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TED Talk Revelations #1

Richard Cooke, Visionary and Musician

Richard Cooke, Visionary and Musician

Being involved with a TED Talk event is chock-full of exciting experiences, lessons, people, and revelations.

I’m still processing all my thoughts following the culminating TEDx Mile High event on June 25th at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in Denver. Twenty-five hundred people attended. My name as a coach was announced from the stage. I got a big badge that said, “Karen Susman – Coach.” I’m never taking it off.

Twelve speakers spoke. I coached two of them. I’d met all of them on day one back in April. Few had done a lot of public speaking. Their messages and passion were astonishing. And, by the time they were coached for two months, they were all stars. All different. All remarkable.

Each speaker was thought provoking. Let me tell you about one speaker in particular. His name is Richard Cooke. He’s from Durango, Colorado. He designs and builds musical instruments that are installed in public parks. That’s 1000 public parks throughout the world. It’s free to play his instruments. They are designed for all ages, sizes, abilities and disabilities. freenotesharmonypark.com

That is enough of an accomplishment in my book. But, it’s what Richard said that struck me harder than his xylophone mallets. He told of his yearning to play piano when he was young. He couldn’t read music, so piano became frustrating. The proper fingering was daunting, too. No one seemed to be able to help him play by ear or just play for pure fun. He commented that when we learn to speak, we speak “by ear.” We don’t give a baby a dictionary.  We are delighted when our children have a cute way of pronouncing a word or putting words together. Perhaps my children will correct me, but I don’t remember their having to be grammatically correct as toddlers. They didn’t have to color in the lines. An apple could be purple with yellow stripes if that’s the way they wanted to color it.

As an adult, still frustrated, Richard wanted everyone to be able to play music. Music wasn’t just for the “talented.” Music is healing, creative and builds community. So, he started designing musical instruments. He created instruments that anyone could play. Then he said two things that I thankfully can’t get out of my head.

Richard said, “First I took out the hard parts. The black keys. The sharps and flats.” Then he said that when playing his instruments you couldn’t make a mistake. There were no wrong notes, rhythms, sequences or techniques.

What if we looked at our lives and took out the hard parts? Yes. There are hard parts we can’t remove. But, there are hard parts we falsely think are essential. What if we approached the unremovable hard parts without struggle? What if we dropped our perfectionism and designed our lives so that there wasn’t a wrong way to live? What if we dropped our judgment of others and realized they are not living their lives incorrectly? They are just living their lives. What if we were more gentle with ourselves and others?

Listen to the music around you. Let your music be heard.


Is Your Presentation TED Talk-Worthy? If not, contact me at Karen@karensusman.com.Thirty-three years experience plus a TED Talk badge that labels me a TEDx Speaker Coach.

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