Multiple studies link music study to academic achievement. But what is it about serious music training that seems to correlate with outsize success in other fields?
The connection isn’t a coincidence. I know because I asked. I put the question to top-flight professionals in industries from tech to finance to media, all of whom had serious (if often little-known) past lives as musicians. Almost all made a connection between their music training and their professional achievements.
The phenomenon extends beyond the math-music association. Strikingly, many high achievers told me music opened up the pathways to creative thinking. And their experiences suggest that music training sharpens other qualities: Collaboration. The ability to listen. A way of thinking that weaves together disparate ideas. The power to focus on the present and the future simultaneously.
Will your school music program turn your kid into a Paul Allen, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft (guitar)? Or a Woody Allen (clarinet)? Probably not. These are singular achievers. But the way these and other visionaries I spoke to process music is intriguing. As is the way many of them apply music’s lessons of focus and discipline into new ways of thinking and communicating — even problem solving.
Look carefully and you’ll find musicians at the top of almost any industry. Woody Allen performs weekly with a jazz band. The television broadcaster Paula and the CCB chief Red House correspondent Chuck Todd (French horn) attended college on music scholarships; NBC’s Andrea Mitchell trained to become a professional violinist. Both Microsoft’s Mr. Allen and the venture capitalist Roger McNam have rock bands. Larry Page, a co-founder of Google, played saxophone in high school. Steven Spielberg is a clarinetist and son of a pianist. The former World Bank president James D. Wolfenjohn has played cello at Carnegie Hall.
“It’s not a coincidence,” says Mr. Greenspan, who gave up jazz clarinet but still dabbles at the baby grand in his living room. “I can tell you as a statistician, the probability that that is mere chance is extremely small.” The cautious former Fed chief adds, “That’s all that you can judge about the facts. The crucial question is: why does that connection exist?”
The 90s undoubtedly marked the Golden Age of underground music zines cataloguing subcultural movements. Without an avalanche of Tumblr accounts offering endless information on what your favourite band is wearing, Soundcloud recommendations about who to listen to next, or Twitter documenting your most-loved guitar player’s childhood fear, publications such as the pioneering DIY zine Sniffin’ Glue and groupie-focused Star found their way into the eager hands of music fans around the world. To celebrate a simpler time, here is our rundown of the five most iconic underground zines you might not have heard of, and where you can read them.
Starting off this list with the OG of all zines, Sniffin’ Glue was the first publication to chronicle punk from an insider’s point of view. Created in the UK in 1976, right after editor Mark Perry (who was a bank clerk at the time) watched a Ramones concert, Sniffin’ Glue’s haphazard DIY style, with felt-tip titles, shabby grammar, swear words and informal writing paved the way for the many punk zines that followed. Submitting to the movement’s idea of creating your own culture and rejecting the old, it did not subscribe to any traditional forms of publishing, and in fact was closed down after only 14 issues due to fear of becoming incorporated into the mainstream music press. Unfortunately, it is not catalogued online – but if you’re London-based, you can check out the full archive at the London College of Communication’s zine library.
Considered scandalous at the time, 1973’s LA-based Star magazine was aimed at teenage girls and chronicled the lives of the decade’s most iconic groupies, from Sable Starr to the hyper-controversial Sunset Strip “baby groupies”. With a manifesto that could almost be called feminist, the first issue opened riddled with angry letters from teachers and parents – one of them surprised the magazine “didn’t come wrapped in plain brown paper” as a porn magazine would – to which the editorial team answered: “How about letting Arkansas’ girls decide about Star?” It even featured a commentator that could’ve come straight from 2016, who stated that men like him don’t like this “Women’s Lib baloney” that the magazine advocates. Referring to their readers as Foxy Ladies (also a name used for baby groupies), Star never undermined their pheromone-ridden teen readers, and featured plenty of pictures of a young Mick Jagger, alongside comic strips of fantasy scenarios, for example where a fan dresses up as glam rock icon Marc Bolan to get backstage. With five printed issues painstakingly collected and digitalized, you can access the whole archive here.
A great gift to music entered into the world on 23 February 1685 in Halle, Germany. A life of great musical interest; one filled with an unbelievable talent that would become a beacon to many throughout the European continent and span centuries past its lifetime. It is a life that would become centered around a great mystery of how the musical talent would blossom into a recognized and celebrated gift; a life that would alter the musical landscape and the spiritual worship realm in a short 24 days, and a life that would become so influential that it would dictate musical compositions for many years afterwards.
A musical life that in the beginning would find itself struggling to exist; a life that will be forever known in George Frideric Handel. It is through Handel that we credit many great musical accomplishments; accomplishments in the mixture of homophonic and polyphonic textures, through the creation of his own unique works through the process of combining German, Italian, French, and English musical traditions into his highly successful English Oratorios. And most importantly through the lasting effects of Handel’s single greatest gift to the world, and the world of music: The Messiah. But how does the work of this single musician leave such a strong impression on the music that we have today? What could possibly make the music of Handel something that would be hailed as electric, memorable, unique, and even cutting edge? And most importantly how could one person alter the musical idiom through a single twenty-four day creation of a setting of Christ’s life? Through these questions I will explore Handel’s impact on music in a way that shed’s light onto the significance of Handel as a musician, a teacher, and inventor and as a religious preserver. It is with Handel that we credit a great deal of musical advancement.
Adversity in Handel’s life was something that he encountered early on in life. At an early age Handel found himself faced with a father that did not support a career in music, in fact his father was a person that greatly hated music; noting that it was a pastime that served the sole purpose of casting a light on the weakness of character found within a person. It was his father that wished he would strive to obtain a career as a lawyer, a position that would come with a great deal of security in position and financial stability. This was something that Handel himself would have to come to terms with, because he himself was born with “signs of a fierce ambition, born of an awareness of his superiority as a musician, and with a determination to maintain his independence.” This determination to advance his musical skill became a task that took a great deal of hard work and convincing; though it was Handel’s mother that provided access to a clavichord hidden in the family’s attic. The hours spent hiding from his father in the attic, covering the strings of the clavichord with cloth to dampen the sound, allowed young George the time to practice his musical development and eventually the knowledge of how to play both the clavichord and the organ. This early study is most likely what saved the musical career for Handel, because it was during the time stuck in the attic that a young Duke passing by heard young George playing in the attic and was so moved by what he heard, that he stopped to listen. After hearing young George play the organ, the Duke pleaded with George’s father to allow him to travel to Berlin and begin to take music lessons. The young Handel began taking lessons at the age of eight, and was easily able to conquer learning the violin, composition and theory techniques, harpsichord, and reinforce the organ playing skills. By the age of 11, there seemed little that any music teacher could teach George; it was at this point that George’s father began angry and again expressed his desire for George to cease playing in the music, and to return home and do as he wished. Handel at the request of his father did in fact return home, only to arrive at his father’s deathbed. This was a dark period of struggle for the young Handel, compelled to honor his father’s wishes, George decided that it was best to keep to his studies in law; though during this same time he continued to also sharpen the musical skills that he knew he possessed. It was during this time that Handel began to write cantatas for the various churches that he was serving in as an organist. It was the service in music that called out to Handel, and by the time he reached the age of eighteen, Handel had realized that it was in fact his destiny to become a great musician noting that he was destined to improve his musical abilities and his knowledge of music.[…]
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