Why We Make Music

Is the performance and teaching of music still bringing you joy? Is music feeding your soul? Are you communicating inspiration to your students? Do you feel the pressure of competition; of being an award-winning teacher or having your students succeed to the next level? Are you tired of playing and teaching the same Level 2 or 3 pieces?

Is it possible to sustain the joy and inspiration of music while still negotiating through the required competitions, repertoire levels and external challenges of maintaining a successful music studio?

I believe the answer is YES! And the pathway to ‘having your cake and eating it’ is within our choice.

IT’S TIME FOR THE MAGIC PILL! The subliminal message: “SATB” remember that!

Is it possible we may have been detoured from a very important reason for making music?

I invite you to compare your reason for spending $70 to attending a concert of your favorite artist to your reason for attending a class recital of your students for the advancement to their next level. It’s even possible that you could be listening to the same Mozart Sonata at both the student and professional concerts!

Most of us who put down our hard-earned money to attend concerts by great artists want something in return for our investment. We may be less impressed by the performers technique or care how much money they are paid. We want to be inspired, to get excited. We want to have our heart touched by the amazing music and it’s beautiful performance. We may want to be humbled by the beauty we experience. We want to take a journey, to fulfill a fantasy. I believe what we really want is to FEEL something. Isn’t that why we make music?

Music conveys feelings, and it conveys them so richly that our mood lifts and our bodies respond. And if you’re a performer, not only do you want to be moved by the music yourself, you also want to reach out to your audience and communicate with them, too. But in teaching music, your teacher also knows how important it is for you to get high grades in exams, to be one of the players or singers chosen in an audition, to win that scholarship or competition!

I’ve noticed there are two opposing approaches to our motivations for making music. One seems to have been designed so the audience is watching and listening TO THE PERFORMERS, while the other has the musicians communicating content, feeling and expression TO THE AUDIENCE.

I believe we’ll find there’s a big difference between the QUALITY of the music we make when our aim is to bring attention to OURSELVES (to win a prize or competition), and when our aim is to, touch, move, channel inspiration to our AUDIENCE.

Are you a pianist, teacher or a conductor of an orchestra, band, choir or jazz ensemble? Are you the one who decides the program for yourself, your group or your students?

What pieces are you going to perform? Are there obligations, requirements you need to meet in choosing some or all of the music you play? Are your choices determined by music that is written for the purpose of acquiring a technical skill-like a concert etude? If so, are there still some options or ‘free choices’ for you to decide what you like to perform?

The celebrated concert band conductor, friend and colleague Eugene Corporon

Music has the potential to empower us, to enrich and change lives — so there should be a convincing and compelling reason for the music we choose to play.

I hope I can help you expand your options in planning your programs to include some music that you may have not considered – to achieve a different balance

between music that expresses feeling as opposed to music that satisfies or teaches a skill level. It is even possible to include music that we are required to play but may perform it with a different purpose: that being to share the message of inspiration expressed by the composer.

Here are some ways of doing that.

Throughout your career, you will have many challenges and obstacles that will inhibit you ability to choosing the kind of music you perform for your students, yourself or ensembles you lead. After all, you have to complete college, get certified, get a job, keep your job, support a family and pay the bills while you are wearing the proud badge of being a happy, inspired musician!

Sorry, not so easy! If you are a young musician, you will naturally devote many hours to the mastery of your instrument, technique and proficiency – and that effort will include examinations, grades, and sometimes competitions. This isn’t going to change.

I think you’ll find, though, that you can still fulfill these requirements while playing music that might include some humor or inspire dance movements, or imitate particular characters or moods. Imagine making your teachers, judges or jury smile, as they feel that special energy in your performance – that, in itself could contribute to your success!

Eventually the day will come when you are free of obligations, regulations, recognitions, competitions, and difficult personalities when we finally have the freedom to play whatever music you choose!

BUT in the mean time, as I mentioned, you can still choose to have “some of your cake and eat it!” Lets begin with just four specific suggestions–that have clear potential to share meaningful feelings with your audience.

Remember S.A.T.B. Here it comes!

Look at the illustration. Below the yellow brick road you will see how you have to meet the ‘earthly’ challenges we face throughout your life that

can be an obstacle to the joy of making music. Above the ‘yellow brick road’ however you have the ability to balance these challenges with ‘SATB’ music that can make a difference in your life and the lives of others who hear your music.


I invite you to include just ONE piece of music from this list of four categories (SATB) in your future programs. You may already be including these kinds of music in your programs, of course – and if so, I’m suggesting you consider programming a little MORE than you do already. The difference is that you are choosing to play music for the expressed purpose of communicating feelings and inspiration to your audience.

  • SOUL MUSIC: Music to reach the soul – music that tugs at the heart strings, inspiring, compassionate, loving music, secular or sacred – music that expands consciousness.
  • AWARENESS Music: Music that brings awareness and healing to the world – to the environment, the planet, music of peace, humanity, charity, and social justice.
  • TRANSPORTING Music: Music to transport the audience – music that tells stories or weaves fantasies. Opera music, theater music, music with narration or programmatic music.
  • BODY MUSIC: Music that you feel in your blood – music drawn from the world’s many cultures: Latin Music, Irish Music, Middle Eastern Music, Folk Music — music inspired by the voices, movements or rhythms of the world.

In my book, The Mastery of Music, I interviewed Dale Clevenger, celebrated retired principal horn player of the Chicago Symphony. Dale told me he’d had open-heart surgery for a heart murmur, and when it was all over, he tearfully thanked his surgeon for discovering the problem and then saving his life. He hugged his doctor every time he saw him. And this is what his doctor said:

Dale, we physicians and surgeons deal with muscle, tissue and bones… but what YOU do affects our souls.

Later in the interview, Dale told me:

I believe that what we do as musicians is very important. When we play, we make people happy –sometimes at a very troubled time or in a very troubled world. To me, playing music is a very high calling: it is a responsibility — and it’s a sacred trust.

Let me emphasize those two points: “Music is a high calling” and “Music is a sacred trust.”

Accepting this sacred trust and responsibility reminds us that we have the opportunity to give something very special to those who listen to our music. By choosing to focus not on technique or approval but on sharing our deep musical feelings with others, we can make it so. You have an opportunity to give something very special to those who listen to your music. To Communicate FEELINGS and INSPIRATIN through S.A.T.B.

Music for the Soul, Awareness, Transporting and the Body.