How Playing Fearlessly Leads to Reinvention: Recommended Reading List


The Road of Creativity and Kristen McKeon of D’Addario recently presented a new workshop, How Playing Fearlessly Leads to Reinvention. The topic was born from months of inquiry about risk and fear, ultimately leading to the deeper question, “what is your bottom line as a human being (and musician)?” That if your bottom line is identified and adhered to in the most important aspects of your life, doesn’t it seem probable that fear might lessen or subside, which in turn stands to strengthen your ability to take greater risks in all aspects of your life?

One part of our research was to ask leading musicians to share their definitions of risk, the fears they’ve encountered and how they’ve overcome them. We could not have anticipated the deeply personal experiences they shared and how their courage to share them publicly helped participants desire to dig deeper within themselves to identify their own fears. This was a goldmine of discovery that we cannot wait to build upon in future workshops.

As a result of unprecedented feedback and requests for helpful resources, we’re sharing the nuts and bolts of our workshop and a few essential books that are responsible for creating the heart of the workshop. The list is by no means exhaustive, but represents the books that have been most critical in connecting these dots.  Play fearlessly.  It’s worth it.

fearless workshop


A few quotes that define risk by the participants in our research:

“Existing on the line between safety, and falling on your face.” – Taimur Sullivan, PRISM Quartet

“To make a move that could cause me to lose something of value to me.” – Chris Hemingway, freelance musician, NYC

“The push beyond that which I know I am able to do with certainty.” – Frederick L. Hemke, Professor Emeritus, Northwestern University


Our definition (related to the field of creativity, not to the verb “to play”)

  • a state of mind or attitude that one brings to an activity that is centered on the experience or process of the activity, not the outcome of the activity.
  • the activity must be self-initiated or self-motivated, not an obligation or assignment
  • habitual and mindless actions are absent. The participant is actively engaged.


A definitive book on play and flow that describes in depth the state of being that represents deep joy, creativity and controlled consciousness.  An essential read for those interested in understanding the psychology behind flow and our consciousness and the variables that allow individuals to learn to control it.

Dweck identifies two kinds of learners – those with a fixed mindset or growth mindset.  The fixed mindset accompanies those who believe their personal qualities are permanent. The growth mindset accompanies those who believe their “basic qualities are things they can cultivate through their efforts….everyone can change and grow through application and experience.”  Putting this book into the context of our workshop, a growth mindset is critical for reinvention and setting the foundation in which play and flow can occur.


Our definition

  • requires embracing the unknown
  • requires diligence (care)—this is different than discipline
  • supported by casting aside thoughts of the outcome

“I used to fear being myself.  If I didn’t play up to other people’s expectations, that would somehow make me a lesser musician.  I used to also fear that I wouldn’t like the musician I became through hard work and truly honest efforts… I have learned to do my absolute best and embrace those results.” – Chris Hemingway

“[I used to have the] fear of no respect.  I always wanted the respect of my peers and colleagues.  The older I get, though, the more I understand that you’ll never make everyone happy all the time.  I’ve realized that I’m good at certain things and not good at other things.  I’ve realized that I don’t have to be a master at everything… I’ve learned to be who I am and capitalize off my strengths and not try to be everything to everybody to try to earn their respect. – Mindi Abair, Grammy-nominated recording artist


Our definition

  • to make major changes or improvements to (something) (Merriam Webster)
  • a natural byproduct of investing in the creative process; that, by definition, the creative process causes natural reinvention

“As an improviser, I feel like every time I perform, I’m taking a risk. I’m spontaneously coming up with ideas and statements that may not come out the way I want them to 100%, but I state them anyway. The beautiful thing about stating these ideas and concepts is that I can always fix them, adjust them, or clean them up. By simply putting these ideas out in the universe, I’m pushing myself closer to being the individual I want to be.” – Jaleel Shaw, band leader and member of Roy Haynes Quartet

“I need to feel like progress is being made. I always, very critically, analyze my mistakes, be they personal or professional. Sometimes, the solution is to stay the course; to keep sounding bad until it sounds less bad. If I am making progress, I am satisfied. Not content, but satisfied.” – Branford Marsalis, Grammy-award winning artist


“The renewal of societies and organizations can go forward only if someone cares. For self-renewing men and women the development of their own potentialities and the process of self-discovery never end.  It is a sad but unarguable fact that most people go through their lives only partially aware of the full range of their abilities.  Exploration of the full range of our own potentialities…is something to be pursued systematically, or at least avidly, to the end of our days.”  An excellent read that supports the value of continuous reinvention.

B-O-T-T-O-M  L-I-N-E

Our definition

  • a core principle of who you are as a human being. The recurring principle that appears across all of your work and actions. It’s what often drives your most important choices.

“I need to feel like what I am doing is worthwhile. I need to feel that my path has a heart. I also need outside artistic and personal inspiration.” – Jeff Coffin, saxophonist with Dave Mathews Band

“I want to make music that inspires me… bottom line.  I don’t need to put titles on it.   I don’t want to stand on a stage and play something that makes it a job to play. I want to play music that makes me feel and hopefully inspires and makes others feel as well.”  – Mindi Abair

“The driving factor for me as a musician and a person is the desire to get better at something. A constant improvement is very satisfying. Accepting new challenges is part of that, certainly.” – Griff Campbell, saxophone professor, Louisiana State University


“The head and heart cannot function without a unifying principle.  That principle is to be found at the crossroads through which each element must pass.  That crossroad stands at –and is — the center.” – James Conlon, in the Foreword.   The anecdotal quotes throughout the book by famous artists, musicians, writers, philosophers and composers are alone worth the purchase.  Of all of the books I’ve shared with my students, this one, more than other, piqued their curiosities and observations about themselves and other musicians with whom they work.  It created within them the desire to understand and discover their own centers.

This book features the personal journey of world champion chess player and child prodigy Josh Waitzkin.  After winning eight national titles in chess before the age of 18, he abandoned chess and became a national and world champion in martial arts only a few years later.  This led him to discover that it wasn’t chess or martial arts that was so compelling to him; it was his insatiable drive to learn at the deepest level possible.  This book single-handedly changed the course of my work in 2009 when I discovered it.

Poet David Whyte’s perspective on exposing and blending personal bottom lines (as defined above) into one’s work places an urgency on the responsibility of  individuals to contribute their deepest self to their life’s work.  In eloquent language that goes straight to the heart, Whyte focuses on the value of the presence of the human soul in one’s work despite the challenges presented by corporate culture.  Whyte states, “Crossing the Unknown Sea is meant to be an exploration and a midnight conversation, a look at our present vision of work and our ability to reimagine ourselves; a sea voyage into both our inherited notions of what work means to us and our experiences and intuitions of what lies over the horizon.  A reminder that work is not a static endpoint or a mere exercise in providing, but a journey and a pilgrimage in which the core elements of our being are tested in the world.”  For those ready to take the plunge into the deepest meaning of what it means to play fearlessly, this book is a must-read.

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One Response to How Playing Fearlessly Leads to Reinvention: Recommended Reading List

  1. David Pope says:

    Excellent post. Thanks for the recommended reading!

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