The Spice and a Slice of Utah Life

Utah Life cover

I am happy to report that my poem, Spice of Life was featured in the July-August – Issue 3 of Utah Life magazine. This is a fantastic new publication that is worthy of a subscription if you like reading about Utah out-of-doors activities, and history in good essays, articles and poetry. Issue 3 is on newsstands now. Here’s the link to the magazine.

Spice of Life-Utah Life


Copyright, 2018. Robert Baldwin, Before the Downbeat

Images used with permission from the editors at Utah Life magazine.

Vital Vulnerability


Opening ourselves to our environment is vital to life, and critical to those desiring a life in the arts. I was happy to discover this poem by Ellen Bass, which beautifully illustrates this concept. It is important task for musicians, artists, writers, etc., to open to the experience beyond ourselves. It is one of the reasons I sometimes take my conducting students hiking, and tell them strange things like, “Before studying the score, go study one square foot of nature.” We all must experience the world outside of the music we so vigorously study. If neglected, we perhaps risk losing both the forest and the trees. Only once our attention is widened and our vulnerability exposed do we have a chance of reaching others with our art.

Any Common Desolation

can be enough to make you look up
at the yellowed leaves of the apple tree, the few
that survived the rains and frost, shot
with late afternoon sun. They glow a deep
orange-gold against a blue so sheer, a single bird
would rip it like silk. You may have to break
your heart, but it isn’t nothing
to know even one moment alive. The sound
of an oar in an oarlock or a ruminant
animal tearing grass. The smell of grated ginger.
The ruby neon of the liquor store sign.
Warm socks. You remember your mother,
her precision a ceremony, as she gathered
the white cotton, slipped it over your toes,
drew up the heel, turned the cuff. A breath
can uncoil as you walk across your own muddy yard,
the big dipper pouring night down over you, and everything
you dread, all you can’t bear, dissolves
and, like a needle slipped into your vein—
that sudden rush of the world.

~ Ellen Bass, Copyright 2016

Thanks to Ms. Bass for permission to reprint her poem. For more information on Ellen Bass and her poetry:

Copyright 2016, Robert Baldwin, Before the Downbeat

Break me off a piece of THAT!


“My idea is that there is music in the air, music all around us, the world is full of it and you simply take as much as you require.”—Edward Elgar

The mountains, gorgeous; the rivers, majestic: the lakes, peaceful.  Just having returned from a family vacation at the Tetons, I am reminded of how important it is to take a step away to recharge.  I’m not “really back” yet, but I thought I’d share a few quick thoughts.

Jonah Lehrer writes about this in his new book, Imagine: How Creativity Works.  (It’s a very good read, by the way).  In the opening section he talks of how Bob Dylan was burned out from touring and simply quit, disengaging from his career.  He moved up to a cabin in rural New York and simply dropped off the radar.  That is, until the muse hit him again.  Being a creative person he couldn’t avoid it.  It was the hustle-bustle activity of touring that blocked his creative focus.  Thankfully, he dropped back in after resting.

Rest is not the point, even though it is a nice thing to experience.  It has more to do with providing the space to allow the creative process to happen.  Classical music is filled with stories touting the effectiveness of getting away.  Mahler escaped the rigors of a conducting career in Vienna to compose at small Komponierhäuschen or composing hut in the Austrian countryside.  Also inspired by nature, Beethoven took frequent walks.  John Cage would meditate on the I-Ching.

Lehrer’s book cites impressive research that explains why this works in the brain.  But while understanding the science tells us how it works, our commitment to the personal experience confirms why it is important.

“It is always the same with me; only when I experience something do I compose, and only when composing do I experience! After all, a musician’s nature can hardly be expressed in words.”—Gustav Mahler

About 30 years ago, I received an interesting summons from a professor.  I was a senior in college, on the road to a musical career, and was a serious overachiever.  This professor, Dr. Donald Hamann had done important research on musician burnout.  He saw in me the potential for success, and the potential for burnout if I wasn’t careful.  If not for him, I may not be doing what I do today.  He told me to make sure I spent a part of each day, week, month and year “not” doing what I thought I needed to do.  Interestingly, he encouraged me to make a routine of it.

So, whether it’s off to the wilderness or off to walk the dogs, I gladly take the respite to recharge the batteries.  Thanks to Dr. Hamann, all those years ago.  Now…where did I put that score I was studying?

Copyright, 2012 Robert Baldwin