Stephen P. Brown2019-03-19T13:07:35-04:00

World Premiere Prep

Not quite a Gettin’ Ready Rag, but close…

This week is the World Premiere of my composition “Heed The Bell.”

It was written with a specific type of acoustic in mind – the old resonant stone cathedrals I grew up in. Although in West Central Florida we don’t have many large, heavy, stone cathedrals.

But the Gallery at the Pinewood Cultural Park in Largo is pretty close, acoustically!

So here some shots of the space, and some of us getting ready for Friday night’s performance of music and movement in a space of intriguing acoustics and light.

Friday, May 17 2019, 8pm (reception at 7:30pm). Space is limited! Please register on Facebook or Eventbrite.

Stephen P Brown is a Conductor of orchestra, choirs, concert bands and musicals, as well as a composer. He is the General Director of the Dunedin Music Society, Head Spark Plug of the Concert University, and a Professional Artist Grantee of Creative Pinellas. You can find his concert schedule here, a sample of his compositions here, and listen to his podcast Classic Jabber here.


Are you collaborating or hiring?

No Unvanilla Left

The term “Collaborative” has become so overused and misused that it barely has any unvanilla meaning anymore.

I was given an opportunity to create a performance in an unusually resonant space, and wasn’t entirely sure what to do. So did I hire performers to help share the music I chose, or did I collaborate with others to create something new?

Let’s clear this up.

Playing the piano accompaniment got too demeaning for some performers

Playing the piano accompaniment got to be too demeaning for some performers.

Collaboration became popular among classical music piano players in the late 1990s. Piano accompaniments were getting so difficult to play and even pieces from the 18th and 19th centuries included passages that clearly only really accomplished and skillful pianists could (and should!) tackle.

But they felt undervalued being called “Accompanists.”

For some reason, accompanying another instrumentalist or vocalist became demeaning to some folk, so they wanted to be called something different, something that would elevate them from a supporting role to a more prominent partnership type of declination.

And some bright spark somewhere chose “Collaborative Pianist.”

Now, almost every Higher Education institution in the Western World has a major topic of study called “Collaborative Piano.”

I’ll let you into a little secret:

They are not collaborating!

Collaboration, according to Google, is defined as “the action of working with someone to produce or create something.”

Perhaps the confusion comes from Merriam-Webster’s recently watered-down version: “to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor.”

Nothing about producing something or creativity in that definition, unfortunately.

And even the usually-reliable Oxford English dictionary now states an incomplete version: “Produced by two or more parties working together.”

Worse yet are similarly bland definitions from others who live in their heads, such as the aptly-named Thought Farmers who not only define collaboration as “Two or more people working together towards shared goals,” but dissect their definition into the ubiquitous three-steps to success formula in their article “What collaboration really means.


Fortunately, there are folk in the real, non-academic world who still remember that collaboration requires some sort of outcome, something produced or created.

According to Carlos Dominguez of Cisco Systems, it is to create value. At least, that what he concludes in his piece “Collaboration: What does it really mean?

As far back as 2016, the Economist in “The Collaboration Curse” identified how the Western World has forced several unhelpful “collaboration” practices on people who work together to achieve a goal. Nowhere does it mention the production or creation of something, but simply working alongside someone else has taken on the aura of “collaborating.”

So what does that mean for us in the art music world, those of us who enjoy sharing old and new classical music?

Clarity of your role

Hire someone to help you do what you can't do yourself

Hire someone to help you do what you can’t do yourself

If I come across a piece of music and it requires instruments or voices I cannot play myself simultaneously, I need to hire other musicians to play those parts.

Take, for instance, the Romance for Viola and Piano (video link) by Vaughan Williams. It has a viola part, and a piano part. One person of those performers – let’s say it’s the viola player – decides to make the world a better place by sharing this piece of music. Unfortunately, it is unlikely they can play the piano part as well (unless they have four arms). Therefore, they need to HIRE someone to perform alongside them… someone who can play the piano part they can’t play.

Or, a pianist wants to play some chamber music and comes across La Mort du Nombre (video link) by Messiaen. In that case, they don’t need anyone to COLLABORATE. No, they need to HIRE a violinist, soprano and tenor to join them.

Reproducing a version of what has already been created is not collaborating.

On the other hand, creating something from scratch IS collaborating.

For example, I was given the opportunity to perform in an unusual space – a large, 10,000 sq ft gallery that sounds more like a stone cathedral than any electronically-replicated sound studio.

I decided to write a piece of music just for that space, and put together a concert of repertoire suitable for the space.

But what to include?

I had some ideas, but needed help.

And met a dancer.

So now we have a percussionist/ pianist/ clarinet player and a dancer.

But… yawn.

How about something melodic. A flute!


And some oomph. Some bass.

“Stephen: I’m in!” said Rose, a cellist.

Together we created something new.

Something we all find rather exciting, actually.

Celicia (flute) and Rose (cello) collaborate with me to create something new.

Celicia (flute) and Rose (cello) collaborate with me to create something new.


A new work called Pas de son de Rosé with a surprising twist towards the end, a new work called Heed the Bell, and some new movement to existing music grew from collaborating, not one individual.

It’s all very exciting indeed, and we are looking forward to sharing what we all created together, from scratch.

THAT’S collaboration.

Yes, we are also sharing pre-written music arranged for various combinations of what we can play, sing or move to, but as far as those two pieces are concerned, no one person can claim ‘creation’ of the work. It was only by collaborating did the piece enter existence.

So, let’s summarize and be very clear:

If you have a task to do and can’t do it yourself, don’t want to do it, or don’t have time to do it yourself, you HIRE someone to perform that task for you. In music, preferably at the same time as you!

If you work with someone to CREATE something that hasn’t been done before – not a reproduction or representation of something that already exists – then you are COLLABORATING with them.

BIG difference.

And there is a place for both in our world: hiring and being hired, as well as asking others, or offering, to collaborate.


You can attend the World Premiere of Heed The Bell and Pas de Son de Rosé at 8pm on Friday, May 17th at The Gallery, Pinewood Cultural Park, in Largo, FL. Get more details here.

Stephen P Brown is a Conductor of orchestra, choirs, concert bands and musicals, as well as a composer. He is the General Director of the Dunedin Music Society, Head Spark Plug of the Concert University, and a Professional Artist Grantee of Creative Pinellas. You can find his concert schedule here, a sample of his compositions here, and listen to his podcast Classic Jabber here.


I’m a charity! Please perform for free…

Your charity has lots of costs.

Live music is one of them.

Someone recently asked me this question:

I have a non-profit and would like to have live music during my charity event. Is it okay to ask a professional to perform for free? If not, what would you recommend we do to work the fee into our budget? Are there ways we can increase our budget to make this work?

It is a question many people hint at because they actually already know the answer, and are hiding behind sounding ‘nice’ or basically they are frightened to ask directly.

No, it’s not OK to ask a musician to perform for free…


You ask EVERYONE involved in your event to participate for free.

Even your staff: there can be no offset of work time (“Work this event on Saturday and you can take Monday off.”).

Performers should be considered an expense like any other activity.

Budget Line Items

Budget Line ItemsEvent budget line items include catering, the venue, printing, gifts & decorations, staff time, etc.

Unless you fairly and equally ask ALL your vendors to contribute to your event for free, it is totally unfair to expect some vendors to contribute to the success of your event for free but not others.

Now, if you choose the RIGHT performers, they will often discount their services or, better yet, charge you their full normal fee but actually make a donation.

And that’s plain awesome.

But it is up to the performers themselves – I don’t recommend coercing them!

Here’s the thing:

Reputation Management

You don’t want to be the one with the reputation of devaluing culture.

Word will spread REALLY QUICKLY in the live music circles, and you will find it increasingly difficult to book any performers except amateurs and high school students.

An amateur might look the part, but...

An amateur might look the part, but…

Because that is, in effect, what you are asking for.

Performers who spend more on their instruments or equipment than they earn from such tools, or those who have not yet fully learned their craft.

And although there are many fine amateur and student musicians in the world their inexperience will most often get exposed, and you don’t want your event attendees to leave remembering more of the flute player’s poor choice of songs, or the pianist’s flirting from the stage, or the inevitable amplification system feedback, than your cause.

That’s not a reputation you want to build, either.

If you want a professional, like a professional event planner or CEO, you should expect to pay for it.

Think of a professional musician as a Formula 1 driver and those who perform for free as go cart hobbyists – they might look the same but their skills don’t quite have the same quality, experience, know-how or reliability.

Remember the plumber who charged $100 to replace one nut in five minutes and the problem was fixed? When the outraged customer asked for a detailed bill, it stated “Nut: $0.75, Time: $4.25, Knowing where to look and how to fix it: $95.00”

Just bear this in mind, too:

$75 ain’t gonna cut it.

In the USA that’s gas money, which in effect means you’re still attracting amateurs and students.

And a whole lot of administrative, organizational, and egocentric headaches, to boot.

To get the real deal it’ll take about $350 per performer (at the time of writing) for a one-day rehearsal and performance. That will include personal practice time as well as planning and admin, so there are many more hours of a professional’s time involved that simply the 1.5 hour dinner.

A Moment In Time

Professionals are well worth their salt in that they sell moments of time. That includes the initial contact, negotiation and agreement as much as the day itself. Every second has value, so they will not be wasting either their time or yours:

  • Professionals know what to ask for, logistically.
  • They know you probably don’t know what to provide, so they will help you think about things you didn’t realize were needed.
  • Professionals will stay well out of your way, as long as what you promised them is there.
Musicians sell a moment in time, not a reproducable product

Musicians sell a moment in time, not a reproducable product

It is a joy working with professionals, and you will quickly gain the opposite reputation – your organization is professional in its own right, efficient, supportive and willing to learn, culturally sensitive, and definitely worth supporting and spreading the word about.

THAT’S the approach you want – long term investment in your reputation.

Ways to make it work

First, add a line item in your budget called “Performers” or, if you don’t really value live music anyway, call it “Entertainment.”

Then, think how many performers you need. A solo performer, a quartet, a big band. However many performers you want, multiply that by the fee you think is appropriate (aim for $350 per person. $400 will get you a pretty decent performer, and $200 will get you a semi-professional who does a whole bunch of other things in addition to performing, perhaps they even have a day-job).

How will you pay for this?

In the same way you’d pay for any other item in your event:

  • ask someone specifically for a donation,
  • add a few really cool prizes to your silent auction,
  • write the check yourself!
  • get the premium beer package rather than the platinum spirits package,

The bottom line is, just consider performers an expense like any other part of your event, and you will be safe.

Music is SUCH an important part of living as a human being (remember: true music is the language of emotions… if we could put it into words, we would, but then we wouldn’t have any need for music itself!)

THANK YOU for making your corner of the world a little better place to live for all by keeping live music alive.

That makes you

truly awesome in my book 🙂


Stephen P Brown is a Conductor of orchestra, choirs, concert bands and musicals, as well as a composer. He is the General Director of the Dunedin Music Society, Head Spark Plug of the Concert University, and a Professional Artist Grantee of Creative Pinellas. You can find his concert schedule here (including Heed The Bell, the World Premiere of a new composition), a sample of his compositions here, and listen to his podcast Classic Jabber here.


By the way: it works the same with visual artists as well as performing artists. All the stock pictures used in this post are protected under copyright by Creative Commons license CC0 via the Pixabay License.


First Impressions Are False

Never rely on your first impression

How do I know?

Because I recently received this email from a performer in one of my regular ensembles, who left the group after making judgments based on their first impressions of me.

“What a HOOT !! When you started this gig I felt you were distant and probably asking yourself why you had to deal with a bunch of rank amateurs who could not possibly produce much of anything worth hearing… you seemed out of place, not used to dealing with non-professional, non-fulltime musicians… none of this may be true but they were my early impressions.  I found you hard to follow, somewhat overbearing, and seemingly humorless (hence why this account today). I revel in the “change” and look forward to more. I have and hopefully will continue to learn from your instructions/criticisms… you have made me a better and more attentive player.” – J.A.

This was a year after the performer returned to the same group and noticed something was different… whether it was them or me or the group dynamics or a combination of all three (which is more likely).

The point is:

NEVER rely on your first impression of ANYONE.

There were several newcomers to the Dunedin Concert Band’s performance last week, called “Epic Movies.”

Fortunately, this first impression was a good one – listen to that laughter in the video of the 10min concert opener below – but it is only after time,



Lesson Learned: Take Your Time

Dunedin Concert Band Conductor Stephen P Brown being stalked by Star Wars Kylo Ren

Dunedin Concert Band Conductor Stephen P Brown being stalked by Star Wars Kylo Ren

We usually learn the best lessons the hard way…

Even if someone tells us to look out!

For example, this past weekend’s performance by the Dunedin Concert Band was themed “Epic Movies” and we shared some incredible movie scores.

The music was incredible, and the quality of playing “had increased steadily over the past couple of years” said a long-time member of the Arts & Culture Advisory Committee for the City of Dunedin.

It was fun, too.

Perhaps because I ended up wearing a total of 13 hats! Almost one for every piece we played.

But the lesson came when I made my announcements to the energetic and very happy, upbeat audience.

Announcements from the stage are usually dull and boring, so I try to spread them out and make them interesting.

Take, for example, cell phone messages. (more…)


Which leadership hat am I wearing now?

The outcome from wearing different hats as a leader


We all wear them.

Several of them.

Which movies do you think these hats represent?

I’m writing this article while waiting to begin the Dunedin Concert Band rehearsal for its “Epic Movies” concert on Sunday (April 14th), so I couldn’t resist. (You’ll need to attend to find out the answers!)

So here’s another question:

Which hat do you think I will be wearing DURING the concert?!!!

I won’t be wearing this one at the Dunedin Concert Band “Epic Movies” performance, that’s for sure!

But let’s get serious…

Multiple hats a day

Leaders get to wear a multitude of hats at various times of the day. (more…)


Rhythm Kings Upgrade

Music King’s Rhythm To Keep Beating On.

Dan Fox sold more than 20 million copies of his pop artist songbooks, and now the 1920s and 1930s dance band he founded in Tarpon Springs teams up with the Dunedin Music Society to continue connecting local communities with live music.

If you ever bought a keyboard or guitar songbook of John Denver, Kenny Rogers, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Peter Paul and Mary, Led Zeppelin, Richard Stoltzman, Sir James Galway, tenor superstar Luciano Pavarotti, and dozens of other stars of rock, folk, and country, it was likely a book by Dan Fox. Or the Reader’s Digest Songbooks, instruction books for guitar, banjo and mandolin, or even The Rhythm Bible for jazz musicians – they were all by penned Dan Fox, undoubtedly
the king of making jazz and pop accessible to millions of budding performers.

After retiring to Tarpon Springs, Fox missed recording with many jazz greats in the 50s and 60s, and brought together twelve of the most accomplished performers he could find in the area. He called them the Tarpon Springs Rhythm Kings, and they performed all over Tampa Bay bringing to life the dance music of the 20s and 30s. But just a few years later, bad health forced Fox to withdraw from performing altogether, and eventually from life itself.


But Fox’s rhythm certainly beats on, and one of the original trumpeters of the Rhythm Kings, Doug Ritchie, is eager to keep the ensemble active. Alongside saxophone player Greg Howard, the Rhythm Kings approached me as the General Director of the Dunedin Music Society, to see if we could help each other, and instantly a strong rapport was evident. (more…)


Nobody says “Fourth Time Lucky” do they?

That’s what it took to get the Pinellas Festival of Community Bands to a historic level of success – four tries.

Pinellas Festival of Community Bands 2019 004

At the end of last Saturday’s festival, produced by the Dunedin Music Society, with about 700 performers gathering on stage, I shared an observation that the first festival ended with more performers (about 400) than audience!

Not so this time.

All in all, about 1,200 people took advantage of a variety of live music on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Dunedin.

BBQ, Tex Mex and Ice cream foods trucks added to the merriment of the day, and as I was the event’s Emcee (a.k.a. M.C., a.k.a. Master of Ceremonies), not even my cheesy ice cream jokes put anyone off.

Pinellas Festival of Community Bands 2019 003

It was a thrill to conduct the Dunedin Concert Band for such a large crowd, who appeared attentive and generally happy to hear volunteer community musicians from as far as Stuart (on the East Coast) and the Villages, as well as more local bands such from Brandon, St. Petersburg, and Wesley Chapel.

Two more interesting observations:

1. Five of the bands played music by John Williams! What with another Star Wars movie coming out soon it was irresistible to for several bands to play some. Only St. Petersburg Community Band and the Awesome Second Time Arounders Marching Band didn’t – and that’s probably because they are preparing for their appearance in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade this year… not exactly a forum for John Williams film music!

2. This was the third time the festival was held in Dunedin. Last year it was in St. Petersburg as the Dunedin Community Center’s outdoor stage suffered damage from Hurricane Irma and was unusable. Well, repairs have been made and the old roof has been taken down, but that meant there was absolutely zero sun shade for the performers and the sound of each band floated up and away into the blue yonder, instead of being projected out towards the audience.

Pinellas Festival of Community Bands 2019 002

None of that detracted from a wonderful afternoon.

“What a pleasure to participate in Saturday’s event. The entire event went without a hitch. Kudos for a job VERY WELL DONE.”

“I was impressed with the flow, organization, timing and facilities. Your attention to detail was most evident and it made life easy for all the bands performing. It is a great venue and growing in popularity each year. We appreciate being a part of it. Thanks for your work in making this happen.”

“Another successful Festival is in the books. I thought everything went off like clock work. A beautiful day!”

Pinellas Festival of Community Bands 2019 001

To see more of my upcoming events in and around Pinellas, visit

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