in Creativity, Motivation, Music, News, Philosophy

A Case For Serendipity

“What people call serendipity sometimes is just having your eyes open.” – José Manuel Barroso

I had a chance meeting with a man. Despite having something like 40 years between us there was a great connection. After speaking for a while he mentioned he was a painter and we got around to talking about art for a while.

He told me a few things and then excused himself for yammering on. I told him that I didn’t mind and enjoyed talking with him. I felt like the conversation was drawing to a close but I felt like there was something more that I needed to know about why we’d met.

So, I asked him about where he lived before. He said he was from Cheltenham and asked me if I enjoyed classical music. I said I had some favorites and he proceeded to tell me that he used to live close to a house where a composer was born. Then he asked me what I guessed I was waiting for: “Have you heard of a composer called Gustav Holst?”

Gustav Holst

That’s one sexy ass pose right there mister!

I got the chills! This guy’s music made an impact on me from the first time I heard it.

I had a teacher who introduced me to it. I remember when he put on “Mars” from “The Planets, Op. 32” and it just hit me really hard. I closed my eyes and was transported into the midst of an army marching out to war. It was so cool! I’d had other times when music really took to other worlds but this? This was something else.

He put on “Neptune” and I was soothed, I felt like I was a sailor or a ship at sea. At the end of that one the strings felt like waves washing up on shore.

I was really taken by the music. I felt like I understood the lineage of the film composers I enjoy like John Williams, Hans Zimmer & Danny Elfman. For me this was a truly transformative experience in what pictures you can paint with music.

I was so excited that I put up my hand and told the teacher that it was really cool how Holst took the theme of the planets and explored their link to the gods. I told him what i’d experienced while listening.

Well, his response wasn’t exactly supportive. He said that it was nice that i’d made that connection but that Holst just looked at the planets personalities and that it didn’t have anything to do with mythology or gods. But, it was an interesting thought.

I felt dejected. Was I wrong about this? How could this music make me feel these things if they weren’t put there to lead my thoughts and feelings to these places?

I had to look it up later and it turned out to be exactly what Holst had done. I didn’t bother going to this guy’s classes any more. I think I got out what I needed to learn from him.

Nailed It!

Nailed It!

After talking to James, the painter, for a little more we went our seperate ways. I was left thinking: “Wasn’t that serendipitous?”. I wondered what I was supposed to learn from this.

I was STILL thinking about that one when I started writing this post, not knowing where it’d end up. But, I may have found an answer along the way.

The day I was introduced to Holst’s music my mind expanded. I learned to trust my gut feelings. If I have a hunch? Go there, explore and see what you can find! Sometimes what you find might be of no value right now. The thing is, you don’t know what benefit you might derive from it down the road.

I like to think of the story from Steve Jobs’ biography. Where he just follows his intuition, drops out of college yet ends up taking a class in calligraphy. What possible use would he have of that? Well, turns out a hell of a lot! If he hadn’t gone to that class then we might’ve been stuck with a standard TRS-80 font for an unnecessarily long time. Not only that, but desktop publishing might’ve taken even longer to take off.

Luckily, we’ll never know!


It’s actually kind of beautiful in its own right, he says sensually touching the screen.

There’s a great collection of stories called “The Three Princes Of Serendip” from which the expression “serendipity” is derived (Horace Walpole coined the term!). A series of happy accidents lead the three brothers through various adventures.

It even includes slightly disturbing things such as the touching of human waste which leads to a deduction rivaled only by CSI. If you get a chance, pick it up! The book, not the human waste.

To sum up my experience, what you teach someone isn’t necessarily what they learn.

“The whole secret of life is to be interested in one thing profoundly and in a thousand things well.” – Horace Walpole

Gustav Holst – The Planets, Op. 32

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