I’ve been studying and thinking critically about music and what it means for most of my life. Even before I became a full time music journalist in 2000, I was a player and a super-fan who relentlessly asked the question: “What do we listen to and why?” What forces in culture and commerce hand us our choices, and what choices do we make? What are the rewards of being an informed, active listener? What’s the difference between art and pop? In my 20 years of writing professionally about music, I've been a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal’s arts page and NPR, a staff writer for The Tennessean, a radio producer for WMOT and a student of Nashville’s exceptional history as an entertainment town, culminating in my 2007 book Air Castle of The South: WSM and the Making of Music City.
Now I am passionate about sharing decades of insight and discoveries with audiences of all kinds.
Here’s a short, shaggy talk for an audience of mostly young Nashville music pros who gather regularly for the Nashville event known as WHO KNEW?, where I’m the in-house historian.
STRING THEORY is a unique one-man performance and monologue dedicated in equal parts to explaining some of music's inner workings and to urging people to listen more actively and with more insight. The clips here are from a performance in late 2014 at Bongo After Hours Theater in Nashville. Here, I address the paradox of music lessons. Lots of people take them, but they so rarely lead to lifelong participation.
String Theory is about the problems and pathologies created by the 30-year reign of the musical-industrial complex and how we can reclaim our culture’s connection with the aural arts. In a noisy world overflowing with four-minute songs and endlessly recycled hits from yesteryear, new instrumental music – composed and improvised – is only beginning to recover as the industrial model of music collapses and is rebuilt. String Theory offers a roadmap to that recovery.
At the same time, the show is a memoir of a hobbyist musician and a fan of all kinds of music. In String Theory, I talk about my exposure to classical and jazz as I came of age in a world increasingly dominated by format radio, music videos and music as fashion/lifestyle accessory. I do my best to bring the musician’s insider knowledge about the game of music to the mainstream.
Speaking of games, one of the themes of the show is that instrumental music is in long-term decline because no media outlets inform and educate the public about the rudiments of listening or the art of composing. Our national conversation about music has been denatured and stripped of musical insight. Here, I show a clip from ESPN and ask why we do so much better explaining sports than music.
One key element of learning how to listen to music is a keen awareness of how the individual parts relate to the emotionally satisfying whole. Here, I share a personal anecdote about the teacher who helped me make that breakthrough.
Audiences who saw the first run of String Theory offered the following testimonials:
"Craig has always had his finger on Nashville's music pulse; active as a celebrated participant and supportive as a brilliant wordsmith. Smart and insightful as he is, the child-like gleam in his eye when he speaks about music is what I remember most." – Annie Sellick
“I came away from your performance changed in that good way that happens when I encounter someone who is being authentic….I walked home after String Theory the other night asking myself the question, “When you listen to music, what are you listening for?” – Kendall Hinote
“It was not only entertaining but thought provoking and that's a rare and valuable combination.” – Ned Luberecki
Hearing The Difference: A TEDx Talk
Below is the 17-minute talk I delivered at TEDx Nashville in 2012. It was the basis for the much longer and involved String Theory show I'm doing now. It documents a series of epiphanies about listening and music that helped shape my life. The best stuff came from the most unexpected places...
Nashville: Then and Now
A talk delivered to the Nashville Rotary in March 2010. Still quite relevant today I think.