Danger: Learning Ahead!

11892276_10153305961961144_3684635102753878591_nWith the start of another year just days away, it made me nostalgic to notice my first music dictionary on the shelf last night. My private teacher in high school, Mr. Vernon Ashcraft, had stressed the importance of taking a music dictionary along to college. I was very lucky to have a teacher in my youth who instilled the importance of knowing terms, composers, and music history. Although I would soon graduate to more lengthy tomes, encyclopedias and indices, this little book represents the gateway. I often browsed through the book, each entry leading to an exploration through the pages and a journey across the ages.
I wax nostalgic not because the pages are yellowed, nor the binding cracked. (Although a little at the price: Wow, $1.95!). Rather, It is the remembered thrill of learning, something that lies ahead for all students who are open and inquisitive.

Recommended Reading: Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life by Karen Armstrong

41scrfT+X3L._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_There are not many books that I would recommend everyone read, for there are indeed different strokes for different folks, but this is definitely book I would recommend to everyone on the planet. Karen Armstrong’s Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life stands alone as a book, but is also a support text for her visionary Charter for Compassion. Go to CharterForCompassion.org for more info. The very idea of setting out a 12-step program like those used in Alcoholics Anonymous points to the very real need that we must first realize “we have a problem” in the world. Armstrong not only identifies the problems caused by a lack of compassion, she also sets out a very logical plan to address this on a personal, community, national and global level. That she does so by concisely using examples from throughout history and across all faith and cultural traditions points to the only obvious solution available to us: living in compassion. I’ve rarely read a more intelligent and lucid approach that capably speaks to every person and every culture. This is a book I will read and refer to again and again. It is not a book to read and place on the shelf, but rather a book to live by, an attempt to shift the weight of intolerance towards the concept of compassion and understanding. Armstrong acknowledges that the path ahead will be difficult. It is not a rosy, feel good approach.The charge is to engage in a radical way of thinking, one supported throughout our shared human history by sages, poets, philosophers, playwrights, and enlightened leaders. It is a challenge for each of us to do our part, and as Gandhi urged, to be the change we wish to see in the world. I for one am thankful to Karen Armstrong for presenting this in an intelligent, thought-provoking book, and it is my honor to recommend it to readers everywhere.

Copyright, 2015 Robert Baldwin, Before the Downbeat

Orcas Islands Chamber Music Festival

2015-May-14-web-sliderI’m heading to the great Pacific Northwest to do a couple of classes and preconcert lecture for the Orcas Islands Chamber Music Festival this weekend.  Talking about music is a lot like writing about music, just no need to spell check! If you find yourself in the region, come check out this fantastic summer festival in an unforgettable setting!


The Lions of Childhood

Today’s blog entry is a departure from the usual posts about music.  But not really.  Musicians often have passions that are informed by compassion for others.  Now you know one of mine.

cecilthelionAslan. Elsa. The Lions Club International, Snagglepuss, Lippy the Lion. MGM. The Wizard of Oz.
Here’s an idea. Think of all the lions from your childhood: in literature, movies, cartoons, corporate logos, sports teams. The image is ubiquitous for a reason. The life of a big cat, and lions in particular, stand for something integral to the human psyche, as a mythic, yet LIVING symbol. It helps define our social group, concepts of strength, family, struggle and success. In many ways, the lion is a reflection of ourselves.

People have been the cause of many extinctions. Some by direct actions; some by changing the ecology. We wiped out the Passenger Pigeon in recent times, and probably the Mastodon and Wooly Mammoth in prehistoric times. Humans pushed the lion out of Europe and most of Asia. People almost wiped out the American Bison and beaver because of greed, but then the ECONOMICS changed. People almost wiped out the American Bald Eagle due to DDT usage, but realized in enough time for CHANGE to be made. But there is little doubt that our species exerts great pressure on the world.

But we humans also have a kernel of understanding, or at least the potential for it– knowing that PRESERVATION extends beyond our own species and individual self-interests. While civilization had always pressed against the wild, we as a species have also gained deep meaning from it. Cave paintings from far in the past show our interaction with nature. Religious stories and metaphors we still value today include every manner of animal: reptiles, primates, insects, amphibians, fish, whales, birds, etc. And big cats, notably lions.

OK. Now imagine yourself traveling 150-200+ years into the future. Children may read these works containing lions (or other animals) and see these images as no longer living. They may hear more than one movement of Camille Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals as fossils. They may need reminding that a lion was once a real thing, like a dinosaur or saber-toothed cat. Or a thing mythologized, like a dragon–something belonging to the past, not the present.

It’s not a far putt from where we are today. Does that bother you? It does me.
Now, think of doing something about it, stopping the slaughter and reversing the trend. We’ve done it before for some species. We’ve failed to save others. Will we choose to at least try? I, for one, know on which side of the line to stand.

Copyright, 2015. Robert Baldwin, Before the Downbeat.