The Sound of Music

Does how music sounds matter, as long as the sounds move you?



It’s nothing short of miraculous! Thanks to some pretty smart people and their very nifty technological creations, I can listen to just about any piece of music I want, whenever I want and wherever I want. If I’m having a flashback to basement jams at my neighbour’s house during my teens, I can make Captain Beyond’s “I Can’t Feel Nothing” or King Crimson’s “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part II” blare wirelessly from a speaker across the room. I can wonder aloud what Steve Vai’s been up to for the last decade, and then tell myself to wonder no more. A few clicks and I’m melting on discovering the surreal “Tender Surrender”. Want to relive that live bass solo from Alain Caron… do it. After the radio teased me with “Smoked Meat” from Dawn Tyler-Watson’s new album… bam! Thanks to Spotify, I’m streaming the whole album moments later. It’s never been easier for music lovers to wrap themselves in whichever musical blanket makes them feel good.

I know, I know. There was plenty to be said for unwrapping a new LP, cassette or CD, dropping the needle and settling in for a ride. It was hard work letting that go, as I lamented in my post A Minor Thing. Ultimately, it’s about the music. Does it move you? Whenever you can answer yes, it’s a wonderful feeling and, I think, a noteworthy accomplishment from the artist’s perspective. Last night, I dove head first (with the heart following closely) into the pages of Neil Peart’s book Far and Wide (I’m already having a tough time tearing myself away – as was the case with his previous prose). In it he shares a quote from big-band leader and clarinetist Artie Shaw that I found both funny and reflective of my preferences: “I could never understand why they had to dance to my music. I made it good enough to listen to.”

What makes it good enough to listen to for you? Whatever it is involves a mix of things. One of those things may be sound quality. Arguments can be made as to whether advances in sound quality have always been to benefit of the music. As I write this, a forty year old live version of Cream’s “Crossroads” is playing in the background. It sounds just fine to me! That said, I’m not an audiophile. I just like a decently mixed recording and some means to hear it at a pleasurable volume. So it was that yesterday afternoon I was reminded of one of the few situations where, regardless of how you feel about the piece of music that’s playing, you want it to stop. Immediately.

You see, my credit card underwent a re-birth last week after being compromised. In the short term, and I didn’t know it was short term until yesterday, my history of credit card statements was no longer available to me online. Uh-oh! It’s tax season and I need this depressing information. I got on the phone with my bank and, true to form, got bounced around a bit. This meant that I spent a bit of time on hold. See where I’m going? Despite Space X being able to land a stage 1 rocket on a small platform floating in the ocean, we still can’t get bearable musical sound quality while waiting on hold. The banks are one of the few institutions with more money than Elon Musk, surely they must be able to give me better sound quality while I patiently anticipate the arrival of a human!

This post was to begin as a rant about this unsightly stain on the resume of western capitalism. Prior to putting fingers to keys in WordPress, I opted for Google. “Why does on hold music sound so bad?” is what I typed. To my surprise, it’s not a conspiracy of the Secret Society of Music Haters (previously known as the Britney Spears Fan Club). In fact, it’s just about science. And I’m really bad at science so I’ll summarize as follows. Phone signals are sampled and compressed in a narrow range of frequencies which is barely good enough to make human voices sound clear. But we’re used to human voices so it’s not that bad. While compressing down to that range, it eliminates a ton of the high and low ends of the music coming through and turns it into the mush with which we are systematically tortured. Here’s a better explanation from someone who works in the industry.

This glaring exception can now be relegated to the “who knew?” folder and we can get back to the music. I now realize that I began by essentially thanking science for allowing me to enjoy art at my convenience. This form of art was at the core of humanity well before science or language appeared with their “look at me, I’m so cool” attitude. So I’ll end by thanking the men and women who create the music that moves us so. They who empty their souls into their words, melodies and rhythms and let us share in their joy, anger, sadness and despair. They who hone their craft and dare to be honest in their art. They who are composing, practicing and playing day in and day out; night in and night out, whether there’s anyone listening or not. They who are eking out a living by doing what they love authentically. To them, I am grateful beyond words.

Music is a safe kind of high. –  Jimi Hendrix

Sensible Shoes


In the mood to write after a hiatus, I gave my brain the task to answer “what shall I write about?”. It’s often a title or theme that gets me going. I cannot yet explain why Sensible Shoes popped into my head so quickly and clearly. Perhaps it will become obvious to me as I continue writing.

One quick Google search later, I’m somewhat surprised to discover that “sensible shoes” is not a common expression, beyond talking about one’s shoes. Being no more a shoe guy than a car guy, I struggle to think of why I feel like I’ve come across those two words frequently enough to consider them an expression. In any case, our mind works wonders and I think mine is simply finding new ways to paraphrase and emphasize the message I most need to hear right now.

If sensible shoes are about practicality and comfort, then they are indeed my kind of shoe. Though I have a knack for occasionally making things more complicated than strictly necessary, my preference definitely lies in the pragmatic and simple. The purge and downsizing described in A Minor Thing are examples of it. On the professional front, however, my efforts to find my new comfort zone continue to stretch and conflict me.

I’m currently mostly a training facilitator. There are many formats in which to exercise this work.  Some are more akin to being a professional speaker (short-ish presentations to large groups) while at the other end it’s practically one-on-one coaching. I’ve dabbled in a large chunk of that range and I’ve identified some settings that just don’t suit me. I’ve also pinned down some passion points and core skills that fit me quite nicely. Yet it all still feels too scattered to me. It’s as though I’ve uncovered amazing ingredients from various recipes and I can’t see how to turn them into one fine dish.

For all I know, this wonder-dish is staring me in the face and I’m blind to it. Whether it is or not, I am wayyyy over-thinking how to choose my road forward. The options and permutations are too many. The pros and cons lists are in different languages and I lack the conversion tools to get them on the same plane.  This leads someone like me away from decision-making… or to decisions that hold for anywhere from 24 to 72 hours. It is with that in mind that on New Year’s Eve, I declared “Act” as my word for 2017. I felt mildly satisfied with that, knowing that I’ve tried that mindset before and it wasn’t quite enough. But it’s a start!

A few days ago, I was browsing an article shared by a friend. One of its recommendations was “make a decision”. Since this was aligned with my theme, I gave that section a closer read and discovered the suggestion that “good enough” is often “good enough”. The critical part of me (it’s a rather large part) first thought: “well, that’s definitely not going to work for everyone”. This was followed by the realization that it typically works for me! Yet I am not applying “good enough” to many aspects of my work choices, resulting in some unwanted stress.

In fact, re-reading this last paragraph, I see that exact inner conflict illustrated. My belief is that there’s nothing that works for everyone. I’m quite comfortable with this belief, but not what it leads to. My sense is that many people do believe, or at least act like they do, that there are “correct answers or ways”. This clash between dogmatic certainty and the willingness to look at people and the world as too complex to have binary solutions causes me much grief. My brain understands that nothing will work for everyone, but somehow refuses to allow this insight to give me a break when it comes to designing and delivering my work. I find myself trying to find the right or perfect model, practice exercise, solution or word… instead of looking for ones that will mostly do some good to a fair chunk of people.

All of a sudden, one of these approaches strikes me as particularly sensible!

“The intelligent man finds almost everything ridiculous, the sensible man hardly anything.”   –    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe



The turbulence has subsided and outside the small window, I see magic. The clouds are scattered, some looking lonelier than others. The early evening sky is casting hazy shadows on the desolate, yet inviting beauty that is the rocky island of Newfoundland. From 32,000 feet, the vast unspoiled land below reveals its disdain for flatness. Also showcased is water, water everywhere… and that’s while flying over the center of the island. Imagine the Minnesotan land of 10,000 lakes. Now imagine that every one of those lakes is broken into 78 pieces of all shapes and sizes. It’s like a massive storm swept over the land and left innumerable puddles of water. I find it quite magical indeed.

I have a strong Newfoundland bias. It was born at sunrise on a clear July morning in 2007 as we drove off the ferry at Port-Aux-Basques and the Long Range Mountains slowly came into view.



I was hooked immediately. Moments ago the site of that picture was just below me as we prepared to leave the island behind. I’m feeling a familiar longing: a longing to spend more time here.

I’ve been fortunate to visit many times since that July morning; work calling me over on most of those occasions, as was the case for the last two days. I joined a dear friend and colleague in the delivery of a leadership workshop for some of her clients. We have our own brand of magic when we collaborate to support and challenge groups like this one, and as she dropped me off at the airport, we both felt pretty darn good about our contribution to the growth of these dedicated folks.

In the background, however… turbulence. My friend’s wedding was a motivation for another Newfoundland trip a few years ago. Sadly, her relationship is coming to an end and, as is often the case, this separation is a trigger for some reflection and questioning. Re-uniting the dream team for this workshop also brought my own internal debates to the forefront. These co-facilitated sessions that get people to plunge into the deep end of the self-awareness pool are more rewarding and pleasant for me than facilitating on my own, but are they enough to keep me fully engaged in this work I’ve been enjoying for almost 9 years now? I really don’t know; though I think I really do!

The fog that is hampering the clarity of my way forward is no doubt contributing to my hesitation to act. Fear of turbulence resulting from making a change while unsure of my desired destination is a potent inhibitor.

Turbulence, however, is what reminds you that you’re flying. In fact, I’m constantly amazed at how relatively little bouncing around there is as we zoom through the air at 900km/hr. And so it is with life… mine anyway. I’m extremely fortunate on so many levels and I would do well to use this light turbulence as a reminder of the awesome journey which I continue with gratitude.

“Turbulence is life force. It is opportunity. Let’s love turbulence and use it for change.” – Ramsey Clark

Turbulence – Steve Howe

Minor Thing


“I change the key from C to D
  You see to me it’s just a minor thing”

After spending almost a year and a half living in our 5th wheel trailer, Nathalie and I moved into an apartment last week. The camper adventure was magic, and so will be whatever comes next. And as big a deal as this adventure was, a collection of small things added up to make it happen.

We call him Joey!

Many, many conversations where we dreamt, challenged our assumptions, found alignment and (very loosely) planned. The sum of these conversations led us to take both small and big steps. It led us to become more and more open to possibilities and to notice opportunities for actions that would eventually take us wherever we wanted to go.

Small Steps

Continue reading “Minor Thing”

Right of Way


Two-wheeled vehicles and their riders have been in the news a lot in Ottawa this week, and the news is frustratingly sad. One cyclist died in a collision with a truck; one is fighting for his life; another sustained serious injuries. All in the space of a few days. And all in one medium-sized and bike-friendly city. There was also this interaction between car and bicycle in Toronto recently. Oh, and let’s not forget the folks on motorcycles like this one, which has been all over the news this week, again in Ottawa.

This has me thinking of three things that are relevant to safety on our roads, and probably in general: gauging, coding and owning. Continue reading “Right of Way”

Screams & Tears



Two long… one short… one long. Outside the window, the clouds fail at their attempt to make us uneasy. Too scattered to mount a coherent offense; their fluffy bottoms a wispy grey that doesn’t quite hide their whiter core.

Two long… one short… one long. A few rows forward, preoccupied parents seem to be avoiding all eye contact, as the two tiny humans they created attempt unlikely harmonies at 98 decibels. My parental memory database classifies these sounds as mere fussiness. “Let them wail”, I think to myself. “Don’t reward this amateur power play”, I think to myself. Of course, this is precisely the type of situation that, as a parent, I use to dread more than a root canal. The mere thought of my kids vocalizing their hunger, pain or simple displeasure while I have to face an audience of sixty trapped and weary travelers was enough to make me avoid trains and planes when the boys were babies. Now, with some distance, I still say… let them wail! It’s nothing a carefully selected playlist can’t drown out if need be.

Two long… one short… one long. This loud and repetitive warning announces the train’s imminent high-speed pass at your local railroad crossing. Continue reading “Screams & Tears”