Andre Agassi, Boeing, and a vision for music education

In November of 2016, I travelled to New York City with several colleagues from Humber College to attend the annual WOBI (World of Business Ideas) conference at Lincoln Center.  During the course of this 2-day event, I learned many lessons about leadership, emotion and interpersonal relationships that have inspired my outlook on music education in surprising ways.

The Humber College WOBI faculty contingent. Iphone-ographer (yours truly) not pictured.

The WOBI annual conference, held at multiple locations around the world, serves as a platform for business leaders to share ideas, network and be inspired.  The theme of this year’s conference was “Be Beta”, and the list of speakers included tennis star Andre Agassi, global education activist Malala Yousafszai, former CEO of Ford Motor Company Alan Mulally, graffiti artist Eric Wahl and many others.  The event was organized in a series of 45-minute segments featuring each speaker, some of which included “text-in” Q&A sessions with the speaker and host.  The audience consisted of approximately 2000 people from businesses across North America, from major investment firms to manufacturing.  There were very few educators represented, as far as I could see.  Though I didn’t have occasion to meet many of the other attendees outside of the Humber group, I got a sense that many industries such as telecommunications, pharmaceuticals, and other sales and service organizations were represented.  I naturally felt “out of my element” in such a group, but nevertheless I kept an open mind to the possibilities for my own learning as a musician and educator.

I was struck by how many of the presenters harnessed the emotional power of music and visual imagery in their presentations.  The charismatic Daymond John even brought his own DJ to provide a live soundtrack to his own life story, evoking nostalgic emotional responses. Graffiti artist Erik Wahl fused music and art by painting a series of 5-minute works set to music, live on stage.  Each piece set a particular emotional tone, and he used these paintings to viscerally illustrate the ideas of gratitude, fear and risk in the corporate environment.

On the topic of leadership, two of my favourite speakers from this conference were JB Straubel and Alan Mulally. Straubel, founder of Tesla, was a fascinating on-stage personality.  He seemed to be equal parts visionary and reluctant hero, in the way that he portrayed a kind of “aw shucks” humility at his company’s success.  I found myself reflecting on Tesla’s curious mix between altruist and capitalist perspectives.  The company’s rapid growth and popularity in recent years, coupled with their mission to rid the world of fossil fuel vehicles, provide an interesting contrast.

Mulally also seemed to possess a familiar, folksy charm, which was difficult for me to digest given the magnitude of his achievements in the aviation and automotive industries.  As one of the top executives at Boeing, where he worked for more than 30 years, he was on the design team of every commercial airline that the company manufactured.   He was then recruited to become the CEO of Ford in the early 2000s, during a major financial crisis within the company.  Under Mullaly’s leadership, Ford realigned its focus and regained its footing in the worldwide automotive market, to the point where they did not require a government bailout in 2008.  I was awestruck by his rather simplistic approach to leadership: having a clear vision, surrounding oneself with people who will align with it (and help them to communicate without fear of failure, ridicule or job loss), and tolerating nothing less.  It occurred to me that, if such a simple philosophy can help to restore one of the most famous brands in the world, I’d imagine it can be applied to virtually any area of leadership and inter-personal relationships, especially music.

Tennis great Andre Agassi, the final keynote speaker, was truly outstanding in a way that made me self-reflect on my own emotional journey as artist and teacher.   In contrast to many of the other speakers who came armed with PowerPoints, paint brushes and pizzazz, Agassi was simple, casual and brutally honest. (It should be noted that, though he may have been at this forum to plug his autobiography, unlike some of the other presenters I certainly didn’t feel as though I was being sold to in his case.)  He told the story of his upbringing, the analytical, data-driven nature of his seemingly domineering father, who calculated that he needed 10,000 balls a year to reach the #1 spot, his journey to the top of the tennis world, down to the bottom, and back up again. He focused on the ideas of perfectionism (ie. wanting to be the best in the world) and the hollowness of that idea.  He also spoke about committing his efforts to ideas bigger than himself, and bigger than his sport (in his case, philanthropy and the creation of charter schools).

Music is much like tennis.  Though the product is vastly different, the process and person are largely the same.  As music educators, we sometimes avoid discussions of emotion, perhaps because these are not quantitative measures, or because we’re concerned about vulnerability.   Though the analytical, repetitive acts of practice and self-reflection are a necessary and important part of the process, we must continually celebrate the joy of music making, and explore the emotional nature of humans as music makers.  In this way, music educators can truly lead.

Momentum: Available Now!

The new album, Momentum, is available for shipping and downloads worldwide.

Buy a CD here (

Download at Bandcamp (hi-res audio, too)

And if you’re in the Greater Toronto area this month, check out one of our CD release concerts featuring special guest Will Kennedy!

September 22, 2016, 8pm: The Music Gallery (Toronto, ON) (Buy advance tickets here)

September 25, 2016, 4pm: The Jazz Room (Kitchener-Waterloo, ON – special matinée show)

Momentum – Available worldwide September 9, 2016

It’s almost here!  My new album, Momentum, will be released worldwide on September 9, 2016.  The release of this album will be followed by several concerts in the Toronto area, with special guest Will Kennedy of the Yellowjackets.

September 22, 2016, 8pm: The Music Gallery (Toronto, ON) (Buy advance tickets here!)

September 25, 2016, 4pm: The Jazz Room (Kitchener-Waterloo, ON – special matinée show)

Here’s a taste of what’s to come:

Humber NEXT magazine

Happy to be featured in the Spring/Summer issue of Humber NEXT magazine! Great to be part of such an innovative institution.

MusicFest, Turboprop, Brian Dickinson, Iceland, and album news!

Hi folks,

Here are few notable happenings for April and May 2016:

  • I’m performing April 16th with Ernesto Cervini’s excellent sextet Turboprop at the Pilot Tavern in Toronto.  The music is diverse and challenging, and the band is truly stellar.  It’s an honour to play with these fine musicians.
  • I’m taking the stage with the new Brian Dickinson big band at the Jazz Room (Kitchener-Waterloo) on Saturday, April 23.  The following week, I will be serving as conductor for the band in studio.  Really looking forward to that!
  • In May, I head to Ottawa to adjudicate MusicFest Canada, Canada’s national band festival.  I always enjoy this opportunity to hear this country’s up-and-coming talent.
  • On April 15th, if you happen to be in Reykjavik, Iceland, be sure to check out this year’s Tectonics Festival.  I was one of the transcribers responsible for some of the sheet music in a concert featuring Roscoe Mitchell and the Iceland Symphony orchestra.  Transcribing this material was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences I’ve had in a while, and I look forward to hearing this music in person.
  • My newest album, Momentum, is on the way.   Final release date imminent.  Stay tuned!

Shirantha Beddage trio at the Home Smith Bar Nov 27

Hi, friends: This season I’ve been preparing for the release of my forthcoming album, “Momentum”, guest lecturing in the United States, and performing with a variety of groups in Toronto including a special concert with the Order of Canada big band at Koerner Hall.  I’m also thrilled to be back at the Old Mill Inn this November, with a special trio concert on November 27.  Click to view the event on Facebook: 

SB Facebook Nov 2015

Shirantha Beddage Trio at the Home Smith Bar (Old Mill Inn)
21 Old Mill Rd., Toronto, Ontario
Friday, November 27, 2015, 7:30-10:30pm
$20 minimum food / drink purchase

Shirantha Beddage – piano and saxophone
Mike Downes – bass
Mark Kelso – drums

The Shirantha Beddage Trio returns to the Home Smith Bar (Old Mill Inn) on Friday, November 27! This concert will feature new music from Shirantha’s forthcoming album, “Momentum”, in addition to originals from Shirantha’s celebrated albums “Identity” and “Roots and Branches”.

Pan-Am Games 2015

Shirantha Pan-Am 2015

In July, Toronto plays host to the Pan-Am Games.  I’m very excited to be playing at a number of events during the Games, including two special events with Danilo Perez.  See the Events page for more details.

Panamania Big Band with Danilo Perez, John Patittucci, Brian Blade, Jane Bunnett and Miguel Zenon (part of PANAMANIA Festival)
July 21, 6pm, Nathan Phillips Square
July 22, 8pm, Koerner Hall

Gary Morgan and Panamericana (part of PANAMANIA Festival)
July 25, 1pm, Distillery District

Ernesto Cervini’s Turboprop
July 25, 3:30pm, The Pilot Tavern

Bruce Cassidy’s Hotfoot Orchestra
July 25, 9:45pm, The Rex Hotel

Introducing… the Bari Sax T-Shirt!

It’s my great pleasure to announce the arrival of the Bari Sax T-Shirt! This garment has been lovingly designed by Janine Stoll, with a little help from yours truly. If you’ll permit me to boast, I think this represents a huge step forward in the world of bari sax fashion. This shirt will be soon available for purchase at select performances and on


KAMA / The Travelling Wall-Barries

This week is proving to be a busy one! In addition to recording more tracks for my new album, I’m heading to KAMA restaurant in Downtown Toronto on May 7th to play as a guest artist with the Canadian Jazz Quartet. Next week, I’m adjudicating at MusicFest Canada at the University of Toronto. Then on May 15-16, I’m at the Rex for the return of Alex Dean’s Travelling Wall-Barries.

New album / K-W Jazz Room Apr 4

New show and album news! My quartet is heading back to The Jazz Room​ on April 4th. We’ll be premiering a number of new compositions as a preview of my forthcoming album (to be completed this summer). This show will feature Robi Botos on piano (fresh from his own album release the previous weekend!), Mike Downes​ on bass, and Mark Kelso​ on drums and percussion. Check out the Facebook event page for more info on this upcoming show.