What’s By Your Deck Chair? Suggested Summer Reading

Tom Merrill • Travel/Festivals • June 8, 2018

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Finally—summer. Congratulations…you have made it to the end of the school year and survived the sprint of final concerts, finishing grades, graduation, festival performances, spring musical, and any of the other activities that tend to get squeezed into the last four weeks of school.

It’s a perfect time to relax and recharge. But let’s face it—being who we are as music educators we never quite “turn it off” completely. That’s both good and bad. One of the ways I compromise is picking up some reading that might inspire, inform, and help me see things in a new light. As I looked over the bookshelves in my office, a number of titles that I’ve collected over the years spanning my dual career as a music educator and in the business world stood out. They touch on music, creativity, leadership, inspiration…and sometimes life in general. Some are deeper reads, and some have short chapters more conducive to a day at the beach.

Leonard Bernstein by Humphrey Burton. I mention this one because we’re celebrating the centennial anniversary of the birth of this legendary American conductor, composer, and teacher. It’s a big read at over 500 pages, but I think it is a definitive look at this remarkable person from our immediate history and the people and events that shaped and inspired both him and his music—and by extension, the American classical and Broadway music scene. I’ve always found the stories behind the music fascinating…and if you’re thinking about programming any of his works in the coming year, this might spark some ideas for you.

Changing Lives by Tricia Tunstall. The subtitle of this book is “Gustavo Dudamel, El Sistema, and the Transformative Power of Music.” If you’re not familiar with the concept of El Sistema that came out of Venezuela and is developing in cities in the United States, this is a terrific introduction that shares the story of the positive musical and social change this has brought to thousands of young musicians. It is timely since the founder of the movement, Jose Antonio Abreu, passed away this spring. It is also a revealing view of what music education can look like outside of our American school systems, and what can be possible in the most challenging circumstances.

The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader by John C. Maxwell. Combining short illustrative stories about famous leaders and practical advice, this book is full of great reminders about character, commitment, focus, initiative, listening, relationships, servanthood, and 14 other qualities that are key to successful leadership. Qualities that universally contribute to great teaching as well.

How Full is Your Bucket? by Tom Rath and Donald O. Clifton. The premise of the book is simple. Everyone carries a bucket and a ladle. Positive interactions help fill your bucket, and negative interactions draw from your bucket. The book provides a look at how even small interactions through the course of a day can impact your life and the lives of those around you. There’s advice here that can help better navigate relationships in the rehearsal room, with colleagues, among family, and in the stressful reactionary world in which we live. (I’m going to re-read this one.)

Walt Disney by Neal Gabler. Back to another thick biography, and I am an admitted Disneyphile. Subtitled “The Triumph of the American Imagination”, it is similar to the Bernstein biography in that it provides insight into the genius of one of the most creative individuals of the 20th century. The detailed stories of his successes— and his many failures—displays his “never give up” optimism that led to some of the most iconic moments in American entertainment. You’ll see the films and theme parks in an entirely new light. (Bonus: for a musically-oriented break from all this reading, watch the documentary film The Boys, about the legendary songwriting brothers Richard and Robert Sherman— Walt’s “go to” team whose work includes Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, and numerous attractions from the theme parks.)

Creating Magic: 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies From a Life at Disney by Lee Cockerell. Another Disney connection, he was Executive Vice President of Operations for Walt Disney World. And while that may seem a far cry from being on the podium in front of a school ensemble, the strategies he shares can be applied to building a successful music program with students and parents deeply engaged towards and taking ownership of the goals of the organization. While written from a business perspective, it is not full of “corporate speak” but rather is a very readable and fascinating behind the scenes look at that mammoth organization.

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull. The title pretty much says it all, with the author being the President of Pixar Animation…someone who knows a thing or two about creativity…and told through interesting stories from life at the studio. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…by Richard Carlson. A book filled with terrific little two page reminders on how to keep perspective and take care of yourself through it all.

Have a terrific summer!

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