September 29, 2014

Seize the Hidden: Bob Boilen, Host of All Songs Considered, at 11th gathering of CreativeMornings/Washington, DC

CreativeMorning’s global theme for March 2014 was “Hidden.” Speaking for the Washington, DC, chapter was Bob Boilen, founder of the National Public Radio show “All Songs Considered.” He spoke of a practice he exercises in his life: To look for hidden qualities in people—potentially good qualities. As the beneficiary of this action at a young age, he set the course of his career.

After college and a few jobs related to music, Boilen formed a band called Tiny Desk Unit(1). Their time in a recording studio was limited, but during this narrow slice of time, he was given the keys by a recording-studio owner to access the space after regular work-day hours. The keys came with this instruction:
“Here. These are the keys to my studio. You can come in here any night, when nobody is here. Not going to teach you how to use it. You have to figure that out.”
This wasn’t a superficial gesture of kindness, it’s a bet of trust.

Boilen took both responsibility and advantage of the recording toolkit—the studio became his learning lab. He worked alone, hidden. The recording studio seeded his development as an eventual radio-show director, primarily “All Things Considered,” which staged his creation of “All Songs Considered,” which staged his creation of its companion show “Tiny Desk Concert.” These major beats of Boilen’s career can be traced to the instant when that music-industry owner offered him entrance to his recording studio. To Boilen, this moment gradually revealed where to direct and focus his energies—love of music, all kinds, especially that which challenged the mainstream grain.

Being the recipient of someone’s gesture to see—within another—something wonderful, even extraordinary, can be surprising. This is the unsuspecting twist of giving someone a chance, choosing to avoid feeling oblivious to a person’s dormant interests, which have yet to get turned toward a way of life. The popular all-desirable convention here is purpose.

Back then, Boilen accepted the keys to play in the recording studio. It ultimately took hard work and persistence to advance these circumstances into a well-obsessed (albeit once hidden) path on which his appreciation of music became a daily reality. Boilen may have judged himself as an unlikely focus of the owner, who gave him access to his recording studio. But the owner saw something hidden within Boilen, who, in turn, saw a number of things hidden in himself—broadcasting, collaborating, composing, directing, promoting—and, instead of keeping them hidden beneath layers of reluctance and doubt, he brought them to fulfilling display.

As the lead shaper of National Public Radio’s presence in the world music scene through the shows he established and sustains, he emphasized uncovering and cascading the recognition on the many who independently make music—best put by Boilen as “somebody’s sacrifice and dream.”

Boilen concluded his talk with “Go forward. Find the hidden.” Hidden within this encouragement is an urgency to accommodate and recognize the creativity—aspiring, brewing, forming—of our (to borrow another precise wording from Boilen) “fellow human beings.”

It’s fortuitous that Boilen encountered someone, a recording-studio owner, who happened to give him the keys, which opened more than a room. The advantage of this particular time echoes this sentiment by Sandee Kastrul, who co-founded nonprofit i.c.stars, and whom I had the privilege to interview:
“In those moments when somebody acknowledges that they see you for who you are, for what your superpowers are, or for what you may be struggling with—it’s as if they give you an object made of thought, or a mirror that shows you aren’t alone.”
Belief in hidden treasures within people can yield magic.

(1) Boilen’s band, Tiny Desk Unit, influenced the name of his series, Tiny Desk Concerts, showcasing intimate video performances, recorded live at the workspace of All Songs Considered.

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Photograph by Kate Warren of CreativeMornings/Washington, DC. See the Flickr Album of Bob Boilen’s talk at the Washington, DC, chapter of CreativeMornings.

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Big thanks: to SoundExchangeNPR Music (who also hosted) for sponsoring CreativeMornings/Washington, DC, #11; to the CreativeMornings/Washington, DC, chapter Team for their volunteer work in making CreativeMornings happen in their city.

Especially big thanks: to Tina Roth Eisenberg—Swissmiss—for inventing CreativeMornings in 2008.

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Read more CreativeMornings coverage.

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