What Teaching 5 Year Olds Showed Me About Life

One of the things that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is how the education system is failing to build humans who are in touch with their deep creative selves. We spend 12-18 years in institutions that are highly focussed on developing linear, analytical, black and white thinking, then wonder why so few of us are willing to step outside the box and pursue our dreams. We spend so much time learning that every question has one and only one correct answer that by the time we get to be adults are imaginations are a poor stunted excuse for the glorious tools they once were. Basically, I think that the vast majority of people in our society are afflicted with a self-consciousness that doesn’t allow them to be themselves in a genuine way. More thoughts along these lines can be found here.

So with that in mind, I was super excited to have the opportunity fall in my lap to do a Spring Break Music Camp for children aged 5-8 at the Beaumont Studios in Vancouver. They actually contacted me after seeing some of my content online and wanted me to put together a program for them. I tellya, it made me feel like a legitimate self-employed artist XD

So I said yes to something that was very much outside my comfort zone and experience, because it would give me the opportunity to start working on getting at kids early before they have a chance to develop the preconceptions that kill so many people’s creativity… “I’m not talented”, “I can’t understand theory”, “Music is for experts”, etc. etc. etc. We would make Music using tin cans, and drinking straws, and water jugs, and glass jars… Anything that was readily at hand that could be used to make a sound was fair game. I wanted them to come away with the unspoken idea that Music belongs to them, and they can do whatever they want with it. There are no wrong answers.

Of course, reality fell a little bit short of my lofty aspirations (it often does and that’s OK). I spent a lot of the time trying to prevent kids from climbing down the laundry chute, chewing on the carpet, or using drum sticks as primitive weapons. I was envisioning “Stomp meets School Band”, and it was a little closer to “Kindergarten Cop meets Lord of The Flies”.

OK, maybe not that bad. All in all, we had a super fun time despite the chaos, and I learned a lot about teaching kids how to be Musical, rather than how to play Mary Had A Little Lamb.

One of the big things that I learned, that I think applies to the rest of Life, is the way that what you pay attention to multiplies. When one kid was being a nuisance (climbing up the curtains, trying to eat their shoes, putting various objects up their nose, or what-have-you), it did absolutely no good to single that kid out and tell them “Don’t do that.” The only result this kind of attention gave was to encourage the culprit to continue, and even encourage others to follow suit. When one kid was misbehaving, 90% of the time the solution was to single out a kid who was engaged and praise them for being so attentive. It required a  shift of attitude and awareness, but when I could pull it off it worked well.

I think this technique is applicable on a larger scale (how you do anything is how you do everything, after all). Rather than looking at our lives, and trying to force the elements that we don’t like into a more pleasing shape, much of the time it is probably better to look at what is working and do more of it. As the parts that are working expand, they will naturally tend to edge out or convert the things that aren’t. For instance, I spent years and years railing against the shitty day jobs that I worked. I would spend 8 hours a day thinking “What the fuck am I doing with my Life? Why am I here? How can I be making Music right now?” But as I made Music more and more of a central priority in my Life, the shitty day jobs became less and less of a necessity. Obviously there are some situations that you need to change before anything else can really work (get out of that un-fulfilling relationship, get some exercise instead of sitting on the couch all day), but a lot of the time, the way we frame our reality to ourselves has a huge impact on how we experience it.

Anyway, I digress! Here’s a video of a percussion jam with some small children!

Suck on that, Comfort Zone!

I’ve spent the last few days experiencing varying degrees of paralysis due to fear. I’ve got myself a big pile of stuff that I want to accomplish in 2015 and all of it is outside my comfort zone, so I suppose that it would be surprising if I weren’t feeling this way. Aaaaaand at the same time, recognizing that it’s normal doesn’t make it any less uncomfortable. I’ve pretty much just been wanting to curl up under my blankets and not come out until the world goes away.

I actually suspect that there are a group of people out there who don’t experience this kind of challenge. They want to do something, and they just put their minds to it, and get it done. But I’m not one of these rare supermen (at least not yet), and neither are most of the rest of us. So luckily I’ve learned some ways of moving through this stuff so that I can get done what I want to.

First off, I’m extremely lucky to be in a relationship with an absolutely amazing human being with which I have the standing agreement that we can talk about what we’re feeling at any time. Period. Simply expressing where I’m at to another person, without the need to fix or alter anything about it is one of the most effective ways I’ve ever found of moving through challenging feelings. Once I’ve gotten the emotional goo out on the table and examined it solutions can be sought, but at first it’s really important just to have someone else say “Yes. I get it. I’ve been there.”

After talking it out with my Mate, it became clear that part of what I needed to do was let go of some of the things that I wanted to get done. Elliott Hulse says something to the effect of “Becoming a stronger version of yourself is less about doing more things, and more a challenge to give up things that you believe are important but aren’t.” It’s easy to try to tackle the entire world at once when I’m making plans, but I believe that biting off more than I can chew ends up being a subtle form of self-sabotage. So officially giving up a couple of the goals that I had set is a hard, but necessary step.

One of the things that I’m pretty sure is important… and that terrifies that shit out of me, is my plan to run a Kickstarter campaign this spring. It’s extremely difficult for me to ask for help (thank you masculine gender conditioning), and the idea of going directly to my friends, fans, and family to ask them to pre-order my newest work so that I can actually afford to manufacture it… Well. Like I say, it’s a big challenge. Regardless, I’m really really excited about these new tunes and I’ve got some awesome ideas for how I want to get them out into the world. I honestly don’t know if the Kickstarter campaign will work. I don’t know if I have enough dedicated fans to raise the capital that I’ll need, but I know that it’s time to try. Even if it doesn’t succeed, it gives me some important feedback on what I need to work on as far as my relationship with my fans. It’s a big step forward, and those are always accompanied by some risk and some discomfort. Eeeeeeeep!

Not A Poet

I’m not a poet.
I’m a container for words.
But I’ve been fighting these lines for so long that it hurts.
I’ve been singing this song in my heart and just waiting
Just waiting for a chorus to come and follow this verse.

And I’ve been digging through dirt with my bare hands and bleeding
Been aching inside but this broken heart is still beating
I’ve got roots reaching down in the Earth to the core
Where it’s liquid and warm, gonna keep me from freezing.

I’m not a poet.
I’m a warrior and a wound.
Cuz I’ve been fighting this battle since I left my mother’s womb
To neglect and abuse, but I refuse to let it beat me.
I’m here. And every experience feeds me.

I’m on a mission. A boy making wishes.
Now thirty years later, this man makes decisions.
The smoke and ash, see the phoenix is risen,
Cuz now I burn away everything that don’t serve the vision.

I’ve been blessed.
With eyes that can see.
Breaking on through to the next impossibility.
Making the news, cuz I choose what to believe,
Some people play Music, I play Reality.

I’m not poet.
I’m a seeker of the sound.
That’ll crumble this stone hearted city to the ground.
I’ll be singing to the Earth and taking notes from the Sky.
I’ll be dancing with the darkness, making love to the light.

Controversial Poem

You don’t agree with this poem.
This poem is controversial.
This poem has taken sides.

This poem is a hotbed of inflammatory rhetoric set to debase and defile all that you hold dear, and to propagate a plague of political incorrectness throughout the known universe…

You! Don’t agree with this poem.

And within it’s first three stanzas,
Or perhaps before it has even begun
You have dismissed this poem’s creator as an
Agist racist, faceless capitalist, sexist sadist, communist classist,
misogynist bastard, bullshit fascist
And barricaded your sensitive ear-flaps against this poem’s corrosive cacophony.

You really don’t agree with this poem.

This poem gets your goat.
This poem arouses your ire.
This poem pisses you OFF!
This poem engenders an urge to shout obscenities, smash the nearest article of furniture, and suspend it’s creator upside down from their toenails so that all may revile their unrighteousness…

YOU. DON’T. AGREE. With THIS. POEM!!!

But this poem is an invitation
To be teachable.
To be open to learning from every other human being.

This poem is an opportunity
To give everyone a safe place to express their truth
No matter their creed or their privilege or their disposition or their way of Life.

This poem is a challenge
To re-examine your own (possibly) rigidly held pre-conceptions.

Because your reaction to it says infinitely more about you
Than it does about this poem.
And…
Whether or not you agree with it
This poem belongs here.

Education: The Dream Killing Machine

Our education system is doing a great job of creating productive citizens who work hard, wait their turn, pay their bill’s on time, and are totally unwilling to risk making a mistake. We have got linear “1+1=2”, “Columbus discovered America” thinking down to a tee. We can memorize the bejeazus out of some facts and figures, and a university graduate can even manage their time well enough to be extremely productive under pressure… But. We’re walking out of school with the unacknowledged assumption that every question has one right answer, and that if you don’t have that answer you are wrong and will be docked marks.

I personally see it most in Music education, because that’s the field I work in. By the time most kids reach high school it’s a challenge just to get them to string a handful of chords together that they can call their own. A lot of kids will do anything not to have to be vulnerable and risk making a mistake… Even when there are no mistakes to be made! To a lot of kids, the idea that there is no right or wrong answer, that they’re allowed to trust their own sense of what sounds good, is totally foreign. And it’s not just kids either, there are a tonne of accomplished grown-up musicians who can’t play their instrument without a sheet of notation to look at… without getting permission from a piece of paper. Or worse, who are capable of playing the most difficult of pieces but don’t because they take no joy in it.

I believe that a new approach to Music education can help to address the widespread social imbalance that we’re seeing between so-called left brain, linear, logical thinking, and so-called right brain, creative, emotional, intuitive thinking. I believe that if we can teach kids from a young age to trust their own inner musicality, to make things up, to get messy, to dig in and make mistakes, that this will help them be more well rounded, happy, and effective people. How you do anything is how you do everything, and the confidence, body awareness, creativity, and emotional intelligence gained through learning Music in this way will resonate and take root in the kids’ character as a whole.

Listen to every graduation speech ever made and you’ll hear “Follow Your Dreams”, “Believe In Yourself”, “Be Exceptional”, etc. and in these times such messages are ever more important. We need people who are willing to do things differently if we’re going to solve the problems being faced by our species. So, rather than spending 16 years hammering kids into a mould, then telling them to go out and be different, I believe that bringing this kind of Music education to the world will help to create people who are actually capable of thinking outside the box and following their dreams.

How Music Production Will Make You A Better Person

I had the opportunity to present some thoughts at a workshop this past weekend, and it was really good to get to sit down and put some more of the stuff I’ve been thinking about into a logical order and present it to some flesh and blood humans. A lot of these ideas are pretty challenging to the ways that most of us go about Life, so it was exciting and scary to get raw about it with a bunch of folks that I don’t know super well.

In all the time that I’ve been making music, and all of the time that I’ve been helping other people make their’s, I’ve found that there is one and only one big impediment to creative success. Youtube is full of tutorials about how to make that monster bass patch, or how to use side chain compression to get the dance floor raging, but very few people are addressing the thing that prevents us from actually applying that technical skill.

Good music is honest. It’s emotional. It comes from a deep place inside of us, and it communicates who we really are on a primal level (by virtue of communicating our feelings). This is vulnerable. The thing that stops us from making and sharing Music that we believe in is the fear of that vulnerability. We’re afraid that other people will laugh at this expression of who we really are, and that our sneaking suspicions of being “no good” will be confirmed for all to see.

And not only that.
Because “How we do anything is how we do everything.”

The way we tie our shoes, to the way we drive a car, to the way we eat, to the way we write a blog, are all manifestations of our personality and how we meet our experience on a moment to moment basis. If we’re afflicted with this sense of shame and fear of judgement when it comes to making and sharing Music, what does that say about the rest of our lives? What does it say about how we show up to our relationships? Our friendships? Our way of making a living?

So then, making and sharing Music by it’s very nature is a way of confronting and dissolving that shame so that we can be ourselves on a moment to moment basis. Sitting with the discomfort of playing that song for another person for the first time, going through the agony of creating a Soundcloud profile (for me it was MySpace), working up the courage to perform in front of people, breaking down the fear of sending our work out to a blog or magazine or record label… Each of these small acts chips away at the wall we’ve built around our tender core, and builds the strength that it takes to shine the light of our inspiration into the world. Inspiration can guide us in every moment, from something as big as listening to our gut about what career to pursue, to something as simple as going in for that kiss with the babe we’ve been talking to all night. We just need to be a willing to listen for it and express it when it comes, and making and sharing Music can help us to do that.

How To Be A Rockstar – Part 5: Money

Money. Listen to the weight of the word.

*Money*.

Lots and lots of us are reluctant to even say it out loud. It’s the root of all evil. It’s the corrupting force that drives the corporate destruction of the universe…

Is it any co-incidence that so few of us have as much of it as we would want?

I think of money as nothing other than an abstract representation of value. In the human super-organism, money is the scent trail that organizes our collective activities in such a way that most of us stay alive and pro-create. Yes, the system has problems. Yes some people get rich while others starve. But any system that is administered by the complex, fragile, fallible phenomena known as human beings is going to have it’s issues. Rich people *and* starving people are the exception to the rule. The vast bulk of humanity are getting by and having babies and that appears to be the main thing that evolution cares about.

I’ve spent the majority of my adult Life struggling to stay afloat, whilst putting my time and energy into Music. For a long time I felt resigned to a life of poverty but a while ago I came to the following realization: If money is an abstract representation of value, then I can create something of *infinitely* more value by doing what I’m excited about than I can by slogging away in the machine doing something that just pays the bills.

During all that time of scraping by, I was also transfixed by the seemingly impossible notion that I needed to make money making Music. There was this sense that making money at it would validate what I’ve been doing with my Life. I’ve realized recently however, that this is just as much of a trap as the idea that I need to do something lame in order to put food on the table. The ego driven need for validation is only ever going to create more scarcity. If I’m going to do what I Love and have *enough* then I first need to let go of the tantalizing idea of making a million dollars. I thoroughly believe that making serious amounts of money with Music is possible, I also know that in order to achieve this I need to let go of my compulsive clinging to that image, and embrace exactly where I’m at right now.

I plan to take some big baby steps in 2015 to move towards making Music a *prosperous* full-time occupation. It’s scary and exciting at the same time. Stay tuned ;-)