Author Archive


innovation, inspiration, and hard work…

Albert Einstein  said — “Creativity is seeing what everyone else has seen, and thinking what no one else has thought.”  Creativity is one of the most intrinsically rewarding endeavors we engage in.  Creativity requires a combination of innovation, inspiration, and a tremendous amount of hard work. It allows us to explore both the wondrous potential and the incredible detail of things. And let’s not forget that those little shots of dopamine that creativity releases in the rewards center of our brain…how could you not love that?!

Every single one of us has the ability to be creative. In the words of Steve Jobs, “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.

Here are a few Do’s and Don’ts of Creativity:

Do’s —

  • Do be curious on a constant basis. Constantly ask “Why?” and “Is this the best way to do it?” Recognize that others may do it a certain way simply because that is the way it has always been done, not because it’s the optimal way.
  • Do believe you can do it. In order to accomplish anything great you are going to have to believe that you can. In believing that you can, you open yourself up to the infinite source of inspiration that exists within each of us.
  • Do your research. Coming up with creative ideas stems from understanding the problems or area of focus in depth. Gather data, ask questions, look at what has been done before and look for ways to improve upon it.
  • Do get started! The number one most important element in creating anything is to start!
  • Do stay humble and teachable. Ask others for their advice, opinions, and experience. Be willing to listen and learn from the input of others. Then consider all you learn and make the decisions that you personally feel best about.
  • Do know that the best ideas don’t have to be your own. It’s your implementation of the idea that will lead to success, not the idea itself. Ideas are a dime a dozen, but those who implement them are priceless.
  • Do course correct when necessary. The more you learn in the process of moving forward the more you understand how to adjust your course to take you where you ultimately want to go. See course corrections as a positive element in your progress.
  • Do persevere. It’s never been a matter of being the smartest or the most talented, rather, it’s always been a matter of moving forward, falling down, getting back up, and continuing to move forward a little wiser each time. Always keep moving forward. “I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is perseverance.” – Steve Jobs

Don’ts — 

  • Don’t be afraid to start. It is called the start for a reason…it is the beginning, not the end.
  • Don’t over criticize your early ideas, doing so stops your creative juices from flowing. “To live a creative life we must lose our fear of being wrong.” –Joseph Pearce
  • Don’t wait until you find the perfect idea to start. Whatever idea you start with will morph over time anyway as you continue to learn so don’t get hung up, just get going.
  • Don’t wait to figure out every little detail before you start. It would be impossible to think through every scenario and every possibility.
  • Don’t get discouraged when things don’t go as you’d hoped. There are going to be a million failures before you achieve ultimate success, accept that it’s all just part of the process.
  •  Don’t ever do anything that would compromise your integrity. Success will come and go, but integrity is forever. Enough said.
  • Creativity is one of the most exciting and enjoyable parts of life. It motivates me better than anything else can. As Albert Einstein said, “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” Not only is it fun, it’s also highly contagious, so the more of us that will get creative, the faster we can spread more fun!

From Amy Rees-Anderson


fight or flight…

To grow and improve is a desire that most all of us share. Yet, in order to grow and improve we must first be willing to acknowledge our areas of weakness; we must accept who we are in order to become something better. So how can we best recognize our weaknesses? We can stop defending and start listening.

As Ken Blanchard declared, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” Feedback is the quickest way to learn about our weaknesses and those areas we most need to improve. Knowing our weaknesses is the most important step in overcoming them. So, why then do people get defensive the moment they receive feedback that challenges or corrects them if that is the very thing needed for them to improve?

We have all heard the term “fight or flight” in describing what happens to someone when feeling physically threatened. When a person’s views, ideas, or behaviors are threatened, especially when they have put significant time, effort, or money into them, there is a similar response known as being “defensive”. Any suggestion whatsoever that conflicts with their idea or behavior can send a person into defensive mode. The person’s nervous system begins to overheat and their body becomes tense. In this state, they are unable to take in much new information as they become solely focused on defending their position.

There are many different defensive strategies used when a person is feeling challenged, criticized, or corrected: They will deny, make excuses, challenge, rationalize, explain, justify, blame, avoid, withdraw, or go on the attack (just to name a few). To a person on the defense, any new knowledge feels threatening and they are unable to see any side but their own. Learning and growth become impossible when a person is defensive.

Given that our desire is to grow and improve, and given that we cannot grow when we are defensive, it is imperative to take steps to avoid this response. The most important element in avoiding it is to listen. Our ability to form healthy relationships with others in business, whether it be coworkers, advisors, board members, managers, clients, etc, is a direct result of our ability to listen well.

Sometimes when hearing feedback, we must force ourselves to take a deep breath, or, if necessary, ask to be excused for a moment so you might step away and regain our composure. Then we can return with a clear head, ready to actively listen.

It is important to note that when we are feeling tired or stressed out we can react defensively without meaning to, so it’s important to stay self-aware of how our emotions may be influencing our reactions during these times.

Be careful not to expect everyone to see things exactly the same way you do. One of the best things about diversity of thought is that it helps us to view things from different perspectives, so welcome the opportunity to expand your horizons. If, while receiving feedback, you are feeling attacked, feel comfortable to express you are feeling that way in a calm and respectful tone. It may very well be that the other person isn’t even aware that their tone is causing you to feel threatened, and your expressing your feelings might help them be more sensitive with their approach.

As the other person is talking, look for areas you can agree with them. Finding these areas of common agreement will help both parties to feel collaborative rather than combative.

If you truly can’t find any points to agree with then ask for specific examples, not in an accusatory way, but in a way to show that you have a genuine desire to better understand their point of view by seeking examples that will help illustrate the problem more clearly for you.

Be quick to apologize when you should. Doing so shows a tremendous amount of maturity and respect for the other person. It shows that you are willing to be accountable for your behavior and it demonstrates that you can be trusted to take responsibility for your actions.

Stay on topic. Don’t use the conversation as a way to start bringing up your own grievances that are unrelated to the current discussion – that is a destructive tactic that only manipulates you into believing that you are superior to the other person and therefore don’t need to listen.

After hearing the other person out with an open mind, if you are still struggling with their point of view, simply thank them for sharing their views with you and let them know that you genuinely want to take time to ponder what they have said, stating that you will come back to them after you have given it more thought.

When someone is willing to take the time to give you constructive feedback, listen. Remember that truly confident people are able to listen respectfully to other perspectives, then to genuinely consider and evaluate if there is truth in what others are saying. They are able to do all of this without feeling that other perspectives are in any way diminishing their own. Don’t deny yourself the opportunity to learn. If you want to improve, stop defending and start listening.

~Amy Rees Anderson (you can follow my daily blogs at )


standing out…

Too much time and energy in life gets spent trying to fit in…trying to be seen as “normal”.  I personally think that normal is pretty boring.   After all, why be normal when you can be exceptional?! When something simply “fits in” it is too easy to blend in, to go completely unnoticed.  But when something stands out you cannot help but notice it.  You cannot help but have your attention drawn to it.

Now I am not talking about standing out in your physical appearance – I am talking about standing out with your character.  I am talking about standing out by going the extra mile, by being extra kind and compassionate toward others, by living a life of integrity.    And in today’s world, those qualities will definitely make you a person who stands out.

Every day we have the choice to STAND OUT.  Every day we have the choice to focus on being amazing…to go beyond the average or the typical….we have the choice to be EXCEPTIONAL.

Why follow the crowd when you can be leading it?
Why shoot for ordinary when you can be SPECTACULAR?!

Be proud to STAND OUT!  Be confident to stand up for what is right, even when you are the only one doing it.  Don’t lower your standards to fit in with the crowd.  Instead, let your example be what lifts others around you to raise their standards to yours.  Be a leader.  Stop worrying about fitting in and start aiming to STAND OUT!

From Amy Rees-Anderson


falling into place…

Sometimes when things are falling apart, they may actually be falling into place.”  The severity of a crisis or challenge is determined not necessarily by the traumatic situation or event, but by your reaction to it.

The word “crisis” in Chinese is formed with the characters for “danger” and “opportunity.” A crisis presents traumatic disruption or threat, but it also presents a unique opportunity for growth.

While you are in crisis, you are forced to function outside of your normal comfort zone. The sheer nature of a crisis or struggle creates a certain amount of present moment awareness, which is where the solutions live.

Our natural inclination is to look and get away from a crisis situation as soon as we possibly can. This desire to avoid pain and upset is a natural human response, but moving through or away from a crisis without taking the time to understand how it has impacted you can be a mistake. The feelings that get kicked up do not disappear because we stop looking at what happened. They go underground and continue to impact your life in ways that can be very confusing. Denying feelings and pushing them down will eventually distort them in such a way that it is difficult to understand why you might be responding to current events in your life in a particular way.

Below are a few ideas, influenced by an ancient set of Buddhist concepts, to maximize your growth/benefit from any crisis or challenge.

All Experiences Are Part of Your Journey:  If you can accept that all experiences, even the ones you do not want, are part of your life journey, you will look at a crisis or challenge with different eyes. Expecting that there will be difficulties along the way sets you up to react less negatively when things happen. Having patience with the process of your crisis will help you gain insight. Patience allows you to welcome difficulty with strength and endurance rather than fear, anxiety, and avoidance. None of us likes to be in turmoil, but if we can endure the turmoil with strength, without complaining or denying, we become ennobled by it.

Find the Gem: In every painful experience, there is a gem of self-learning. In order to gain the wisdom and growth from the experience, you must be willing to give up a victim mentality and be open to the profound life lesson that is waiting there for you. There is a gem in that mine of murk and mud!

Be Grateful for Everything: During the crisis, if you can remember to be grateful for all of your blessings, your pain will be lessened. It is so easy to focus on what is wrong, but no matter what is wrong, there are still so many things that are right. Gratitude softens the harsh sting of a crisis or challenge and helps to instill hope in your heart.

This story perfectly illustrates the title quote from this post:  “Sometimes when things are falling apart, they may actually be falling into place.


healthy competition…

The 2016 Charleston Scottish Games games are officially closed.  What a terrific weekend for competing members of the EUSPBA.  “From the field” results are as follows  Grade 5 – 1st Jamestown, 2nd Palmetto,  3rd Wake and District — Grade 4 – 1st Charleston Police, 2nd Knoxville, 3rd Atlanta – Grade 3 –  1st Atlanta, 2nd Wake and District, 3rd Grandfather.

Several members of the band competed in solos and did VERY well.  Congrats to Jessica JohnsonAmateur Tenor Drummer of the Day (LADY AGL), Other “winning” Wake and District members included Steve Turnbull and Martina Murphy. 

Thank you to the young folks from the Citadel for stewarding, the staff at Boone Hall for traffic control and  for allowing competitions, to Peter Armstrong for orchestrating all of the pipers and drummers, the judges for their comments and critiques — and all of the wonderful pipers and drummers (old and new faces) seen throughout the weekend.

We played well, had a good time and enjoyed the bandsman-ship.  John Churton Collins said, “In prosperity, our friends know us; in adversity, we know our friends.

Even in good times, there’s enough difficulty to go around for everyone. Every season, every competition — poses problems.  In times of great stress or adversity, it’s always best to keep busy, to plow your anger and your energy into something positive.   We are grateful to all our friends and mates no matter the kilt they wear.

What makes competition a positive force over a negative force? And what is the definition of healthy versus unhealthy competition?

“If you continuously compete with others, you become bitter, but if you continuously compete with yourself, you become better.”

Let’s start by talking about Healthy Competition.  Healthy Competition can help to motivate people to put in that extra effort and perform at a higher level than they might have done otherwise.  It can give extra drive and ambition that help someone to do more.  It can add fun and excitement to the task or project you are trying to win or succeed in.

Competition becomes unhealthy or negative when you cannot feel happy for other people who win or succeed.  Competition becomes unhealthy when you find yourself hoping that the other person will not perform well so that you will have a higher chance of winning, rather than wanting to win based on your own better effort.

“Stop competing with others. Start competing with yourself.”

The reality is that if it wasn’t for competition we might find ourselves settling for mediocrity.  So competition is important in helping push us to succeed. But it is how we decide to compete that makes it a healthy or an unhealthy experience.  If we can use competition to motivate and push us to give something our entire effort then it’s positive and healthy in our lives.  We should always hope that we can win because we gave it 100% and we should focus entirely on our own performance instead of banking on someone else doing poorly in order for us to succeed.    If we can do that then we can keep competition in our lives a healthy and positive motivator that will help us become the very best we can be.

“A flower does not think of competing to the next flower, it just blooms.”

Have an awesome day!

Amy Rees Anderson


45th annual Charleston Scottish Games…

Members of Wake & District are hitting the road this weekend to Mt. Pleasant, SC for the 45th Annual Charleston Scottish Games being held at the historic Boone Hall Plantation. Our members will be competing in band (G3, G4 and G5) and solo competition events.    We will surely post photos and results from the field with an upright zeal.  To all of the bands and our many family and friends heading out…SAFE TRAVELS one and all.

As we drive into the back half of the EUSPBA season we ponder the impending vicissitudes: the thrill of success, and the agony of defeat—not the euphemism, the real deal— registering in every fiber of our  being and right there for everyone to see.

Folks may start out with the best intentions and grip on their emotions picture— the tuning to Scotland the Brave, flam after flam — but with the first error (or perceived error) things degenerate quickly and it’s Jackson Pollock on a bad day. There’s the pre-game freak out, the post-game melt down, the throwing down of the pipes, drumsticks, or whatever the case may be, followed by the “I hate everything, everything stinks, I quit” self-recrimination rant that occurs once the doors auto-shut on the mini-van.

Why is it that some players can’t lose? Is it their über focus on getting being the “champion”, the pressure to accept anything else but beyond the best? While there is no doubt that those success-crazed folks gone wild don’t help and need to be benched themselves, usually they only broadcast in stereo the message going through a player’s own mind: winning is everything; losing is the end of the world as we know it.

It’s also clear that our culture is out of whack, witness the 5:00 am sports practices, travel tournaments for 2nd graders, and cut-throat competition for all. While rectifying these variables will certainly improve the outcome, it will not eliminate the problem of folks who fall apart in the face of defeat. Especially since many of these folks fall apart even with just the anticipation of defeat. So losing isn’t the real disaster for these people, their relationship to losing, is the disaster.

We have all been witness to the poor sportsmanship and in those moments we thank goodness it’s somebody else’s band freaking out this time and not ours. But if you’re a player, chances are your number will come up, and you will be that band too. Until you can help your fellow players change the news feed in their mind about what just happened, no reassurance or tough love will be a match for the wrath or despair of your miserable player in ghilless.

What’s it all about? Are we being bratty sore losers, or is there call for compassion?

No one likes to lose, but for some folks losing isn’t a superficial scratch on the ego, it goes deep. In fact the reason why some have trouble losing is that they can’t hold on to who they were before the loss; instead, no matter how many successes they had under their belt, the loss transforms them irrevocably into a loser. It’s as if each game is a gamble where they put all their chips on the table, and if they lose, they’re cleaned out of all of their assets. If this is starting to sound like some people you know, including yourself, read on, the solutions are pretty much one size fits all.

The secret to a successful season isn’t just taping up the chanter, getting your tempos right, roll and repeat… it’s building up your muscle to lift yourself out of disappointment, and quickly. Even if your putting in hours everyday practicing, the way you ares going to succeed in piping and drumming (and in life) is to make friends with, or at least not be mortal enemies with, losing.

In sports more than any other arena, losing is a built-in. Sometimes it’s you, sometimes it’s the other team, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise. And yet, for many, it’s like they never saw it coming and it knocks them flat on the ground. The more who can re-think what it means to lose, the more they will be resilient people—not only bouncing back from disappointments, but coming back stronger, because they’ve made use of what went wrong to improve— for the next time— what they can do right.

These strategies will help maintain perspective when there are those disturbances on the field and put the bounce back in your spirit:

  1. Empathize, Empathize, Empathize! Though it’s tempting to rush in and reassure or correct your thoughts and feelings (by saying, don’t feel that way, don’t say that, that’s not true!), this will only get folks more upset because rightfully so, they feel you haven’t heard them. Instead reflect what they are saying, “this feels like the worst day of your life,” or, “you feel like you’re the worst player.” Empathizing doesn’t mean agreeing with their conclusions, it means accepting that this state at this moment. By hearing your thoughts played backwe are often able to move beyond the feelings and recognize how we are different from the facts, “I feel that way, but I know it’s not true.”
  1. Lower the Stakes not the Standards: Separate your Values from the Outcome of the Game.Your values as a human being are not at stake every time he steps on the field (it only feels that way), your value is a permanent possession. Don’t dispense with the importance of playing well, but dispense with the inaccurate interpretation of what it means to lose: ask what it means to if we lose, and then ask to think what it really means in life. What is the interpretation that the coach has? The other players? Even MVPs lose games and strike out—lots of games, lots of strike outs. It doesn’t mean you are a loser or even a bad player, it’s one moment in time. The outcome of the game is temporary and changeable, your value, permanent and only will improve with effort.  
  1. Find the Wins within the Losses and Learn from the Mistakes: While every game or event has winners and losers, the real loss is when you don’t give credit where credit is due. Ask your what went well. Don’t dispense with the credit just because it is easy. While you are critical of the one things we did wrong, we will be dismissing and devaluing the things we did well, because in the all or none game, if you can’t do it all, you lose. Not so. Look at professional athletes, the best hitters have the most errors, the best basketball players can’t master the free shots.  Help make the crisis an opportunity for learning how to improve: analyze like a detective what went wrong and see if there are things to make it happen differently next time (practicing a particular skill, staying focused on the game).
  1. Separate the Feelings from the Facts and Ditch the Absolutes: When we’re upset our feelings are extreme, fortunately the facts are not. Best way to point this out is to simply reflect back what we say and remind ourselves that feelings are strong at first, but they pass; they don’t last forever.  So, if someone says: “Everyone is better!” you say, “It feels like everyone is better than you—is that what you really think is true, or just how you are feeling right now?”  Listen and help your mates correct the absolutes: “everyone is better” becomes “some people play better, some don’t”, “I never do anything right,” becomes, “I usually play well, this was a tough game.” “I stink at everything” becomes I am strong in pitching, I need to practice my fielding more.
  1. Identify the Outlier: When perfectionist players make a mistake they assume that error redefines their life, starts a new trend for them as a loser. Help them see that exceptions here and there do not make a new rule, separate their baseline playing from the outliers or exceptions that are going to occur.
  2. Identify Where We are On the Learning Curve: Ask when we started to learn how to _______. Think through about how long it will take to learn a new skill and how she will know when they have mastered it. Ask to draw a curve and make an X to denote your current position.
  1. Control What You Can: Set Your Own Personal Goal: Help go into a game with one or two ideas about what we want to do differently in this game, that way regardless of the outcome of the game, we can circle back to the goals and see how we did with the part we could control. 
  1. Bring in the Pros: How Would Your Favorite Player Narrate the Story? Identify with your band one or several players who they look up to and “ask” (imagine) what they would say about a tough game. Imagine or research how they have dealt with their own challenging games. Every sport has examples of winners who also lose, this is the norm.  Take Ryan Howard, first basemen of the Phillies, who won MVP in 2006. In that year he had more home runs and RBIs than any other player in major league baseball, AND, had 199 strikeouts in 2007, the all time strikeout mark for a hitter in a season! If Ryan were telling the story, he’d probably say, don’t let those losses get in the way of your success!

We all want to protect our mates from disappointment, but the more we can see that disappointments are survivable, ordinary moments of life, the less we will stumble and get stuck. We will not only be more resilient and more willing to get in there and play, we will probably play better because we’re are not doing battle with ourselves on the field (let alone how much more pleasant the rides home will be).


root for yourself…

Chances are, you are your own biggest critic. However, in order to reach your potential, you must instead be your own biggest fan.  In life, we are often our own biggest critic.  We criticize ourselves any chance we get. At work. At life. For big things, and for little things. We love to point out our shortcomings and failures.  After all, it’s easy to be a critic.

But, when was the last time you were you your own biggest fan?  When was the last time you recognized your success? Or celebrated a victory, even if it was small?   If you don’t cheer for yourself, no one else will.

“Instead of being your biggest critic,
you need to be your own biggest fan.”

Here Are 5 Reasons Why You Must Be Your Own Biggest Fan:

  1. You Have to Believe in Yourself – Step one, is believing in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, then no one else will. Don’t look to others to define your confidence, you get to make that for yourself.
  2. No One is Going to Give It To You – The world isn’t going to deliver your dreams on a platter. If you sit around waiting for that promotion, that new opportunity, or even to get into shape… it’s not going to happen. You have to go out and get it. You have to do the work.
  3. Pat Yourself on the Back – Too often, you probably criticize your failures. Blasting your mistakes, licking your wounds from bad decisions. But, you also have to stand proud for the things you accomplish. Recognize your victories and be proud of them. This motivates you to even higher levels of performance.
  4. Showcase Your Accomplishments – Silently working doesn’t produce silent success. Rather, it produces obscurity. You like to believe that if you work hard, you will be rewarded. However, the caveat to that statement is that others must be aware of your accomplishments. You must take the steps to recognize your work. This is not bragging, it’s showcasing.
  5. In the End, It’s About You – Ultimately, your life is about you. This is not a selfish thought. Or an arrogant one. Rather, it means that in this world, you are only competing against yourself. You set the standards and you determine the results.

Being your own biggest fan isn’t about swagger. It isn’t about bragging. It is about showcasing your achievements and standing up for yourself. Because if you don’t do it, who else will?


de-dedicating the dedicated…

Steve Jobs was said to be obsessed about making the best technology possible with the simplest method possible. Michael Jordan was said to be obsessed with being the best basketball player of his generation. And thousands of other greats were said to be obsessed about something.

They were told to slow down, relax, and to not pursue their goal so intently. They were told they didn’t have to work so hard. They were told they were obsessed, and that obsession is a horrible trait.   They were told wrong.

Obsessed is just a word the lazy use to describe the dedicated.

And sooner or later you’ll realize that a majority of the world is lazy. Not because they’re lazy by birth (some are, but not all), but because they themselves have nothing to be obsessed about. And people who have nothing to be dedicated about usually dedicate themselves to de-dedicating the dedicated.

Do not fall for the trap. Obsessed and dedicated are both compliments.

Trust us.

#Dedication #PipeBandLife


pipers, and drummers and judges – oh,my…

Sharing from the AOL Editors.  We all remember ‘The Wizard of Oz’ from the yellow brick road to the emerald city — not to mention how cute Toto was. So, in honor of the 77th anniversary of the classic film, take a look at the life lessons we all learned from the iconic movie:

  1. Never give up — Dorothy never stopped trying to get home even when the Wicked Witch of the West sent flying monkeys after her. So when the going gets tough, stick to your yellow brick road and you’ll overcome your obstacles too.
  2. Good friends come in the unlikeliest places — Though the Scarecrow, Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion aren’t the typical staples in your posse, these three friends always had Dorothy’s back. Don’t pass on a possible friend because they’re different than you.
  3. Never stop dreaming — Dorothy’s trip to Oz was difficult, but she still found a place over the rainbow. After singing about a magical land, she found it and that means you should never stop dreaming about yours.
  4.  You can accomplish anything — The Scarecrow wanted a brain. The Tin Man wanted a heart and the Lion wanted to be brave. Even though they thought they had to ask the Wizard to grant their wishes, they found those traits inside themselves.
  5. Real courage is facing your fears — The Lion best represented this when he put aside his own fears to help his friends.
  6. There’s no place like home — You don’t need emerald cities or ruby slippers. Everything you need is waiting for you… right at home.

#PipeBandLife #LifeLessons #WizardOfOz


the power of music…

“Music is the best means we have of digesting time,” Igor Stravinsky once remarked (a remark often misattributed to W.H. Auden). “Music is the sound wave of the soul,” the wise and wonderful Morley observed. Psychologists have studied why playing music benefits your brain more than any other activity and how listening to music enraptures the brain. But, more than that, music works over the human spirit and stands as a supreme manifestation of our very humanity — something Carl Sagan knew when he sent the Golden Record into the cosmos as a representation of the most universal truths of our civilization.

Gathered here are uncommonly beautiful reflections on the singular power of music by some of humanity’s greatest writers, collected over years of reading — please enjoy.

Susan Sontag spent the majority of her adult life reading between eight and ten hours a day, and never fewer than four. Her intense love of literature was paralleled by a commensurate love of music. In a diary entry found in Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947–1963 (public library) — the spectacular volume that gave us young Sontag on personal growth, art, marriage, the four people a great writer must be, and her duties for being a twenty-something — she writes at age 15:

Music is at once the most wonderful, the most alive of all the arts — it is the most abstract, the most perfect, the most pure — and the most sensual. I listen with my body and it is my body that aches in response to the passion and pathos embodied in this music.

In his final essay collection, A Man Without a Country (public library) — the source of his abiding wisdom on the shapes of storiesKurt Vonnegut wrote that music, above all else, “made being alive almost worthwhile” for him. He synthesized the sentiment in an extra-concentrated dose of his wry irreverence:

If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph:

Poet Edna St. Vincent Millay makes a similar point via counterpoint. In a beautiful 1920 letter to a friend, found in The Letters of Edna St. Vincent Millay (public library) — which also gave us the beloved poet on what it really means to be an anarchist, hertouching appreciation of her mother, and her exquisite love letters — 28-year-old Millay writes:

I can whistle almost the whole of the Fifth Symphony, all four movements, and with it I have solaced many a whining hour to sleep. It answers all my questions, the noble, mighty thing, it is “green pastures and still waters” to my soul. Indeed, without music I should wish to die. Even poetry, Sweet Patron Muse forgive me the words, is not what music is. I find that lately more and more my fingers itch for a piano, and I shall not spend another winter without one. Last night I played for about two hours, the first time in a year, I think, and though most everything is gone enough remains to make me realize I could get it back if I had the guts. People are so dam lazy, aren’t they? Ten years I have been forgetting all I learned so lovingly about music, and just because I am a boob. All that remains is Bach. I find that I never lose Bach. I don’t know why I have always loved him so. Except that he is so pure, so relentless and incorruptible, like a principle of geometry.

No one has illustrated the vitalizing power of music with more marvelous morbidity than Friedrich Nietzsche. In an aphorism from his 1889 book Twilight of the Idols, or, How to Philosophize with a Hammer (public library), he proclaims:

Without music life would be a mistake.

The point of this morbidity, of course, is to convey the infinitely enlivening power of music — something Nietzsche elaborated on in an autobiographical fragment quoted in Julian Young’s altogether fantastic Friedrich Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography(public library):

God has given us music so that above all it can lead us upwards. Music unites all qualities: it can exalt us, divert us, cheer us up, or break the hardest of hearts with the softest of its melancholy tones. But its principal task is to lead our thoughts to higher things, to elevate, even to make us tremble… The musical art often speaks in sounds more penetrating than the words of poetry, and takes hold of the most hidden crevices of the heart… Song elevates our being and leads us to the good and the true. If, however, music serves only as a diversion or as a kind of vain ostentation it is sinful and harmful.

Arthur Schopenhauer was a major influence on his compatriot of Nietzsche. In hisextensive inquiry into the power of music, found in the first volume of his 1818 masterwork The World as Will and Representation (public library), Schopenhauer writes:

Music … stands quite apart from all the [other arts]. In it we do not recognize the copy, the repetition, of any Idea of the inner nature of the world. Yet it is such a great and exceedingly fine art, its effect on man’s innermost nature is so powerful, and it is so completely and profoundly understood by him in his innermost being as an entirely universal language, whose distinctness surpasses even that of the world of perception itself, that in it we certainly have to look for more than that exercitium arithmeticae occultum nescientis se numerare animi [“an unconscious exercise in arithmetic in which the mind does not know it is counting”] which Leibniz took it to be… We must attribute to music a far more serious and profound significance that refers to the innermost being of the world and of our own self.

More of Schopenhauer’s ideas about music can be found here.


In her early twenties, Virginia Woolf found a very different kind of exaltation in music. In a lengthy 1903 diary entry titled “A Dance at Queen’s Gate” from A Passionate Apprentice: The Early Journals, 1897–1909 (public library), the 21-year-old writer recounts the particularly intoxicating effect of dance music (which, at the time, involved violins) during a wild night on the town:

That is the quality which dance music has — no other: it stirs some barbaric instinct — lulled asleep in our sober lives — you forget centuries of civilization in a second, & yield to that strange passion which sends you madly whirling round the room — oblivious of everything save that you must keep swaying with the music — in & out, round & round — in the eddies & swirls of the violins. It is as though some swift current of water swept you along with it. It is magic music.

The great French Romantic poet, novelist, and dramatist Victor Hugo extolled music’s singular potency with sublime succinctness. In the preface to his 1864 study of those he considered to be “the greatest geniuses of all time,” somewhat deceptively titled William Shakespeare (public library), he writes:

Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.

Aldous Huxley takes a complementary perspective in a beautiful essay titled The Rest Is Silence (on which Alex Ross’s excellent The Rest Is Noise is a play), found in the altogether terrific 1931 collection Music at Night and Other Essays (public library):

After silence that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.


When the inexpressible had to be expressed, Shakespeare laid down his pen and called for music.


In his timeless and tremendously timely 1860s essay Democratic Vistas, found in the Library of America volume Walt Whitman: Poetry and Prose (public library), Walt Whitman writes:

Music, the combiner, nothing more spiritual, nothing more sensuous, a god, yet completely human, advances, prevails, holds highest place; supplying in certain wants and quarters what nothing else could supply.

Nearly a century and a half later, Oliver Sacks captured this supreme spiritual sustenance of music in Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain (public library), which remains the most stimulating inquiry into the source of music’s power ever written. Reflecting on a particularly trying moment for the human spirit — the days following the September 11 attacks — Dr. Sacks writes:

On my morning bike ride to Battery Park, I heard music as I approached the tip of Manhattan, and then saw and joined a silent crowd who sat gazing out to sea and listening to a young man playing Bach’s Chaconne in D on his violin. When the music ended and the crowd quietly dispersed, it was clear that the music had brought them some profound consolation, in a way that no words could ever have done.

Music, uniquely among the arts, is both completely abstract and profoundly emotional. It has no power to represent anything particular or external, but it has a unique power to express inner states or feelings. Music can pierce the heart directly; it needs no mediation. One does not have to know anything about Dido and Aeneas to be moved by her lament for him; anyone who has ever lost someone knows what Dido is expressing. And there is, finally, a deep and mysterious paradox here, for while such music makes one experience pain and grief more intensely, it brings solace and consolation at the same time.

Complement with Anthony Burgess’s account of the magical moment he fell in love with music as a little boy and this wonderful vintage guide to the seven essential skills of listening to music, then revisit similar collections of great writers’ reflections on New York City, the creative benefits of keeping a diary, the importance of boredom, and how creativity works.

From Brain Pickings – Great Writers on the Power of Music