedback. 

“You’re doing your own thing,” Pharrell says, “and that is such a special quality and all of us possess that ability, but you have to be willing to seek.”

I think it’s a wise outlook for any creative. 

You can learn from others and study a craft, but in the end, you have to be boldly creative in the one way you were called to be—your own unique way.

When you do that, it stands out because you're doing something truly special in a world full of imitation.

appreciation

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Typically, I’m about a year behind on watching movies—sometimes longer. 

A few reasons: we don’t make it to the theater much (a product of having two young children), movies take time to watch, and there are a lot out there to catch up on.

That said, we saw La La Land recently. This is hardly a review, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. The songs were great and I got to relive my experiences of life in LA, including my pursuits as both a budding actress and an underground jazz club owner.

Ok, maybe not the last bits.

One thing I found ironic (not sure if it was purposeful) was the song, “City of Stars” since, as anyone who lives there knows, both the light pollution and air pollution prevent the seeing of many celestial bodies in the sky. 

Something that really stuck out to me, and the point of this post (yes, I’m getting to it finally), was the presentation of this universal truth: 

You often won’t appreciate something until you see someone else enjoy it.

I don’t think the following is much of a spoiler, but, if you care, be warned.

One of the main characters, Mia, comes out early on in her relationship with Sebastian informing him that she hates jazz. Sebastian, however, is a jazz enthusiast who dreams of starting his own jazz club in hopes to revive the art form.

Sebastian takes the time to sit Mia down and show her why he loves jazz so much. Over the course of the movie, his excitement rubs off and she, too, learns to appreciate jazz.

Now, I’m no jazz buff, but I’ve seen the same story played out many a time through movies and real life. One person has a real passion for a hobby, sport, art form, etc. Eventually, as that passion is lived out, it spreads and others share the same love.

Why does this happen? Excitement spreads.

I’ve definitely seen it happen with board games, and it’s worked on both sides of the table (heh). I’ve learned to enjoy them because of other friends and family who shared them with me. In turn, I’ve shared them with my own friends and family and their interest has grown.

That’s the beauty of creativity: when you share what you love, others learn to appreciate and enjoy the same things you do. A community develops.

I encourage you, take time to sit with someone else and learn about the things they love and why. You may be surprised how your interests change and what you discover. 

In the same way, don’t be afraid to share what you love with others. You just might find a friend or a fellow aficionado. Hey, maybe you’ll find yourself dancing across tables playing jazz flute. You’ll never know until you try.

overplayed

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Don’t you hate it when a good song gets overplayed? It is out-and-out the worst.

Ok, maybe not the worst, but it’s pretty bad, mostly because something quite enjoyable has now been ruined forever.

This is one of the reasons I just can’t stand listening to the radio.

I’ve found this happens all the time with Christian worship music. Some artist puts out a really moving, powerful song and, before you know it, everyone is playing it all the time. Suddenly you’re wondering if being deaf might not be that bad after all.

Of course, this happens with all kinds of music. I distinctly remember when The Bodyguard came out and I was subjected to hearing Whitney Houston sing, “I Will Always Love You” more times than should be legally permissible under any jurisdiction.

Overplayed songs are the audio equivalent of eating too many pancakes, what once is God’s fluffy golden-brown gift from heaven becomes a morbid, hellish form of unthinkable torture. 

What is it that makes us lose our sense of moderation and indulge in something far beyond any reasonable level of enjoyment?

I think C. S. Lewis may have touched on this in his book, Surprised By Joy. 

“Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again... I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and Pleasure often is.”

Too often we exchange joy for pleasure and then lose both. We find something which brings just the faintest glimmer of joy and then grasp it so tight, we squeeze all the joy out of the thing until the wet sponge we once held is now just a bit of chalky dust ground into the folds of our palms.

Even the creative process is subject to such dreadful behavior. 

We discover some method, some little trick that brings a measure of success and we cling to it like a life raft in the middle of a tempestuous ocean.

Trouble is, the same thing over and over gets old fast and a life raft can only take so many waves before it goes under.

Certainly, it’s good to take the time to appreciate a thing of art and beauty, but if you don’t eventually set is aside to make way for other things, you’ll drain all the life out of it, like some obsessive vampire. Instead, keep the door open for a fresh gust of the new to flow in. And mind the garlic.

Heck, I’ll bet even Whitney Houston had to turn off the radio for a while when her song came out. 

I’d also wager she shares my feelings for pancakes. Come to think of it, maybe that’s really what her song was about …

on record

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My wife and I went to see a musical artist we enjoy, Josh Garrels, in concert recently. It’s the first concert we’d been to in a while. Such is the life of parents, but it makes me appreciate those rare events all the more. 

While we sat there, Josh’s angelic voice and the instrumental accompaniment of the other band members washed over us in waves of splendor. 

The sounds, the ideas expressed in just such a way, left us deeply moved. Many of his words and themes resonated with places and attitudes very familiar to us, especially those related to the concept of home.

Altogether, it created an experience which could not have been captured and replayed even with the best recording instruments. 

Yes, just about everyone has a phone now with a camera and mic built in. Yes, there have been some excellent live band recordings made into albums. And yes, Josh will play again at other venues, perhaps even the exact same songs in the exact same order. 

But none of it will be exactly like being there in that room at that time with those particular people. It will never be the same again, no matter how we may try to duplicate it. Same goes for any performance, musical or otherwise.

The magic of the moment is a special thing.

It reminded me of something I heard on the tech podcast, Note to Self. 

Study has shown that the more time spent taking pictures during an event, the less will be remembered later about the event itself. By taking photos instead of participating, you remove yourself from actually being there. You miss out.

I wonder how often this happens, in an attempt to capture the moment, we instead lose the ability to really enjoy the moment at all. Something to think about …

Anyhow, I did take a few pictures before and a very short video during, but for the majority of the time I just sat there, taking it all in. This is something I’ve been working on improving: worrying less about the recording and concerning myself more with just being present. 

I believe, as creatives, this can take us a long way toward inspiration and appreciation. 

Instead of trying to capture the moment, why not let it run free in its pure, wild form? I’ll have more thoughts on that later.

What do you think? Do you feel the need to capture the moment to be recalled and enjoyed later or do you set the phone down and open your ears and eyes to behold the beauty before you? Perhaps something in between?

background music

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I’ve recently come across a few articles about background music and how it relates to creativity. I thought you might enjoy the share.

This article covers evidence that happier music may promote more creativity thought.

This article, by esteemed author Ryan Holiday, discusses his habit of listening to the same song or set of songs on repeat like a madman, even songs he doesn’t particularly enjoy.

I’ve given it a bit of thought but haven’t dedicated myself to any specific method.

Typically, I’ll listen to instrumental music because I find words distracting, especially when I’m writing. Lately, that’s been piano music. I’ll often find a set on YouTube and then follow similar links.

I have recently discovered, and greatly enjoyed, Mattia Vlad Morleo, after watching an eclipse video with a stelar musical composition.

Hey Creatives, I’d love to hear what your listening habits are when you want to be in a creative mode. Do you crank up the volume or need utter silence?

tiny desk

A little recommendation this week, emphasis on little.

I’d like to direct you to NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert. You can see their YouTube playlist right here.

This is something I only found out about recently and have really got a lot of enjoyment from. They bring a band or artist into their studio and have them play three songs. It’s a small space behind a desk while a bunch of NPR workers crowd around to watch, and, in some cases join in.

The whole thing is low-fi and intimate, which brings a special appeal you don’t find in a normal recording studio or stage concert. My favorite part about it is getting to see a side of the artists you don’t normally witness, something very personal and real. 

I’ve discovered many new artists by watching these as well as enjoyed some great recordings from artists I already loved. There are even some breakout moments I’d go so far as to call magical, such as when Natalie Merchant gets the entire crew to sing an old hymn a cappella with her.

Amazingly, there are even some good comments (which I find remarkable for YouTube), such as these for Andrew Bird’s performance: 

“He always looks like a road-weary salesman who just came in from the rain.”

It’s surprisingly accurate and a bit whimsical. Oh, and there’s this:

“He whistles better than Edward Snowden”

Ha, what can I say, it’s true!

Anyhow, check out Tiny Desk, if you like music at all—you won’t be sorry you did.