Classical Music and Mindfulness

I asked for a violin at age 3. By 5, I could identify different recordings of The Marriage of Figaro (my brother and I each had our own favorite). My grandfather played violin in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, my mother is a cellist, and some of my most cherished memories are of putting on small recitals with them when we all got together. During one of these performances, I made special note to the room of adults not to clap between movements. Even at that young age, I had enthusiastically soaked up on concert etiquette, and I felt it important enough to enforce.

Not just hobby, music is a major force in my life and has profoundly shaped my brain and character. As many families follow a religion, ours was music. The traditions of music from both sides of the stage are integral to who I am and the people and values I identify with. Call me a snob, but I don’t go to your place of worship and disrespect your customs.



There are some incredible moments that transcend this rule. Music is supposed to be emotional and exceptional talent should be recognized. Most musicians and maestros have a problem with applause out of false obligation. I’m not saying you need to be an expert in classical music, but I charge everyone to understand a few points that I think play into some greater issues that I find with the contemporary human condition.

Silence is important.

It’s becoming increasingly rare. Even as I sit here writing in my apartment building’s lounge alone, there is ambient background music. Text messages come in and my attention is diverted. Yes, I consider electronic messages to be a form of noise. There’s something physically uncomfortable about silence. If you’ve ever experienced a Joseph Beuys felt space or sculpture, you know what I’m talking about.

Silence is also difficult to tolerate emotionally. There is a strong pull to fill the space, especially when just moments before it was so full. This is the entryway to my issue with not only applause between movements, but what it represents. I see the silence as a container for the noise. Think about it from another angle. In writing, the form — including the white space — dictates so much of the meaning. I feel this way about music as well.

Also, the silence is an important place to reflect. Music can be an intense and multi-dimensional experience. It’s essential in order to process the emotions and form opinions. All too often, this part gets overlooked. This leads into my next topic.

Not everything is awesome. 

The thing about the silence is that you get to decide what you thought about the music you just heard and recharge for the music that you’re about to hear. Love it, hate it, or completely unsure about it, taking the moment to think and reflect will probably create a deeper and more lasting connection with the experience that will enhance your understanding of yourself, your tastes, and your future experiences. If you jump to applaud because you think you have to, you lose out on this process.

Music isn’t all cerebral. It’s also built to be visceral. If you’re not already clapping at the wrong time without caring whether or not anyone else is because you’re so moved, maybe it’s because it didn’t deserve it. Sit on that for a while. That doesn’t make it bad. There are those surprises that blow you away. There are those moments of climax where you can’t help but burst into applause. It’s also ok if it’s not one of those moments.

Be present.

Yes, it’s pretty cool that you went to a concert. Go ahead and post it on your social media. After that, turn off your phone (!!!!!!!!!!!) and settle into the present moment. I recently went to a concert where a number of phones rang audibly during the first half of the performance. A member of the audience got up during the break and reminded everyone to turn off their phones. That deserved and received a rowdy applause.

Another concert I recently went to included run times for each movement in the program. I prickled at this. Something I love about music is really getting lost in it, devoting my whole self for that span of time. How present are you in the moment when you’re fixating on the end? I consider being present during the noise is as important as reflection is during the silence.

Is it sometimes difficult to dig in and commit to the moment, but you’re already there. You carved out the time, now give it the space. This is a practice that drastically enhances the experience and has been proven to make you happier.


Oh, one more word of advice (I’m also a photographer): using flash photography is not only rude to the rest of the audience and disruptive to performers, it’s pointless for you. The flash on your point and shoot or even the one on your DSLR isn’t meant for long range (like, not more than a few feet in front of you). Your image isn’t enhanced and you’re just running down your own battery.


On Being a “Writer” (part 3: When You’re Not Writing)

I am a writer.

Even when I’m out to dinner, or at the gym, or anywhere, I am a writer. Therefore, that is always tinting the lens through which I perceive the world. However, I cannot expect of myself to always be in the act of writing. I have collected a few tips on how to nurture and maximize your creative and entrepreneurial self that will help when you actually do sit down to work.

1. Feed the body, feed the brain. Stop to eat, and make it separate. Throughout my time, especially in New York City, I have either neglected to eat or just worked on through my meal. These are both bad ideas. Working through your lunch, for instance, besides sullying your keyboard or screen, clouds your mind. I am great at multitasking; that doesn’t mean I have to do it. Nor should you. Forgetting to eat is even worse. You are not doing yourself any favors by fasting. In order to think clearer, communicate better, and control your mood (amongst other things), you need food and water.

2. Sleep, and sleep better. You’ve read like, a million Business Insider posts on this (or maybe that’s just my feed). When I was in driving school (as an 18 year old, because my parents are over-protective) we learned that sleep deprivation basically renders you at the same level of function as being drunk. Do you go to work drunk? I certainly hope not. Also, the quality of sleep matters. Most people say that looking at the bright light of your computer/phone/tv/tablet screen is sincerely screwing up your circadian rhythm. I think about it this way: when I go to Times Square at night, I am instantly stimulated. The lights and the action trick you into thinking it’s daytime.

3. Stop thinking about it. When I’m wholly engrossed in a project (aka all the time), I want to throw myself into it, full force. I think about it while I’m brushing my teeth, when I’m in the shower, when I’m taking a run. I’m not trying to say that you should curtail your thoughts when they come. However, one of the most important practices I’ve learned is mindfulness. Learning to control my mind and commit to intention has been one of the most powerful tools for everything in my life. To start, take one of those activities, even brushing your teeth, and instead of letting your mind wander, focus on your action. Objectively notice and describe. If you do this every day, I guarantee that you will be stronger of mind.

4. Disconnect. There are so many reasons why I love my iPhone. I’m the kind of person who can be known to pick up the phone in the shower. However, there are also so many reasons why my iPhone probably killing me. Disconnect, intentionally, once a day. I actually try to practice making a full night without my phone. Obviously, stay safe. But it’s a beautiful thing to let it go. You allow yourself to look and commit yourself to the moment. The things you notice, the people you meet, and the interactions you have will be different. I’m not casting a judgement, either way. But try to do something different now and again; especially if that something seems a bit unnatural or even scary.

5. Exercise. I am not the greatest at this one. I’ve gone through my phases of running 50 miles per month. My recent exercise addiction is Physique 57. Whatever it is, find your exercise ecstasy. If you’re unreliable in this department, like I am, find a buddy to keep you accountable. And again, keep this fun. Your brain won’t like it if you’re constantly pushing though unnecessary physical or emotional pain. Exercise is awesome because it likely incorporates a bunch of the points above.

The thing to keep in mind, through all of this, is balance. Challenge yourself and be kind to yourself. Set goals and try new things. If it doesn’t work out as planned, don’t beat yourself up over not getting it right. Find what might have “gone wrong” and go from there. Focus on not what you couldn’t get to, but what you could, and how you did it. One of the strongest people I know told me this once: the secret to success is self control. There is so much of the day that is unpredictable. There is so much about life that you cannot control. The one realm where you can and should have full reign is yourself. I’m not saying to live a crazy, regimented life along someone else’s standards; go figure yourself out, and figure out how to change what you don’t like. Nobody else can do that for you.

Control, Oliver Emberton