I advocate for the idea that music education is the greatest untapped resource in our schools. If it was understood by politicians and principals for what it really does for students in terms of their learning and performance on tests, we’d have flourishing music programs in every public school in the country. I am currently working on a book called The Teaching of Transformation, the Transformation of Teaching that covers this subject and I hope it will have a powerful impact on the right people.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Adam Cole, A Jazz Musician Who Writes Books. He is the author of Motherless Child as well as numerous other works of fiction and nonfiction. A sought after public speaker, he most recently presented at Hebrew University in Jerusalem on the subject of math and music notation and its impact on the learner.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve been writing books since I was six years old. My life has really been about making sure the work I’ve done, and want to do, reaches people. I continue to strive towards that goal.
What does it mean for you to live “on purpose”? Can you explain? How can one achieve that?
I’m not sure whether having a purpose is the same thing as living on purpose. It’s not something to achieve. It’s more like a wind you try to keep in your sails, where paying attention and seeking improvement is more important than being any place in particular.
Do you have an example or story in your own life of how your pain helped to guide you to finding your life’s purpose?
I just read an interesting article written by a woman with chronic pain. She communicates how awful it is for people in chronic pain to be admonished that they are growing or being tested. While I have been “fortunate” in my particular pain, I want to acknowledge that this kind of a conversation should not paint universal pictures of people in pain as being blessed or tested in some way, because some pain is chronic, random and meaningless.
In my case, so many of the things that have caused me pain, discomfort or fear, from being near-sighted to growing up with a terminally ill mother to gradually losing the bone in my mouth have also been a source of information for growth. The things I’ve lacked in my understanding and awareness have been tied in strange ways to those areas of pain and insurmountable defeat. Addressing them, even if I can’t overcome them, I’ve learned and grown in ways I needed to learn and grow.
My mother had Multiple Sclerosis all of my life, and she also had a personality which made it difficult for her to deal with the illness. It took me many years to untie all the knots that growing up with her tied in me. Paradoxically, those knots preserved me until I was ready to let them go, and untying each one opened me up to facing a future that was different from my past.
The United States is currently rated at #18 in the World Happiness Report. Can you share a few reasons why you think the ranking is so low?
A very few people who have a lot of power will do anything to keep it. They have at their disposal resources by which so many of us can be manipulated by our very biology. If you smoke, it doesn’t matter whether or not you know it’s bad for you because the cigarettes have been designed to overcome your will for self-correction and self-preservation.
It is very difficult, perhaps even impossible, for us to escape the things that are currently making us so unhappy because at this point we need them to survive: cars, waste, the internet. If the choice is to live in this world and find the love you can find in the middle of what’s killing you, or to reject everything that kills you and live an ascetic, lonely life, that’s a hard choice. We can be forgiven for not being perfectly happy at this time.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
If I’ve done good work in my writing, then I want to be sure people can find it. I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to write a lot, and to have enough energy and leisure to get it where people can see it. The feedback I get suggests to me that I’m on the right track.
What are your 6 strategies to help you face your day with exuberance, “Joie De Vivre” and a “ravenous thirst for life”? Can you please give a story or example for each?
1) I make sure I sit on the floor and take at least five good breaths every morning before I do anything else. I’ve been doing this since I was a young man.
2) I dream as big as I can, then I do what I can to reach those dreams. I’d like to someday receive some kind of indication that my work has changed one of the important conversations — about music, or learning, or writing.
3) I write people that inspire me, and many times they write me back! Stephen Sondheim is a very generous person in this way, as is Bill Moyers and Ursula LeGuin.
4) I make use of somatic awareness. I achieved my certification in the Feldenkrais Method in 2000, and I use it every day to enhance my morning sitting, to improve my ability to enjoy my life, and to structure the way I talk about my work.
5) I listen to my wife. She’s very insightful and when she says something it’s almost always true. That keeps my ship going straight.
6) I do what scares me. Currently, that’s a lot of performing with my band, and solo as a pianist. In the past, it’s been things like rock climbing and teaching middle school.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that most inspired you to live with a thirst for life?
I always recommend the Dale Carnegie books and workshops highly. They changed my life. The Feldenkrais Method is the other thing that gave me my north star to steer my ship by.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that relates to having a Joie De Vivre? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.” Dale Carnegie. Once I thought about it and realized how hard it was to do, I started to understand how those three things get in the way of joy and growth because they may keep us from recognizing our own responsibility for our problems and possible ways to address them.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I just got back from presenting at Hebrew University on the subject of new ways to teach math. It’s something I’ve been interested in for years, and to be a part of the conversation was really gratifying. If we are able to further the work we started, we may change the way people think about everything, not just math!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Personally I advocate for the idea that music education is the greatest untapped resource in our schools. If it was understood by politicians and principals for what it really does for students in terms of their learning and performance on tests, we’d have flourishing music programs in every public school in the country. I am currently working on a book called The Teaching of Transformation, the Transformation of Teaching that covers this subject and I hope it will have a powerful impact on the right people.