Saturday, January 11, 2014


I saw Peter Napolitano the other day and he asked if I would provide feedback for something in which he's involved, which I had not seen. I said to him, "Please don't ask. I will tell you the truth." He said, "I've been through the BMI writing class. I know exactly the kind of feedback I want."

Then, today Seth Godin wrote about this very subject.

"Applause is great. We all need more of it.

"But if you want to improve, you should actively seek feedback. And that feedback, if it's more than just carping, will be constructive. It will clearly and generously lay out ways you can more effectively delight your customers and create a remarkable experience...".

That's good, but I still hate giving feedback to performers and artists -- even when I have a strong opinion, which I always have. It makes me feel vulnerable about my own work. Am I living up to the expectations that I make for others?

On the other hand, I love teaching. And how else can you teach but to give your opinion. Not easy.

For me, too, applause is great. But a hint on how it could be better is gold. Not that I'm looking for your opinion. Okay, yes I am.

This week I finalized the line-up for my Mass and wrote out the arrangement for a choral version of the "Antarctic Suite: Landscape."

I have struggled for five years to get this onto score because the rhythms are complex and I couldn't figure out how to notate the piano. (The right hand does two things at once). Also, I've been playing it and it's not a robotic rhythm. It has to kind of undulate and roll, with an element of improvisation on the part of the pianist. I never quite play it the same way twice.

This has been a dramatic week. The fire made us more aware of our limited time here on earth. It kind of kicked me in the pants. Suddenly, the solution to how to score out this music came to me and I spent the week writing and revising and writing and revising and changing it, measure by measure, and redoing it and changing it again. And I finally have it. Or I have as close to it as I can get before showing it to Mark Janas and Kalle Toivio at Christ Church Bay Ridge, where we will be performing it some day.

This is a long post, but I couldn't have gotten to this point, getting this piece scored, if I had not been in service to the music program at the church in a volunteer position. I am the volunteer tenor in the back row.

In a small choir, every volunteer is needed because, though there is a budget, it's small. And I'd rather a kid get paid. A student who really needs the money.

But, in return for my service, I have a choir!

Seriously, how many songwriters get their own choir? And all I'm doing is writing music for it. But because they can really SING and READ, they can learn a piece in a rehearsal or two. And why do I have this? Because I'm just the volunteer tenor in the back row.

People ask me how to make it in life and I just say, first, be of service to someone. Start there. Or to some thing. Make yourself useful in a situation that's near what it is you want to do. Place yourself in the place where you want to live your life. And then be really useful.

The more you give, the more you get.

It's such a great adventure to solve a problem, especially one five years in the making. One that's a consequence of service to a community.

 It's why I have hope in the planet. We have the capacity to solve the problems. And when we don't, we have the capacity to figure out why. Because, ultimately despair is boring. It's the kid who came from nothing, who refused to give up, that sparks the real fire in our hearts.

Don't give up. Make yourself necessary.

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