Write in a dozen programming languages, sing opera in five languages, direct a national ad agency, play poker at a pro level, consult for mid-cap businesses around America, conduct choral ensembles, work as a graphic designer, work as a recording studio session artist, and earn three university degrees with 3.9 GPAs. All at the same time. While having friends, a social life, getting married, and having kids.
Here’s the takeaway: I’m not special. I did (do) all that stuff, yep, but that’s not nearly as important as this: I am not special.
Your brain is, however, and so are you. That’s a fact. Hold on to that thought.
Despite all of my Very Regular Human Being qualities, I have learned how to learn new skills rapidly, by studying less, with less stress, with time off for hobbies and goofing, and living a meaningful life.
I'm telling you today that you can learn anything, and study less. Much less! Sounds like marketing bull feathers, but. It’s true.
The thump-thud-squeeze through the juice press of Modern Work Life isn’t actually the required way of life. There’s a better way. Part of that better way is to master learning, which is the keystone skill in the modern knowledge economy.
Go on, believe a little. There is a better way. Or at least, there might be. You just need me to prove it to you.
I didn’t believe, and wouldn’t have believed a stranger on the internet saying “learn anything, study less.” Instead, what I did was buy wholesale into a number of the popular lies our culture and education system feed us. I lived them out to their logical ends, with great vigor. Things like:
(Now two of these might be partially true, but the problem with partially true is that it gets mistaken for totally true. That wormhole is for another day, however.)
Constant stress, health problems, over work, and overwhelm. It’s no way to live. (Although I did. Maybe you did to.) We can both agree that it’s certainly not the way to live that will help you rapidly acquire the kind of highly valued skills that the modern world demands. And then in 3 years demands another skill set. And you have to rapidly acquire those, all without burning out!
Like you, the only reason I’ll believe something is because it works, consistently, over time. Because if you test it, it works. And you test it again, and it still works. Because it is true.
Most of the time when we try something, however, it doesn’t quite work out. But learning that something is not true or not useful makes up a majority of our experiences since what is not useful far outweighs what is. That’s a huge part of the process.
I’m writing this to tell you that I’ve wasted thousands of hours and many years on earnest but misguided learning efforts, until I slowly uncovered a process.
I've done "this doesn't work" for you.
I’d like to save you years of your life, and give you the quintessential very best of I’ve learned along the way. (For honest-to-goodness free.)
I am producing a brand new course, temporarily titled "Learn Anything, Study Less" where I will share only the most valuable methods to massively increase your rate of learning while studying less, teach you how to individualize your approach, and I want to share it with the readers of this blog for free.
I don’t develop, write, and shoot courses for money. I do it because I get an extraordinary, deep satisfaction when I know I’ve been able to help someone else thrive in life. And I can't think of a more valuable thing to teach than how to learn.
I publish on platforms like SkillShare and Udemy because it costs money to write and shoot courses, as well as host materials on this website. They help me cover basic expenses and increase my impact, so I like them. Regardless, readers of this blog can access this course for free.
To get free access to Learn Anything, Study Less, just sign up here before August 31, 2021, and you’ll get the course for free, no questions asked. (Get the course link and unsubscribe to my email list if you like: no hard feelings!) Any questions, drop me a note.
This is going to be the best course I've ever published, and I can't wait to put these powerful learning tools in your hands. They changed my life, and I know they can change yours.
I can’t wait to see what you learn and achieve!
I grew up admiring Dan Cederholm and John Gruber and Jason Kottke and Cameron Moll and Jeffrey Zeldman and Molly and Jeremy Keith and Andy Clarke and Shaun Inman and Jason Santa Maria and Eric Meyer. I witnessed them advocating for a free and open web, through The Web Standards Project and the W3C (which I proudly contributed to as a budding web developer). Because of their work, I fell in love with the open web and the creative possibilities it made available to the world.
But then Google and Facebook and Twitter (although to a less extent Twitter) sucked up all the water. They slowly drained the internet of its personality and verve, and the majority of artists and mavericks I admired, hung up the hat. For more than a few years, the internet felt like a desert, and I know I’m hardly the first person to feel that way.
The interent giveth. But for quite a while there, it was taketh-ing a lot more than it was giveth-ing.
In the last few years, though, the scene has shifted. Not to great acclaim. It just happened, a little at a time.
The independent web will morph and shape shift, but it certainly won’t die. That’s a nice thing to be able to say in 2020.
What I loved back when I was a kid, I still love now. Moreso, actually. I love independent authors and artists, with the guts to keep doing things their way. People who like to make mistakes and blaze a path through action, not council. (As opposed to those who choose their path based on Google Analytics. Also known as sycophants. I should know: I was one! Nothing destroys the fire in your belly like chasing page views.)
That's what I loved about all those old school web gurus: they were out on a limb, inventing the future, focus groups be damned. They didn't do it for money. Some got rich. Most got by. But they just kept at it, they kept creating things where there weren't things before.
I’ve always thought that people who create because they need to are the most interesting people in the world.
The ones who do, and keep doing, regardless of whether or not they’re being looked at. Those are the ones who change the world.
Music education is considered enrichment by some, and education by others. The research, for many decades, has shown that it should be considered core education. It's about as extra as math or history.
The first reason is that human beings need art: we don't just enjoy it. As humans, we actually need it, psychologically and biologically.
The second is that it permanently changes how our brains are wired, how we process emotions, how we handle negative life events, and how our brains develop.
As it relates to young people's development writ large, music education has massive effects on their brain development. There are six neurological differences between active music creators and non-musicians, found in the prefrontal cortex (where executive function, decision-making, and impulse control are operated):
Most crucially, these benefits are not found in those who simply consume music or write about music. They are found in those who actively engage in the difficult creative process of making music.
The long and the short of it is, if students don't engage in active music making, they will be much further behind than those who do engage in active music making.
In many countries, like America, music education continues to be seen as "enrichment" by the school system. It's extra, like putting sprinkles on your ice cream.
Meanwhile, wealthy parents invest endless dollars in private music lessons for their children.
The scientists and the high achievers know that music is fundamental to a young person's growth and development.
The American school system needs to catch up.
Presenting edwardatkinson.com version 5.0: the first time I’ve gotten this right.
For 32 years, I lived in a script authored by a committee of strangers. I had a chair at that writer’s table, sure, but it was just one chair, and an uncomfortable one at that. I’d pitch a bold idea every now and then, and the group might approve. Too often, the committee would tell me I was veering off a mysteriously pre-charted path. Things got testy. But, that’s all history now.
Some time back, I fired the writers.
That’s why I made this website. There is exactly one curious author writing the script, and there are only a few rules:
Here on this website, I will not be creating art or content based on clicks, taps, or views. Pages will not be tested for conversions. There will be no A/B testing on design choices and no gaming the algorithm.
This project is a human with a single voice: my own.
I shared an early draft of this website with Brother Angelus, my younger monk brother, who noticed that it was different from anything I’d done in the past. He told me to tell you what I told him: I don’t need to perform anymore. I’m not here to please the audience. I’ve been starving the wolves of insecurity for years now, and have no intention of ever feeding them again.
I am here to do my best work, to trust my own instincts, to explore what is interesting, and to share it with you. Come along if you like the sound of that.
Virginia Zeani said to me once, “To sing is to thank God you are alive.”
There is no more meaningful reason to create art: to thank God you are alive. Her words are on the bottom of every page on this site for that reason. (And I always appreciate the reminder.)
Some past projects can be seen here, and I look forward to growing that list drip by drip.
Join the party and become a patron. 1,000 patrons of Edward Atkinson at any level, by May 2021: that’s my goal. We’re at 100 already, which is inspiring and beautiful.
I believe deeply in the power of true patronage, instead of transactional patronage and commercial art. True patronage incentivizes and influences the artist to create his best work and not his most-likely-to-be-liked work, and that’s no small thing. It does more than that too.
So join the party and become a patron! We could use a few new faces in the New Renaissance. (900 more to be exact.) My deepest thanks and gratitude to those who have helped kick things off already. I, quite literally, couldn’t do any of this without you.
Patron or not, I’d love to have you join my Infrequent Updates mailing list or invite a buddy to join because (1) I do not want Facebook and Google to control my relationships with friends, fans, and patrons, (2) I rarely send out emails, and (3) when I do, I only send out the best stuff.
I delete 98% of the emails I receive. (Sound familiar?) I work hard to craft those 2% emails.
Please get in touch. Share your point of view. Suggest a project. Send me a photo of your cat.
Most of all: thank you.
To be an artist is to create. Ideas do not write, paint, sing, or craft: artists do.
To be an artist, do your work.
History tells us that plagues and wars are the norm. That doesn’t make living through the spread of a highly infectious global disease any less dangerous or stressful. It does wipe some smudges off of our perspective, though. Reading a little history always makes me see more clearly.
Art didn’t go extinct during the Black Death. Or while the Roman Empire collapsed. Or when Alexander pillaged half the earth. Art has thrived (and sometimes even boomed) in the midst of war, famine, and death.
For profound reasons, artists feel ‘whole’ only when they are doing their work. I don’t believe that’s an accident, biologically or spiritually. When you do the work you are meant to do, when your actions are aligned with your purpose, good things happen.
Remember that. You feel whole when you do your work.
It was true before COVID-19 and it will be true after COVID-19.
Artists: Get off your ass. Get to your work. That is our path.
Breath. Air comes in, air goes out.
That might be what you tell your self. But that’s not the real story.
Your body has a history written in its cells, and it remembers whether you do or not. Trauma is inked on our bones. Experience is coded in our proteins. Your body is your instrument. And your body does not forget.
It might seize up under pressure, because it learned to be fearful. Your body might feel that it needs to protect itself in extreme ways, when it feels threatened. And you know what the body perceives as threatening? (Of course you do!) Singing in front of others.
But turn it on its head: if the body does not forget, teach it something to remember that empowers it and you. Let it remember something powerful and freeing.
Teach your body acceptance today. And tomorrow your body will remember.
Teach your body to sweat and be powerful. And tomorrow, your body will remember.
Teach your body to move with freedom. And tomorrow, your body will remember.
Teach your body again tomorrow, and it will remember that too. Teach it something true for a week, and it will remember. Weeks turn into months. Months turn into habits. Habits turn into you.
Your body is extraordinary, powerful, and beautiful. Don’t let it forget it.
Everything your body has ever done comes from one source: food you’ve put in it. That Five Guys burger was broken down in your colon, became lung cells, which were then compressed to exhale the carbon dioxide currently leaving your body as you read this sentence.
Food is, quite literally, the stuff of life. How wonderful! Every molecule of your beautiful body was once food. Then you ate it. And it became, well. You.
That spicy noodle soup you’re slurping will become skin cells on your forearm. The protein bar you grabbed for breakfast will become brain processes and hormone secretions. Everything that you currently are, you once ate.
We don’t usually think of food this way.
But when we do, meals become moments of gratitude and joy.
Food, the human body, life: these are miracles.
There is a long list of things that singers do to their homes to keep their vocal tract tracts healthy. Humidifying. Dusting. Regularly washing sheets. Allergen-proof pillow cases. You name it. But I recently discovered I had been overlooking something big. It’s super cheap to fix, and has had a big impact on my vocal health. Once I fixed it, I haven’t had morning sniffles.
Most homes and apartments have an air system which has an air filter you can change out. However, this filter is located where the central air system begins, often the basement or a utility closet. After the central filter, there are tens or hundreds of feet of air ducts which, if you’re brave enough to take a look, are guaranteed to be chock full of dust and allergens. It’s unavoidable…even if you DO change your central air filter regularly! Over time, that central air filter will have missed a great deal of airborne allergens, dust, and gunk. And that’s when it’s clean. And let’s be real: how many of us actually change our central air filter every month??
Now take a look at the grates on your air vents. Those little things on the floor or in the walls that you ignore every day. Notice how the edges are coated in a light gray film? That’s what’s getting inside your vocal tract. Everything you see on the outside of the grate is just a fraction of the crud that’s made its way into your body. Yikes.
Here’s the solution I came up with. Super cheap filters inside the grates that cover your air ducts.
That’s it. A simple, cheap, and fast solution which has had a profound impact on me as a singer. Between the two filters (the central filter and the grate filter), the allergens and dust get trapped.
Now, I don’t wake up with sniffles any more. Airborne allergens, dust, and whatever other crud that lies in my air ducts? It’s not making it into my throat any longer. It has almost totally eliminated the days where I wake up and have to fight mucus or a sore throat.
I hope this helps other singers out there, or maybe those of you who deal with asthma or similar issues where air quality plays a big part of your daily life.
I’m excited to be singing a Christmas concert in a few weeks, and in searching for repertoire, I suddenly remembered the great track Dormi O Bambino from the Three Tenor’s Christmas album in 2000. The song is so sweet, so beautiful, and so simple. I’m convinced almost any crowd would love it.
Searching for sheet music, I discovered a few things. For one, it’s not a published piece! Dormi O Bambino is actually a translation of a Polish folksong, a cradle lullaby, by the name of ‘Lulajze Jezuniu.’ What the Three Tenors sang was translated and arranged just for them, and never made commercially available.
I wanted to sing the song in Italian, which didn’t make things any easier. The Three Tenors album version is a mixture of Polish and Italian.
After searching fruitlessly for some time, I contacted Classical Vocal Reprints who, for those not in the know, are hands down the authority on finding rare or hard-to-find versions of sheet music. They’re amazing! (And better at what they do than most universities libraries…truly amazing!) But for the first time ever in my experience, they were unable to locate sheet music for me.
So here we are: unpublished music, in multiple translations, with no commercial version available anywhere.
Well, I did what any frustrated singer would do: I parked my butt in a chair, and listened to Carreras’ concert version fifteen times, and transcribed the Italian through a combination of lip reading and careful listening. (And Carreras’ muddy diction made this take quite a few listens!) I checked my transcription with a former Italian teacher of mine, who is a native Italian and currently teaches in Bologna. She helped me improve the quality of the transcription, and we worked out a finished product that we both feel is pretty darn accurate.
Here below is the transcription of Dormi O Bambino, all Italian. If you have a half decent pianist, they can arrange an accompaniment with interludes easily from any recording. I hope that by sharing this, I can save someone else some time!
Please feel free to share this with friends or colleagues (especially tenors looking for Christmas rep!). Enjoy!
Dormi, o bambino perlina mia; dormi amata dolcezza mia
Gesu or dormi, dormi o bambino e tu mammina culla il piccino.
Chiudi ti occhietti, colmi di pianto.
Calma il tuo viso così affranto
Gesu or ormi, dormi o bambino, e tu mammina culla il piccino.
Gesu or dormi, dormi o piccino, e tu mammina culla il bambino
E tu mammina culla il piccino.
The arts educate the whole person, drawing on every skill set, hope, desire, and human need, to create something meaningful.
The arts are not for the sole purpose of earning a profit; this is their strength.
The arts inspire us to strive beyond the basic demands of survival, beyond animal needs.
The arts teach us to see humanity in the eyes of a stranger.
The arts teach us to listen more and shout less.
The arts teach us to work together for a common good.
The arts inspire the mind and heart, with lasting permanence.
The arts express the values that the next generation will internalize.
The arts change minds and perspectives.
The arts nurture the human heart, a forgotten element in modern education.
The arts feed the mind and challenge the body.
The arts inspire in us the most powerful human feeligns love, awe, and devotion.
The arts are a bedrock block of human living and life, and have been fundamental to every known culture.
The arts are what make us human.
As living beings, we must partake. Frequently. Yet human beings elevate food beyond simple nutrition, and always have.
Food is art. It forms the first layer of bedrock in all cultures and traditions, religions and families. Food is the living tradition that expresses a people’s history. But unlike monuments or books, food is alive and food is now! It is perishable, and it is fragile, just like you and me.
I’ve always loved food. But it is in understanding that food is a language that I’ve learned to respect and honor it. Food is spiritual because it is, in the most literal sense, the stuff of life. It feeds not just our bodies but our spirits too. It brings us together, and it is common to all mankind. It transcends our selfish differences.
Food is a beautiful language. Its symbols and words are the sweat in the kitchen, smiles on faces, the time spent lingering with friends, that deep sigh of contentment after a heavy pasta dish with fresh basil from the garden. Food is a sign that I will die one day, yet food is a sign that I will live and fight at least one more day. And if it’s good food, with joy in my heart! To share in a universal need, with that undying desire for a life beyond mere survival, is the most human of acts.
Food shared is a sign that I care for your strength and health. It’s also a sign that I’m hungry, and you are too, so let’s be a couple of humans in this moment. Food is what you give to an ailing friend. Food is how to say I love you, without words.
Good food is Mozart, or Shakespeare, or Hemingway, depending on the chef. More days than not, though, in the bustle of life, it’s just a low grade pop song. But it’s still food. It’s still the stuff of life. It’s still that magic thing that makes it all work. In the mundane and elevated alike, there is always a beautiful moment to share (and taste!) if only we look.