Experiments in Rejection and Failure by Chris Foley

Most of the things that I’ve done have taken me quite a long time to realize any sense of real visibility in doing them. That’s just always been the arc of my life in anything that I was doing. I didn’t really get any traction with my career for about the first decade. I now look back and call that first decade experiments in rejection and failure.

The quote above is from Debbie Millman, the guest on Jocelyn Glei’s latest episode of Hurry Slowly, who talks about how the most important projects in life take time and simply cannot be realized in short timespans. Another quote from Debbie on her conversation with David Lee Roth (of Van Halen fame):

“We were talking about the arc of a career and what he [David Lee Roth] said was, ‘You don’t really ever want to reach the peak because when you reach the peak you’re often alone, and it’s always cold. The only direction is down.’ I thought, ‘My, God, that’s got to be one of the most brilliant things I’ve ever heard.’”

Debbie’s way of looking at the trajectory of long-term creative projects is useful in plotting your own path, and I like her idea of the 10-year creative plan. The long roads are often the ones with the most potential.

Debbie Millman: The Speed of Achievement (Apple Podcasts, Spotify)

(Photo courtesy of Diego Jimenez on Unsplash)

From Music School to the Opera World by Chris Foley

Embarking on a professional opera career after the sheltered world of university can be eye-opening, writes baritone Lucas Meachem in What School Doesn’t Teach You About Opera. Lucas’ advice looks at how to deal with uncertainty and the importance of developing your own program where none is laid out for you in life. How he motivated himself to create a course of study during a two-month hiatus:

The first time I had time off as a young professional was when I was singing in Stuttgart and the stagehands went on strike. I had two entire (paid) months off and I had to be intelligent with my time. I took the opportunity to learn German and hired a tutor. I became proficient by the time I left the country.

It was up to me how I spent those two months and I had to continue being productive or else I would have gone stir-crazy as well as gotten behind on my potential development as a singer. I had to motivate myself to develop without a program telling me how.

The only place where I disagree with Lucas is regarding the responsibility of music programs to teach students about real life skills and situations - I feel strongly that they should, and that many music programs are failing their students in this regard.

A deep dive into Lucas’ blog is well worth the time - you’ll find a lot of practical advice and wisdom there.

(Photo by Max van den Oetelaar on Unsplash)

A Life of Total Work? by Chris Foley

What if our entire lives were taken up with work? Andrew Taggart looks at what such a scenario might look like in his recent article for Aeon:

Imagine that work had taken over the world. It would be the centre around which the rest of life turned. Then all else would come to be subservient to work. Then slowly, almost imperceptibly, anything else – the games once played, the songs hitherto sung, the loves fulfilled, the festivals celebrated – would come to resemble, and ultimately become, work. And then there would come a time, itself largely unobserved, when the many worlds that had once existed before work took over the world would vanish completely from the cultural record, having fallen into oblivion.

More about how Total Work plays out:

Following this taskification of the world, she sees time as a scarce resource to be used prudently, is always concerned with what is to be done, and is often anxious both about whether this is the right thing to do now and about there always being more to do. Crucially, the attitude of the total worker is not grasped best in cases of overwork, but rather in the everyday way in which he is single-mindedly focused on tasks to be completed, with productivity, effectiveness and efficiency to be enhanced. How? Through the modes of effective planning, skilful prioritising and timely delegation. The total worker, in brief, is a figure of ceaseless, tensed, busied activity: a figure, whose main affliction is a deep existential restlessness fixated on producing the useful.

Hey, that sounds really professional, and not unlike the lives of many people I know, including myself at various times over the last 30 years.

Taggart’s article is highly disquieting and raises more questions than it answers. But perhaps what these questions teach us is that even if (to quote Nicholas Bate) the purpose of work is purpose itself, we need to find contemplation, friendships, and cool things to do quite apart from that purpose.

(Image courtesy of Bethany Legg on Unsplash)

Robbie, a Short Sci-Fi Film by Neil Harvey by Chris Foley

My name is Robbie. I am from a planet called Earth. It is part of a four-billion-year-old solar system.

What if a robot was given consciousness, the ability to form relationships and run simulations, and went into space? That’s the premise of Robbie, a short sci-fi film by Neil Harvey from the always-fascinating (and binge-watchable) DUST channel on YouTube. My mind was blown at 1:35 and it kept getting better (and more emotionally engaging) until the very end.

Bring Kleenex.

Wendy Hatala Foley's Painted Musical Instruments by Chris Foley

Over the last few years, Wendy has painted several works on instruments which, through overuse, are no longer playable. Wendy’s re-imagining of these instruments adds new life and value to objects that would otherwise be condemned to a life of disuse and neglect, transforming them into art pieces that can have a permanent place in a home, redolent with the memories that they inspired.

Many of these pieces are sold (see the caption for each), but several are still available - click on the contact link at the top of the page of you’re interested in purchasing. Wendy also has several unpainted instruments on deck, so feel free to contact us if you have any specific ideas for a commission. You can follow Wendy’s Instagram to see her full repertory and stay apprised of upcoming works.

My Next Read by Chris Foley


Look what arrived in the mail yesterday! It’s not every day that you get to read a novel about music that’s written by someone with a deep and meaningful knowledge of what the musical life actually entails. A huge thanks goes out to Rhonda Rizzo for sending me a copy - stay tuned for some thoughts on The Waco Variations.

Two Mountains by Chris Foley

Los Cuernos in Evening Light by  Walter Sawka

Los Cuernos in Evening Light by Walter Sawka

David Brooks’s The Moral Peril of Meritocracy frames the world in terms of two mountains. The first mountain is that of professional accomplishment and success. The second mountain is more elusive and is often reached through suffering, adversity, or through dedication to a cause:

If the first mountain is about building up the ego and defining the self, the second is about shedding the ego and dissolving the self. If the first mountain is about acquisition, the second mountain is about contribution.

On the first mountain, personal freedom is celebrated — keeping your options open, absence of restraint. But the perfectly free life is the unattached and unremembered life. Freedom is not an ocean you want to swim in; it is a river you want to cross so that you can plant yourself on the other side.

So the person on the second mountain is making commitments. People who have made a commitment to a town, a person, an institution or a cause have cast their lot and burned the bridges behind them. They have made a promise without expecting a return. They are all in.

On why the second mountain is important:

We don’t treat one another well. And the truth is that 60 years of a hyper-individualistic first-mountain culture have weakened the bonds between people. They’ve dissolved the shared moral cultures that used to restrain capitalism and the meritocracy.

Over the past few decades the individual, the self, has been at the center. The second-mountain people are leading us toward a culture that puts relationships at the center. They ask us to measure our lives by the quality of our attachments, to see that life is a qualitative endeavor, not a quantitative one. They ask us to see others at their full depths, and not just as a stereotype, and to have the courage to lead with vulnerability. These second-mountain people are leading us into a new culture. Culture change happens when a small group of people find a better way to live and the rest of us copy them. These second-mountain people have found it.

What does your second mountain look like?

From Brainstorm to Project in One Evening by Chris Foley


A little bit of brainstorming can go a long way when you’re starting something new. Pictured above is the one-page project plan I wrote out in my Leuchtturm notebook one evening in late February when yet another winter storm caused the cancellation of a concert that several of my students were to perform at.

This small glitch in my schedule gave me the opening I needed to jump-start a project that I intended to eventually get to over the coming weeks in a leisurely manner, and moved up the launch from weeks to days. The plan I came up with was only a bare-bones sketch, but provided the framework for the actions that followed with a lot of subsequent review and adjustment. And in hindsight, once I had taken the initial steps, it felt really easy.

That project plan above led to the the blog that you’re reading right now.

I’ve had a lot of conversations with people over the last few weeks about how the musical profession, both with performing and teaching, is moving more quickly than ever into an entrepreneurial model. The scarcity model, where an ever-growing pool of highly educated professionals apply for a limited number of academic and performing positions, is is a zero-sum game that seems to be shrinking every year*.

But through the ability to generate new ideas and projects, we’re able to create genuine growth in the arts. Understanding a few basics of product creation and marketing, we’ll be able to find those who are genuinely interested in our projects, develop the personal connections, create, and sell a product, whether it be our expertise, a concert series, or something entirely new.

Musicians need to be able to do this.

Since I started this blog in early February, here are some of the things that have transpired:

  • I’ve come into contact and development friendships with many amazing people in the fields of music, productivity, and business development.

  • I learned a new platform (Squarespace).

  • An entirely new audience for my writing.

  • I landed my first clients in an entirely new field for me (life coaching for musicians), and intend to pursue this line of work in the coming months.

  • My teaching has been transformed through contact with a host of new ideas related to life coaching and personal productivity.

Above all, it’s the friendships and conversations arising from this project that I value the most. New ideas and connections lead to more of the same, and this is the greatest advantage of the entrepreneurial model once you tap into its vast potential.

And it all started with a few basic ideas written out in a notebook that coalesced into a simple project plan hatched over the course of an evening.

* I’m indebted to Jennifer Rosenfeld of iCadenza, whose explanations of the entrepreneurial and scarcity models have helped me to understand a lot of the trends that are currently going on in the profession.

Olivier Latry Plays the Bach Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor at Notre Dame de Paris by Chris Foley

Many of us this morning are heartbroken by the devastating fire at Notre Dame de Paris, one of the world’s greatest cultural treasures. Fortunately, the great organ survived, according to Paris’ deputy mayor:

10:35 a.m.

Paris’ deputy mayor says Notre Dame’s organ, among the world’s most famous and biggest, remains intact after a devastating fire at Paris’ main cathedral.

Emmanuel Gregoire told BFMTV Tuesday that a plan to protect Notre Dame’s treasures was rapidly and successfully activated.

The impressive organ dates to the 1730s and was constructed by Francois Thierry. It boasts an estimated 8,000 pipes.

We can only hope that the organ is once again in playable condition during our lifetimes. Until then, we have only the recorded legacy of great performances on that instrument. Here’s Olivier Latry playing Bach’s Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor: (Update Friday, April 26, 2019) It appears that the video referenced in the title is no longer available on YouTube for whatever reasons. In its place, here’s a video of Olivier Latry playing Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor:

You can read more about the Great and Choir organs here, here, and here.

What I Learned Over the Last Two Weeks by Chris Foley

This is a place I always go to when I’m in the western Conception Bay area. The weather in the first week of April was warmer than when I came here in mid-June two years ago.

This is a place I always go to when I’m in the western Conception Bay area. The weather in the first week of April was warmer than when I came here in mid-June two years ago.

Once in a while you encounter a period of time where everything snaps into clarity, and where the most important issues and questions all of a sudden seem to make more sense. A few days ago I got back from a two-week trip on the road examining at the Kiwanis Music Festival in Carbonear and examining for The Royal Conservatory’s Certificate Program in Winnipeg. In both these places, I had the chance to observe musical communities at their finest.

The stage at the Carbonear Regional Community Centre.

The stage at the Carbonear Regional Community Centre.

The trip started with a full week adjudicating in Carbonear, a small town up the Conception Bay coastline northwest of St. John’s, Newfoundland. What I found intriguing was how a small town of less than 5000 people can support a festival with a full week of piano and voice classes. What intrigued me about this trip were the words of those who had previously adjudicated in Carbonear, and how it had transformed their outlook on music education. So I left with an eagerness to discover something that several of my colleagues had already learned while working there.

The first thing I noticed was how well-run the festival was. Adjudicating a full festival is no small feat, and the web of rules, scholarships, and qualification requirements can be difficult to navigate at the best of times. However, the day-to-day logistics were handled with a level of detail that allowed me to concentrate on the music and how I could help each performer, given the limited time available in performing classes throughout the day.

The view from my motel room in Carbonear. The weather tended to be quite variable, and I experienced three seasons in one week.

The view from my motel room in Carbonear. The weather tended to be quite variable, and I experienced three seasons in one week.

But as the week developed, I also noticed a number of other things. Music in Newfoundland holds a central a place in the life of families, noticeable by the sheer love and engagement of so many musicians and the large number of relatives that came out to support the performers, many of whom learned multiple instruments.

The performers were highly supportive of each other, even in competitive classes. After performing, I would notice that many of them high-fived and fist-bumped each other. Sadly, there are only a few awards available for each class, many of which are quite sizeable. But after announcing the results, I was pleasantly astonished to notice that those who didn’t win genuinely congratulated those who did.

This was a tough shot to make, and I had to time the shot with the rise and fall of the waves so as not to have my iPhone swept out to sea.

This was a tough shot to make, and I had to time the shot with the rise and fall of the waves so as not to have my iPhone swept out to sea.

There are also strong ties between those working in the arts community with the business community at large. This is a relationship that in many places is largely not known or understood, but when you see it in action, you can see a community working together with strong cohesion, and with the best interests of everyone. In Carbonear, there was a strong understanding in the business community that arts activities are an integral part of the area’s economic activity, can strengthen ties within it, and bring people into the area. The large number of people learning instruments also created a strong demand for teachers in the area. My hope is that as current teachers in the area age and eventually retire, younger teachers will move to the community in order to continue the local musical traditions.

The trip continued with a short examining stint in Winnipeg, where I had a chance to catch up with some of my dearest friends as well as meet new ones. Tempering my admiration of the high standard of playing was a realization of the very real issues facing educators in that city, especially regarding the mental health of young people.

A well-deserved drink at Winnipeg airport at the end of the trip.

A well-deserved drink at Winnipeg airport at the end of the trip.

I like to thank people for the impact that they have in the world, and in the case of the last two weeks, the list of people I personally thanked, either in person or on social media, went well into the dozens. But I wanted to thank everyone once more who makes such an impact on their community in Carbonear, St. John’s, and Winnipeg. You know who you are, and I just wanted you all to know that your dedication to the arts community and young people whose lives you impact, either as educators, parents, or volunteers, really matters. You’re doing great work, and the example that you’ve shown will inform the work I do for a very long time.