In this episode, Samuel P.N. Cook talks with Chris Miller, a composer and mentor for James Cook (Sam's brother). They explore how music acts as a powerful tool both in society and storytelling. Being a teacher and mentor for many talented students, Chris shares his knowledge of music, not only as an art but also as a way to influence others. You will learn why music is so important when creating a high-quality story that inspires.
Guest: Samuel P.N. Cook and Chris Miller
Date Added: Feb 8, 2018 11:05:41 AM
Length: 50 min
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Podcast moments that will matter to you:
Who is Chris Miller
Chris about starting his journey with music and childhood memories
Becoming an educator of music
The science behind the impact music has on people
Music in movies and storytelling
The importance of good quality sound
The story of Chris’ composer craftsmanship and inspiration
Voice as a tool of influence
Army memories and music
How music colours our past experiences
Samuel Cook: [00:00:15] So welcome StoryMatters podcast listener to another episode in the StoryMentor series. And in this one a little bit of a surprise.
I'm going way back to childhood actually into a realm that's on first blush wouldn't have a lot to do with marketing definitely or potentially even storytelling but it actually has everything to do with it. And I'm here in the music department of my high school where I attended school as a child in Lake Charles, Louisiana growing up.
[00:01:55] I'm sitting with Mr. Chris Miller, the choir director for Barbe High School. I was a trumpet player since, I think, I was nine years old. I grew up playing trumpet and spent a lot of time learning music and listening to great movie soundtracks and playing trumpet which was what I wanted to be - a professional trumpet player for most of my life.
And then, when I was about seventeen years old, I transitioned into singing, figured out I could also sing as well as play trumpet, and joined the choir with Mr. Miller here and then went on to sing throughout my college years at West Point in the West Point Glee Club.
[00:01:55] So, I'm going back down memory lane to talk to Chris Miller about music and its impact it can have on our learning and education. And one of the really interesting things about music to me is how seemingly unrelated it is to marketing about how James Cook Media, our agency, we've managed to make that kind of a centerpiece to what we do.
[00:01:55] And if you've been listening to this podcast for a while you might recall or if you don't know that James Cook is actually not my name.
My name is Samuel Cook but named after my late brother, James, who was a composer and he actually studied under Chris, actually far more extensively than I did throughout his entire high school years, four years under Chris, and was in the Barbe Show Choir. And I must say James ended up being a much more accomplished musician than I was.
[00:03:36] And a lot of that, thanks to Chris, is tutelage here. So we're gonna just dive right into my memories into my music education, how useful music is in life which many of you who studied music growing up might not think so, and talk about some music theory - also some of the things that James learned from Chris - and then finally, just get some examples from Chris of some of the music he's written and explain what he was trying to do with that.
So, really looking forward to today's episode. He came all the way back home from Louisiana to make this recording and Chris, welcome to the podcast.
Chris Miller: [00:03:36] Thank you, happy to be here.
Samuel Cook: [00:03:36] So, Chris, I grew up as an aspiring musician and I think as a lot of people who aspired to be an artist growing up, you run into the harsh reality that it's pretty hard to make a living as a straight up musician.
I think you as an educator have managed to do it and obviously, you'd do it on your free time, a little bit for money but mainly just for fun. But it had a huge impact on me growing up.
And as a music educator, what are your thoughts on music and why did you get into this in the first place? Why are you so passionate about music and found a way to make a living doing it?
Chris Miller: [00:03:42] It's really a long story so I'll try to give you the condensed version.
[00:03:45] I just always so... I just have been musical as long as I can remember. My earliest memories were my dad actually dancing with me to Cajun music playing on the local TV station that play actually live bands on it.
Early in the morning, I think they started at five thirty in the morning which is about six thirty, the broadcast were in Cajun French.
So he liked the music and he danced with me to it because music around here, that kind of music, at least dancing, and that kind of music go hand in hand. You don't sit and listen to that kind of music and dance.
[00:04:19] So that was my early, some of my earliest memories. And then, he also played the guitar, the self-taught, but he had an electric guitar and he had an amplifier. And so that was very inspiring to me, just all of that was.
[00:04:33] And I remember I got a recorder, you know, we use in this digital recorder now, but I actually have a stutter and I stammer whenever I was a kid and so they gave me a recorder to help work on my speaking.
[00:04:46] But one of the things that I did as I started to record radio shows, sort of like what we're doing here today, and music shows. And so what I was doing was record with my dad, playing the guitar.
And I had another uncle who lived in the neighborhood who played guitar and I had another uncle in the neighborhood that played guitar and I have an aunt in the neighborhood that sang and played guitar and also played autoharp and a few other things. And I had a couple grandmothers on my mom's side to play piano and would sing.
And so, it was just always a part of my early memories. And when I went to somebody's house who had a piano, I was... I think I picked out this tune. Just "Catch a Falling Star" or something like that.
[00:05:33] And my mom-- Well my mom heard me do that and I was, I don't know, 3 or four years old. She just thought, "We got to get him some kind of musical training 'cause he's got this ability".
And so I got to take some piano lessons and... But I lived on a rice farm so - cattle and rice and soybeans and things like that. So I was also riding horses and, you know, walking through muddy rice fields and things like that. So I had sort of this big eclectic sort of upbringing.
But by the time I grew up, I mean I had played in different kinds of bands, you know, whatever the music was on the radio at that time and I had done some Cajun music bands too, but I just wasn't sure what I was going to major in.
[00:06:18] Actually, I thought about history for a while because I wanted to do cultural studies, you know, this whole Cajun cultural kind of study. And my French teacher said, "You should major in French.
And you could actually major in French music, you'd be a double major in French," because what we call Cajun music was French music in this area.
[00:06:38] Anyway, I didn't do that but I ended up falling in and out of love. And I was writing love songs and I decided, "Well, I could go into theory and composition." So that's what I first did and then I actually fell in love really seriously with the woman I'm still married to.
And I thought, "What am I going to do with that theory and composition degree? I'm going to have-- I can always write music but I need to have something more than that."
[00:07:02] And so that was what ended up bringing me to education. And then once I did education, my mentoring teacher said, "You have a gift for teaching." I didn't know that. You know, I had never heard-- no one had ever told me that. It's not like someone said, "You need to be a teacher." I didn't know what I should be doing.
I just knew the music side of things. But after I got into teaching, I started to understand that there was a lot of the way that what my mind was wired.
It's in explaining things to people and getting joy out of them understanding, you know, you breaking things down, and then they understand it that I realized that's, "Well, I guess that's how I'm put together," that's really a big part of my personality is - educating others.
[00:07:48] And so I guess more and more have seen it as my destiny to be an educator where when I first got the degree I thought what I would do is be a performing musician and have this education thing to kind of fall back on.
And then after I got in it, the education thing became more of, well, it's very all-consuming. You can't... To be a good teacher, you can't do it halfway. And so you want you to jump in. You kind of-- It kind of sucks you in and it consumes you. And... But that's how I got involved with music education and I guess your question was, like, "How did you get into music? What drew you into music?" So I hope I answered that and
Samuel Cook: [00:08:34] Well, it was women, obviously.
Chris Miller: [00:08:37] Yeah, I guess so.
Samuel Cook: [00:08:38] It could've also taught you how to overcome your shyness and maybe your stuttering problem you're having.
Chris Miller: [00:08:43] Well, in the beginning, yeah, you know, that was...
[00:08:45] I was-- My mom was very-- She tried to help me, you know, with the whole issue. It was very frustrating for me to have that problem and it just, I don't know, it just sort of evaporated. I don't remember too much after. She discovered something that she could do.
I think she brought me to speech therapy and they bought the cassette recorder that was pretty much the end of it. I don't have that many recordings of me stuttering. It was just... I don't know what did it but I remember lots of nursery rhymes, the tongue twisters that I got to recite. And, I think I know so many of those things because of, you know, that part of my life but I was, you know, five years old or something like that.
Samuel Cook: [00:09:32] So, Chris, as a music educator, it sounds like you initially wanted to let your education support your passion for recording or for performing and that's kind of flipped on its head a bit where your passion is now for education. What have you found that music helps people do the most? You know, most people that you teach don't go on to become professional musicians but how does music impact their lives?
Chris Miller: [00:10:00] Well, you know, I think there have been some scientific studies that talk about when a person is processing music but all the different areas of the brain that are actually engaged, and you can see it, you know, they're doing brain scan type activity. So it's not just one area of the brain. I think it's this whole brain sort of activity that music involves. And I think it's just good for the whole person. It involves...
Because we are whole people, you know. We study these separate subjects but I think in a lot of ways, music, and especially vocal music, sort of combine all the different disciplines together because there's language and there's poetry and there's a certain dramatic element.
And there's a certain scientific element of learning how to manipulate your voice and, you know, find resonance in your voice and support, you know - the certain scientific aspect to that. And there's definitely the social aspect of singing with others and getting along and teamwork. And there's the rhythm that's very mathematical about being able to manage time.
[00:11:14] So I think it's just the whole... I think what I see is that nowadays we want things that are easily measured. But I think so much of what really matters in our lives as human beings, you can't really measure it. Houston Hunchy of Scrooge McDuck, you know, he has his money bin and he goes and jumps in his money bin and, you know, swims through his money bin for pleasure.
[00:11:39] But I don't know of too many people at the end of their life if they're on their deathbed say, "Bring me to my money bin so I can go swim in my money bin." They talk about those intangible things. They talk about their relationships with people. And they talk about the experiences they've had, you know, while being alive.
[00:11:56] And music is definitely an experience type of activity. You can't-- Music can't exist in a time vacuum. You have to have time for music to exist where painting can exist in a blip. Music as an art has time as its canvas and it takes time for it to unfold. It's a kind of-- It's sort of representative of our life experience, you know.
This music has a starting point and it unfolds and it says something and then it's over. It just sort of evaporates and it's just-- then it lives in memory after that. I think it's that whole sort of mysterious adventure and that sort of knowing of oneself and that sort of method of thinking that, I think, sort of unlocks people to a larger-- living life with more awareness and living life with more empathy and living life with more appreciation, more cooperation, and an appreciation of beauty, you know, which is kind of a weird thing, you know, because no one--
[00:13:03] I haven't heard a scientist explain. I mean they may try to but I haven't heard a satisfactory explanation of why - why is it that we are attracted to beautiful things? And why do we think, like, "That sound is beautiful or those harmonies are beautiful.
That is a song that speaks to me or that piece of music, that symphonies, you know, speak to me." But we are! We are attracted to these beautiful experiences and these beautiful things. And creating that appreciation within a person, I think, is important for having a truly human and a fully human experience.
[00:13:41] One of the things I asked the students is, "Is music essential?" And some of what you seem to be asking me is kind of pointing to that question. Well, I mean my class is full of music kids so most of the time they will answer that it's essential but sometimes you'll have thinkers and scientific types.
They'll say, "No, it's not essential, you know. You just need to have, like, you know, food and water and it's not essential." And I said, "Yeah, but my question was 'Is music essential to be a human being?'"
[00:14:11] And so my hypothesis is if we really took music out of the human experience, what we would have is a creature that's not recognizable as human anymore. We may have a creature that's alive and experiencing things but I don't think it would be the same - what we call the human experience - without the music. I think it's that essential to what we feel and do as human beings.
Then, to sort of illustrate that, I'll say, "Notice how many times music is around you or art in general." You know, like, "Why are these chairs in this room colored? I mean, why aren't they just white? Why are the football teams decked out? And why would someone artistically design their helmets with that decal? Why are people dancing on the sideline?" It's those artistic experiences are all around us and enriching and enlivening everything around us.
[00:15:04] I think that music-- And I hope that my music classes bring that out in the students. They become more appreciative. They become more aware of that part of life. Because otherwise, you may get stuck in this rut - that life is about money. And that's really one of the things that I kind of talk about, sometimes.
Because money nowadays, it's not even real. It's just little pixels on a computer screen or on my phone and I don't- They don't even really hand me a paycheck anymore. They tell me they pay me and then I see little lights change on my phone that tells me I have this certain amount of money and I slide a card and they tell me they're paid. But money is very intangible. It's kind of like those without faith would say there's no money. You know, 'cause you're just sort of, "Where's the money, you know, just this magic thing is happening where I'm able to get things?" But I think the music experience is something that can live within and enrich beyond just money.
Our quest isn't for that money because that isn't any more real than what some people say that music is. I mean we need those things, you know, to continue to survive but you need those experiences to be fully human.
Samuel Cook: [00:16:30] One of the things I think you talked about is the brain scan.
[00:16:35] And I like to ask people what would Star Wars be without the soundtrack or what would Jaws be as a thriller of a movie without that famous theme. And [11.9] one of the reasons we invest in and have composers on staff in our agency is I think it just makes for a much more quality experience when you have that custom written music that amplifies, complements, what's being said, and the emotion. How important is that research going into what music does to people while they're watching a movie or while they're experiencing something if that music is really customized for that?
Chris Miller: [00:17:14] I don't know if the research is important because it's important for the scientific types who sort of doubt that music has validity. But to people who are music lovers, they already know, you know - to the artistic type, to the right-brain minded folks. They already know the power of that music.
You don't have to explain to them that, you know, the impact of that. You don't have to explain to them. Well, watch this scary movie without any music whatsoever and you end up laughing at it half the time because it's not nearly as scary as people walking around, people jump out, you know, and it's not nearly as scary.
[00:17:52] So what the research does is it sort of adds the scientific validity to something that most human beings already know. But music also points to this part of ourselves that is not easily scientifically explained by the current scientific model.
So we devise studies that start off looking at the brain to tell us what we already know we are experiencing if you're truly feeling a full person. You already know the validity of that. You already know that if you get a catchy jingle, you can sell more soup, or whatever, or if you have effective music in your movie if your movie is going to be more effective in conveying the message you're trying to convey.
[00:18:34] I guess what I'm trying to offer is that - my opinion is that - I think that the research is more important for the scientists than it is for the artistic community because the artistic community doesn't need to know that. They already know that.
They know how music works. They are already aware how to pull people's emotions and push people's buttons with music. But to the scientific community, they're like, "How does this work? I mean, this is a little mysterious. And then, why are people-- What are feelings anyway? And why are people feeling--?" You know, so, I think it's important to that field of folks. I don't know if it will change music so much as it will maybe change the way scientists and scientific community looks at music.
Samuel Cook: [00:19:22] Why a lot of research has shown... I remember my first editor, that trained me in video, actually taught me this principle that you can mess up a lot of things but never mess up the sound.
People are far less forgiving of bad sound not just microphone sound quality but also poorly done music to go along with that sound. So why is sound so important and why does people so often not pay attention to that? I guess.
Chris Miller: [00:19:51] Well, I don't know why people wouldn't pay attention to it but I think it's maybe so important because it's one of our first senses that we engage as we enter this human experience that we would have heard sounds within our mother's womb before we ever saw anything or really tasted anything. I [21.9] guess we feel that the early sensory type information.
Samuel Cook: [00:20:18] But you can also feel music as well as hear it?
Chris Miller: [00:20:20] Right. And you could also feel the rhythm of your mom's heartbeat, you know, and so there's early rhythm there. So I think it's just because sound, and it would be just a guess on my part, that sound is very primal to the human experience and maybe to all living experience, of all animals, that that sound is one of our most primal senses, you know. It goes back to our earliest experiences here, you know, being alive.
Samuel Cook: [00:20:49] You talked about composition and you started as a composition student and... When does the best music composition come out? I know that you've taught people like my brother who went on to become a composer and you've composed a little bit yourself. When does the best music seem to reveal itself, as a composer?
Chris Miller: [00:21:10] Well, I can only really talk about my experience, really, and then what I think other people's experiences are. But it seems to me that the things that I've written that have the most impact to others is whenever I'm not over-thinking it or over-directing it, and I'm sort of more-- It would be as if I was listening to something beyond myself that I wouldn't go so far as to say, you know, like, you're taking dictation because I think you're more involved as a composer than that.
I mean you do need to understand, like, harmonic language and things like that. But there are times, you know, where I just feel like I'm sort of listening and a little snippet of a thing happens. And in your memory, I mean, you hear something in your head and you sort of play it around with your head and it sort of just begins to live and it's sort of hard to explain where that really comes from.
[00:22:16] Like, you could teach the mechanics of composing. And I imagine you could teach the mechanics of how to write a poem or a limerick. Or you could teach the mechanics of how to build a house but it might not be the same as being becoming a renowned architect or being a renowned sculptor, a person who can create a sculpture that will live through the ages.
Because that's something different. That's, like, inspiration. It's the muse. It's that part that it seems to come from beyond the individual person and it sort of comes from something more universal.
[00:23:00] So, for me, whenever I wrote a song for First Presbyterian on their occasion of their anniversary, it seemed to just sort of I did it quickly, in, you know, within an hour or hour and a half. One evening and the whole thing was done and, you know - words and melody and harmonies. And it was just... I kind of... You know, you sit back and you think, "Well, where did that actually come from? How does that happen?"
[00:23:29] It's almost two questions, I guess, is what I'm saying. You can ask, like, "How do you learn the mechanics of your craft?" But then there's the other question of "Where does inspiration come from?", which is, I think, all good artists and all living things that become art that lives for a long time come from this place of inspiration that's sort of beyond the individual artists. In the same way that Native Americans said that songs don't come from anyone Native American.
They come from, you know, the Great Spirit. They come from beyond and other faith traditions - I think it might be the Quakers - they talk about, you know, and that Shakers, I think it's Shakers not Quakers, that they receive a song. Like the song was received on this particular date - the gift to be simple or something like that.
[00:24:19] But, for me, the good compositions have come a lot like that. And there may be some craft of cleaning things up and making, you know, blending different instruments to support those ideas but the inspirational idea that it's all built around seems to come from somewhere beyond.
Samuel Cook: [00:24:39] I think I observed that with my brother and also with our current composer is the extreme sensitivity that artists have to those around them, to the world around them, to beauty, and to pain. And that's a gift and a burden that I think artists bear and particularly composers. I think it's really tough in how many singer-songwriters have we seen meet early ends...
Chris Miller: [00:25:09] Right.
Samuel Cook: [00:25:09] ...because of that burden, let's say, of being so plugged into something beyond themselves.
Chris Miller: [00:25:18] It has to do with being a feeling individual. So I think that artists feel. And a lot of their best creations come from those feelings and they use their art to deal with that feeling but they also turn to substances and other activities sometimes to deal with those feelings that brings them to those early ends tragically.
But it may be true that it's the dealing with those feelings or the sensitivity to those feelings that leads artists in that direction. And we read that over and over again. It seems to be a common theme.
Samuel Cook: [00:25:52] Yeah. And I think you brought up something really interesting about the creative process. We do all of our videos for our marketing material in a very spontaneous way where we'll plan a set of questions but ultimately, you kind of throw out the plan when you start talking to someone.
And we like to say that the best moments, the most authentic moments, come from spontaneity and raw reaction and emotion and in the spoken word.
[00:26:25] And what fascinates me about evoking from someone a story is how much... I remember a great coach that I saw. He taught public speaking. Actually, it was a guy named Roger Love who is actually a voice coach.
Chris Miller: [00:26:40] Proud of him. I have a book by him actually.
Samuel Cook: [00:26:41] Yeah, he was a voice coach for singers. But he made a career teaching people how to speak in a very powerful way. And I remember buying some of his tapes about how every speech is just a big song and we sing our song even though it's not done in a purely musical way. Everything that you say is a song.
And what's interesting is watching our composer - he'll take someone and he'll write the music based on their voice and tenor and their voice pitch. And he custom composes the music to sit underneath that specific voice of that person.
Chris Miller: [00:27:19] Right. And that's a real unique type of gift to be able to do that - to fit music as a soundtrack that it's performing a supporting role and not a starring role. But you're right in that. I guess the way we speak is our song life. I had never really thought too much about it that way.
[00:27:39] But I wanted to say something about the spontaneity issue that you brought up. In that you said you'd script out questions but some of the best interviews, the most authentic moments, come from spontaneous moments and reactions to what another person says. I would like to add that good teaching is the same thing, you know.
A teacher that's going to be effective has to be-- You may have a great lesson plan. I tell student-teachers all the time, "You've got to take the temperature of the class, of the people in front of you. You need to be feeling what they're feeling." And so we were talking about early in the interview about why is music important.
Well, there is one. You know. What are these people feeling? And what do you feel from them? How do you become, like, a feeling person? Well, you know, studying music and being involved with music in the arts, I think, helps to create that sort of "Be an effective speaker or seller or teacher".
[00:28:37] You have to take the temperature of that group. You have to be feeling what's going on. And then you have to try to create a dialogue and then respond with that dialogue rather than just being the speaker as it was in the Peanuts cartoon, *mimics sounds*. You know, trumpeting or tromboning for the front of the class *mimics sounds* - no one's really getting your message.
[00:29:04] So, I think you're right on and I think that music, a lot of times that can do that same thing, is the most powerful. I mean I think that's why people like jazz and they like to hear live bands perform. It's because the band plays differently depending on how the crowd is reacting and what the crowd is giving back to them.
But then it goes back to what I was saying earlier. It's all about an experience - the experience that we log in this time continuum that, you know, that marks what it means to be a human being called Samuel Cook, you know, or Chris Miller. And those experiences find their meaning, a lot of times, translated into musical or artistic feelings.
Samuel Cook: [00:29:50] Yeah. And, Chris, you taught James. He came into the choir program. The year I left, he followed in. So you were teaching him, or my brother, for, I think five straight years. And he was quite a much more-- Well, he was a much more talented definitely, a singer, and got into composition.
[00:30:12] What were some of your memories of James coming through your program? 'Cause he was in, I think, the show choir where you had people really... I think they even wrote some music in there and definitely performed a lot of different tunes that were popular and then some that they came up with. Well, what were some of your memories of James as he came through the program?
Chris Miller: [00:30:34] Well, total lots. So, you know, I was trying, as you were saying, that I was trying to remember the specific original music projects that he may have been involved in. But there have been, you know, many, throughout the years, different groups of students will work on a song and then record it at the end of the year.
But the one big memory that comes to mind when I think of James is when he visited me after graduating and after studying music where he had a cube, I think, and he had laid out keys on the sides of these cubes and he had said, "I figured out how they have done it!" and I'm like, "What are you talking about?". But he was talking about composers and the way that they used keys and key relationships.
He said, "You know, no one has been able to really see all these relationships before because if they're just thinking of it in two dimensions, but when you put it in three dimensions and you can see that this other key is right here." And he had these examples that he was relaying to me, you know, that illustrated his thesis. I mean, I don't know if it was a thesis that he was actually working on but he had this visual and he had this cube.
[00:31:48] So I had always... That really stands out because I had never had a student come back and talk about music as Geometry, you know, as the key.
Samuel Cook: [00:31:58] Math.
Chris Miller: [00:31:59] Right.
Samuel Cook: [00:32:01] Yeah. One of the things James was really a Renaissance man. He loved Physics and Math, as well as art, and he was working on trying to research some mathematical relationship of music and how-- what makes something resonate with people in frequencies of music is there's a lot of new research actually being done on frequencies and the Math and Science.
Music has been fascinating. You're very much onto the artistic side and the feelings but there's a lot of really interesting research on the Math and the Science of it, too, so...
Chris Miller: [00:32:37] Sure. Yeah, I have another student who's... He's got his doctorate and working in the Houston area who's composing that he's definitely in the same-- he's of the same ilk as James and that he's very much of a scientific mind.
The things that he likes to write and things that he likes to experiment with are not always the things that come to mind when people think of music. I think he had done music for... There was a stationary art display and as you move through the area, the music would change depending upon speed and the amount of people or the temperature and things like that.
[00:33:18] So yeah. There's definitely a lot on the scientific side to explore, you know, and relate to music.
Samuel Cook: [00:33:28] Well, Chris, the music that you were talking about that you had composed, do you have an example of something that you've done? And just talk a little bit about the thought process and maybe some of the things you're trying to do with music.
It'd be great to close out with an example of some of the things that you've done and how you think about music and how that impacts the audience. How do you get from inspiration all the way to the finished product of impact in an audience? Because I know you've been successful doing that and you've also helped people like my brother learn that skill.
Chris Miller: [00:34:05] Yeah. Well, I'm not really sure what music to talk about exactly. I have a couple of things. It kind of came around full circle a few years ago where I wrote a song for my wife on our anniversary. And I have a recording of that that I can just, you know... It was like, you know, writing songs, falling in love, and writing songs. And it came back around, you know, after... Well, we just celebrated 30 years of marriage. So, I guess the songs have been effective.
Samuel Cook: [00:34:33] Still working. 30 years later, so...
Chris Miller: [00:34:36] But there's another piece. I'll talk about it. And it was a couple of years ago that like Charles Civic Ballet got the choir involved and we were supposed to do a production that involved elements of the musical Oklahoma which we had performed some years ago. And then through licensing issues, we couldn't do that. We couldn't do any sort of dancing to the music of Oklahoma without actually licensing the show Oklahoma.
So we still had this idea of the Midwest or, you know, Oklahoma area, you know, that open space kind of area. And, I decided to write an arrangement for the choir. And I think I called it "Sunday Morning on the Prairie" and it was all about prairie because I found three pieces of music that had to do with the prairie.
So the whole thing was about prairie and at least the places that I've driven across and opened Oklahoma. I mean they have this wide open expanse and sort of prairie lane. Although there are some, you know, mountainous areas and in some areas, it seems like the majority of it is open and rolling.
[00:35:50] So that's what came to me and it opens with what I call the musical sunrise with the students actually making a lot of noises, you know, with just vowel sounds or no words. And you can hear the sunrise because that was supposed to be Sunday morning on the prairie.
And the first one is a tune called Heleluyan which is in the Methodist hymnal and it's supposedly a Native American tune. So I have a soloist singing that while the students are holding this cluster of sounds.
And they also used a technique where they're moving their tongue and lips around to create overtones, you know, these kind of high-frequency... It sounds sort of otherworldly, you know, when the students can really do them well. And so there's some of that going on.
[00:36:42] And then, more and more of the students start joining in on that Native American song. And then there's a different song that sort of represents the European side. And they come in and sing a hymn and then, there's a poem called "Make My Life A Prairie", and that gets recited in the middle.
And then all of those - the European tune and that Native American tune all get mashed up together at the end. It's sort of a... it's a very eclectic sound and it's not necessarily always a beautiful sound if you're looking for something beautiful by the standard definition.
But it's beautiful I think in what it represents and at least when I heard it come to life, I'm like, "Oh my gosh". I'm like, I feel, you know, I felt what I was trying to create. So...
[00:37:37] And they danced it. You know, the vocal group here, they actually, they had a dance to the whole piece. So, that should tell you a little bit about the piece of music Sunday Morning on the Prairie and that's performed by the Barbe High School Choir.
Samuel Cook: [00:37:51] Definitely, we'll take an opportunity to play that and see if people can hear and experience what you just described and let that play now.
[00:38:01] [So I still don't have this track from Chris. So I guess there will be like two, three minutes of space to fill in if he will not send it to me. So I think we will edit it out.]
Samuel Cook: [00:38:19] Well, Chris, thank you for joining us today. And I'm really given me a bit of a trip down memory lane in terms of what is like to study music.
[00:38:30] I know that for so long I forgot about music as I was in the army and doing things that were quite ostensibly unrelated to music but even there's many sounds in the army, I'll never forget from different things - running in the morning, singing. We used music to pass the time on long runs and marches and some of the more.
Chris Miller: [00:38:57] You still use bugle calls? Just those things?
Samuel Cook: [00:38:58] Oh yeah! We did bugle calls and... I have actually quite emotional moments, actually, that the military was very skilled at using a song for emotions. Now I'm looking back on it. And then obviously some sounds that are different in nature.
Chris Miller: [00:39:15] Yeah, so the question would be, you know, it kind of turn it back around on you. What would that experience at West Point been with you - take all the music out, all the musical sounds out - would it have been the same?
Samuel Cook: [00:39:25] It would have been really tough. In fact, I remember how much I enjoyed hearing these songs while we're standing there waiting and then marching the parades. We did these parades where all these... The great West Point band was there. We also used music to sing while we're running on these long runs and we had quite a bit of fun singing these songs when it was quite--
Chris Miller: [00:39:51] When you have no breath support with?
Samuel Cook: [00:39:52] Yeah! And, you know, having to sing while we're tired and we would even yell at the soldiers who didn't have the breath to sing and run.
Chris Miller: [00:40:02] But that just goes to show that music has this ability to create a team and to create a team that's stronger than just the individuals alone. It creates this core, the spirit of core, that carries the group ahead. And I think music does that.
Samuel Cook: [00:40:24] Oh yeah. And I remember now just thinking about it when I say I thought music wasn't a part of my life. Now looking back, it certainly was and I didn't even know. It was like this background.
Chris Miller: [00:40:36] It's kind of like what you talked about your composer that was creating this. You didn't notice it that he was supporting you the whole time.
Samuel Cook: [00:40:42] Yeah. I didn't notice it and come to think of it but so many different things and obviously nations and armies have used music to inspire and bring people to great feats. And looking back on it now, it's quite interesting.
Chris Miller: [00:40:57] It's scary sometimes. We think what different people and nations have done with music and what they have inspired people to do or not to do. And, you know, Beethoven always said that music is a moral force.
Samuel Cook: [00:41:08] Yeah.
Chris Miller: [00:41:08] He thought it was just-- it was the way to change the world.
Samuel Cook: [00:41:13] Yeah. And actually really, the power of music to inspire and sometimes to corrupt is quite powerful and you've got to make sure it's in the right hands. But, I really... Looking back, I hadn't even thought of it until you brought it up and turn it back on me.
How much of it was always part of my life even after I set it down and was not professionally or not professionally but was not actively involved in making music. It was still an undertone to everything we did and quite a powerful one and the military has become very skilled at using that to make the soundtrack of a pretty interesting profession.
Chris Miller: [00:41:54] And I would like to ask you too. While you were doing those things that you thought were not musical, was there ever music in your mind? You know, because we have that ability for music to be there. As you walk or as you march or as you do something, there's something that's playing, you know. When you have a wealth of musical experiences, you draw on that even when you don't realize it.
Samuel Cook: [00:42:18] Actually, now that I think about it, there were these long marches when I was... They would put us out in the woods and we would walk for 20 hours straight. And you were just alone with your thoughts and you just had a bag on your back and a rifle and it was in the middle of the night.
[00:42:34] And I can imagine there were some times when I would get a song stuck in my head, in fact, many times I'd get a song stuck in my head and that would sustain me for a while. And, yeah, it's...
I haven't even thought of that but it's definitely a lot easier to do some of these things that were quite tough physically when you had some kind of inner reserve of strength which comes from the intangibles that music brings.
Chris Miller: [00:42:59] Right. And it's interesting that, you know, when you think about the iPhone. And it being like an iPod, you know, that turned into an iPhone, you know, it kind of came. And now how big a part that is in our life, you know, in streaming music and--
Samuel Cook: [00:43:16] Yeah.
Chris Miller: [00:43:17] You know, it's just they're all around us.
Samuel Cook: [00:43:19] Well, everyone now has access to listen to music, you know, a thousand songs in your pocket. It was Steve Jobs's motto with the iPod on how much that's a fabric of people's lives these days is the ability to on-call, cue up emotions, and put them in your ear.
Chris Miller: [00:43:38] Right.
Samuel Cook: [00:43:38] And not even think about it. Yeah, we did it in a more creative way in the military where we would sing it ourselves or the bugles would do it for us. But yeah, it's... I hadn't even thought about it. I said when music wasn't a part of my life and now it is again but it always was. I just...
Chris Miller: [00:43:53] I think most people, if they really examined, they would find that it was, it's always there. I think it's essential for the human experience. There is no experience that we would call truly human without that music element being in there. Even those that have much studied music, that music's there. There's still that song that's playing in their head while they march.
Samuel Cook: [00:44:16] Yeah. Well, every conversation is a song and if you think about what Roger Love taught, the great speaking coach, is every conversation is a song. It's a duet between two people and it's spontaneous. And in someone's voice, what's the most inspiring speaker that you've ever seen? It's not someone who's speaking monotone. It's someone who's speaking--
Chris Miller: [00:44:37] Melodically.
Samuel Cook: [00:44:38] --melodically with change of tone. And I remember, this is actually another memory of sitting there in Iraq, listening to people speak a language I did not understand but I understood what they were saying without understanding the meaning--
Chris Miller: [00:44:54] You understand some of the feeling behind it.
Samuel Cook: [00:44:56] Oh, the emotion was crystal clear. In fact, I used to like to say that I loved speaking through a translator because I was listening to the translator tell me what I just knew that person had said intuitively and from an emotional standpoint and from the tone. But he was just confirming that translator the meaning that I think I already knew.
Chris Miller: [00:45:19] Right. But that's because you had some training as a musician.
Samuel Cook: [00:45:22] Yeah.
Chris Miller: [00:45:22] So there's it again. There's another selling point for music education.
Samuel Cook: [00:45:27] Yeah.
Chris Miller: [00:45:28] Because you just... you apply that spoken language.
Samuel Cook: [00:45:31] Yeah. And it's always been there. And what's great now is this seemingly... I devoted so much of my youth to practicing music and in producing it. And then I remember I realized I wasn't going to major in it. I was going to go off into the military which I thought, "Well, that was somewhat of a waste of all that time and energy."
But looking back, it was a great investment for all the different things that I learned about myself and emotions tapping into something, the mathematics of music, and just how to be more aware and plugged into those things around me, and now coming full circle and being able to direct a composer and say, "Hey, here's a piece of art that we've created which is a documentary, little piece of emotion. Now I want you to put music to it and this is what-- these are the instruments I want and this is the feeling I want people to have."
[00:46:26] You know. And I always tell my composer, "I want this feeling here". And they hear and hear and go figure it out. And then I can give him feedback on why I'd like some voices here, some trumpets, or these different instruments and it's... I'm getting to apply music again. But, yeah, in reality, it never left me.
Chris Miller: [00:46:43] That's true.
Samuel Cook: [00:46:46] Well, Chris, it's been an amazing trip down memory lane with you on the power of music and I thank you for bringing back to me how important music has always been. I think I'd forgotten that.
[00:47:00] And to those of us listening who don't have a professional music education, you don't need to be a musician to appreciate beauty, you know. In fact, as a musician, your challenge, the one that creates music, is to just channel and communicate beauty to the listener and there's no such thing as a non-musical person. We all have it in us to appreciate beauty. Some of us have the gift of communicating beauty but we all understand it. It could happen.
Chris Miller: [00:47:30] Yeah, that's true. And, in the same way, there's not-- there's no such thing as a non-musical person. It would be like saying it's a non-human person.
Samuel Cook: [00:47:39] Yeah.
Chris Miller: [00:47:40] It's that tied up to what it means to be human.
Samuel Cook: [00:47:43] Yeah and that's--
Chris Miller: [00:47:45] Fully human.
Samuel Cook: [00:47:45] That's the power of music in our lives is to help us experience more fully that which we are experiencing in life.
[00:47:52] Thank you again, Chris, for helping me as a student learn how to maybe help people channel that - whether it's the composers I work with now or back when I was younger, doing a little bit of production myself. And I know that James also definitely appreciated the influence you had on doing what he loved which was producing, channeling beauty in the world through music.
Chris Miller: [00:48:17] Definitely. My pleasure. Thank you. Thanks for asking.
Samuel Cook: [00:48:20] Thanks again, Chris.
[00:48:21] And, StoryMatters podcast listener, thanks for joining us for another very special episode of The Mentor series.
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