New Year Motivation

How do you make yourself do something that you normally would not do? This may be a decision that involves sustained physical effort such as losing weight, being nice to a co-worker(!), or eating less red meat, or drinking less. For some it may involve even more drastic changes, such as being a vegetarian or being a vegan. Many people are going vegan these days because of the effect of breeding livestock such as cows has impact on the environment. But given that it involves great change, how is it possible to work through these changes and establish them as habit?

For some, substituting some form of punishment is the chosen method. For example, if you were intending to become a vegetarian, but not quite there yet, then introducing a day of “punishment” for each day you fail not to eat red meat is their method. For example, if you failed not to eat meat on a day you had designated to go veggie, then maybe you might make a monetary donation to a charity. It is a simple method of punishment, one that we see frequently, such as in “swear jars” where people put money if they let slip a rude word from their mouths.

Sometimes an event may be the catalyst for a new change or direction in life, and provide the positive motivation long enough to provide the persistence and perseverance for until the new effort becomes habit. In this instance, why not take advantage of the new year to learn a new skill? It may be cooking. It may be to improve your home DIY skills. It may be something such as learning a new instrument or making up new piano covers or playing in a new style to create new versions of existing songs.

As we head into the new year, what would your new year resolutions be? You may find it takes you towards a new outlet of creativity and improves you as a person. Isn’t that what resolutions should be about?

Control, and a Hound Dog

Human beings love the idea of control. Whether we would openly admit such an underlying characteristic that governs our life, or are embarrassed to even acknowledge it, there is no running away from it. Think that is all untrue? Examine the various aspects of our lives and you can see that in all these situations we seek to establish some sense of control, at least on a minimal level. We try to decorate our room the way we like, so that it reflects the impression and look we would like to present. If we are not bothered about the way it looks, then we try to keep it functional, so that we have at least control over it. Parents lament the lack of control teenagers have over their room when it looks untidy, although teenagers will insist the room is under control, functional, and they know where everything is.

The physical surroundings are not just the only aspect of our lives where we try to establish control. We try to organise the people we interact with and the level of interactions to one that we are comfortable with, so that we end up seeing who we like more and limit the time we have to interact with less appealing characters. Even parents may try to control the social dealings of their children if they feel that peers are exerting a bad influence on them!

We also seek to establish control over the digital world and the intellectual right to objects we create. For example, if we have come up with ideas, we exert our right to them via patents and copyright, so that anyone who uses our intellectual property infringes on our ownership of it when they do so without our permission. This is particularly so in music, where one person can borrow another’s person tune. Exerting copyright over one’s intellectual property is a form of control. If anyone sings your song or uses your lyrics, they have to pay you royalties.

Did you know what one of the songs most associated with Elvis Presley was actually not his own? The lyrics You Ain’t Nuthin but a Hound Dog are best imagined with Elvis’ voice, but it was actually a cover version of the original. (Read more about it here in the Piano Teacher Crouch End website.) One wonders if Ellie Mae Thornton had made her claim to it before he used it! If she hadn’t, then that would have been a form of self-sabotage. Like how Hector Berlioz almost ruined his own career!

Social Media – then and now

What would be your immediate reaction if you were on the move and then needed to make a call to someone, but this intention was scuppered by the lack of mobile connectivity? It is not an uncommon situation to be in; while mobile masts have sprung up by the hundreds and thousands since their inception, certain areas, particularly rural ones, struggle with a lack of mobile coverage and it is not possible to get a signal. Unfortunately, it is often the case that at these points in time a signal is most needed! Imagine if you were walking in the woods and twisted and ankle. How would you get help if you were on your own? And wouldn’t it just be the case that the mobile signal would be non-existent in that kind of situation?

We can possibly replace the case of needing to make a phone call with a similar need, to check emails or social media updates. Work and social media companies have cultivated a dependency in us to check our accounts at frequent intervals. What would your reaction be if your ability to do so was hindered by a lack of connectivity for a period of, for instance, four hours? According to social psychologists, many of us would feel slightly depressed and have elevated heart rate levels because the lack of control over our immediate circumstances would imposed these emotions upon us.

The dependency on such forms of technology may be a good reason for us to break the cycle of need. Not only do they create a negative effect when they work – they are forcing us to be dependent on them and to engage in repetitive behaviour such as checking for updates, but because of the negative impact they have when they do not work – causing us to be stressed and frustrated, and actively checking the internet connection so we can access our updates – it can be surmised we are slaves to that technology.

The piano composer Franz Liszt was a very social person, seeking the limelight as an extrovert, but managed to do so without the slightest level of social media that we have today. But being sociable without technology is possible, and arguably richer. You establish deeper levels of face to face relationships, because that is the only meaningful time you will get, instead of having two relationships (face to face and virtual) which may conflict with each other.

What would Liszt do if he were alive today? He might just have dispensed with the mobile phone. He would have preferred the live handkerchiefs thrown to him instead of the virtual emojis!

Inventions – and a musical perspective

Sometimes when we look around us we can see things that appear to be simple in design yet achieve a level of efficiency that we take for granted. The electric light bulb is one such invention. Who could have imagine that two centuries ago this did not exist? We could say the same for paper clips or even the plastic switches we use to turn electrical items on and off. Perhaps by virtue of their effectiveness, they have become ubiquitous and unfortunately become overlooked.

The barbed wire fence is another of such inventions. Invented in the late 1870s in America, it was the brainchild of one John Gates. It is a simply idea – a wire intertwining barbs to hold them together – that when it was first invented, and demonstrated using cattle, people doubted that the fragile looking fence could actually pen livestock in. Gates himself displayed the acumen of a businessman, and took bets on whether the fence could keep Texan longhorns enclosed. His penchant for gambling on the success of the invention earned him the nickname “Bet a Million” Gates. His wire fence probably made him that amount many times over!

The simplest design can turn out to be the most effective. And sometimes inventions are evolved as improvements over old existing items. For example, the piano was not invented until about 1750, over a hundred years after the organ was invented. But the origins of the piano were actually further back – traceable back to instruments such as the hydraulis, for example. And the piano can be seen as improvements over previous keyboard instruments, and even so when it was invented, the early design could still be improved. (Find out more about the piano’s origins here.)

So perhaps a good way to come up with an invention would be to try to improve existing designs. If you need a big idea, there’s a whole field of untapped potential to examine!

Music as a helpful distractor

We’ve all heard the expression “house of cards”. This means that things are built on shaky foundations, and are likely to fall in the future when the weight of expectations falls because the supports are not strong enough. When we use this expression, we talk about situations that are unsustainable, or lies that are told that require increasing lies to sustain.

One woman in Japan was worried about the impact of single-parenthood on her daughter. The girl had grown up without knowing her dad and was suffering emotionally, becoming withdrawn, not confident in her own abilities. In her company of her peers she also suffered because perhaps most of her friends had both sets of parents while she did not, and she felt lacking in comparison. The woman decided that drastic action was needed and in the end hired an actor to play the part of a long-last dad. The actor came from a casting agency and usually performed the role of an escort, such as a boyfriend or family member, on a one-off basis, but this job was different in that it required the actor to make prolonged appearances that extended beyond the usual parameters. While the mother took rather drastic actions, she saw how her daughter’s self-confidence returned and how this could be viewed as a constructive approach.

Yet is this merely a house of cards approach? This was voiced by the view of the actor playing the role of a father. Sooner or later the girl will learn that her father is not her birth father, the one person she calls Dad is actually one person who has no relation at all. It also brings in other complications. The actor found the mother falling in love with him, because he was so good at playing the part of a kind caring father that she was falling in love with his character! But how far can this go?

The pianist Fanny Hensel (nee Mendelssohn) grew up under her mother’s wing and while not strictly from a single-parent family, circumstances during that time meant she spent more under her mother’s influence. Lea Mendelssohn realised the advantages of music in teaching useful skills like perseverance and applied knowledge, which is why Fanny grew up to be an accomplished pianist. (You can read more about her in the Piano Lessons N8 website.) And if you are a single parent, starting up music lessons for your child may be a good thing for you too – it would give you time away from your child as they practice!

Doctor, doctor – and the case of Busoni

What do you do if you are feeling unwell? For example, if you wake up one morning and find that you have a cold, or even if that is the least of your worries – you may have a rasping throat, thumping headache and feel like the world is going to end – what would you do? Some of us would soldier on to work regardless of how we feel – maybe it is because we have used up our leave for the year and can’t really take the day off. Or maybe some of us work in a profession that looks down upon those that cannot tough it out. (“Policeman felled by common cold!”) Or perhaps if you are a parent with young children, and feel ill during their school holidays, you might think “I’d best go to work, it’s less stressful there than at home!”

Would you consider going to the doctor’s? Someone of us would question the reason for doing so if it were just a common complaint, such as having a flu virus. And you can see the point though – what can the GP do for you? There is little more that can be done apart from the recommendation of rest, lots of fluid, and pain relief for the period. In fact, you may just to let the illness run its course. But in some countries do you know that those who are ill have to visit their GP just to get a certification of their illness, which is then passed on to their employer or school as evidence of non-attendance? It may seem like a strange thing to do. If you are already ill, and need rest, why would you gee up all your energies to visit the doctor, and lounge in a waiting room full of equally sickly people and pick up all the mix of airborne viruses?

The classical piano composer Ferrucio Busoni was one of those people who refused to visit the doctor. He kept working and even when he became ill from fatigue, he refused to stop; unfortunately this is the extreme of balance! (You can read more about Busoni from the Piano Teacher N4 website.) Perhaps we should know when we need rest, and avoid going to the doctor for minor ailments, but if we suffer from prolonged poor health, take a bit of rest, and if health problems continue, see a doctor. That’s perhaps the best thing to do!

What music history tells us about addressing our reservations

Would you eat an insect if it meant that you were doing your part to save the earth as a world citizen? You might do it as a one-off, or as a dare among your friends, but chances are that insects aren’t really your preferred food at the moment, and you are not among the minority that considers grasshopper scratchings a treat on a Friday night at the pub. So why would you even condescend to even consider that thought and let it dwell in your head?

The truth is that such diets have been growing in popularity. Now diets have always been some sort of fad, as if someone thinks that one day we will stumble upon some sort of protein, carbohydrate and fat combination that allows us to eat as much food as we want, not have to exercise and still be ripped. Vegetarian diets and vegan diets have been getting more and more popular – but what is the reason for that? The reason is that meat production – especially beef from cows – accounts for more than twenty-five percent of greenhouse gas output by human beings. Reducing the consumption of meat would help reduce carbon emissions.

The problem also with reducing meat consumption is that the world population is growing and we cannot afford to carry on with this level of consumption. The world population stands at 7.5 billion people, and there is a finite amount of land for livestock farming. World population currently increases at a billion every two decades or less, and the growth will be exponential (the more people there are, the faster the population increases) so it is inevitable that there will not be enough meat for increasing populations. The solution, as some suggest, is to switch to an insect diet, for they are plentiful, but whether or not these take off really depends on how palatable they are, and how palatable the idea is!

Perhaps a chance encounter with someone who truly believes in this may change your reservations, if you have any. After all, the classical composer Leonard Bernstein, who had a successful career in music, would not have done so had his aunt not left a piano in his house while she was going through a separation. (Learn more about Bernstein from the Piano Lessons Archway website. The same goes for the blind Spanish composer, Joaquin Rodrigo, who would have stopped his career at its outset had he not met people who inspired him in spite of disability. (Read about Rodrigo from the Piano Lessons Archway page.

Eating insects may be a no-go for some for now, but as history shows us, a chance trial may be enough to change our minds!