Empty Forest. Tree Falls. Was It Heard Or Felt?

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” #

How would the City of ______ be damaged if the ______ Symphony Orchestra / Opera Company / Ballet Company / Theater Troop / Art Museum were to disappear tomorrow? #


About Stanford Thompson

Stanford Thompson has written 2 posts in this blog. #

Stanford Thompson is a musician and educator who is passionate about using music for social innovation and serves as the Executive Director for the El Sistema-inspired program, Play On, Philly! As a trumpeter, Mr. Thompson has performed and soloed with major orchestras around the world while actively performing chamber music and jazz. As a conductor and educator, Stanford has served as clinician for the Music In Charter Schools annual festival and Philadelphia All-City Brass Symposium. He has served on faculty for the Atlanta Academy of Music and Symphony in C Summer Music Camp. For El Sistema-inspired programs he has designed and consulted, Stanford has secured over $2 million in funding which has lead to the impact of thousands of children around the world. He serves on the board of the American Composers Forum Philadelphia Chapter and recognized as one of Philadelphia’s top 76 Creative Connectors. Stanford holds a degree from The Curtis Institute of Music and the New England Conservatory's Abreu Fellows Program. Website - www.stanfordthompson.com Facebook - www.facebook.com/stanfordleon Twitter - www.twitter.com/stanfordleon Blog - www.stanfordleon.wordpress.com #



  1. “What if we demanded that our art be dignified with the mission of creating better human beings?”

    That was always the assumption until about 1985, when post-modern theory began to re-define art as a system of enculturation that supports elite power structures. There was some truth to the idea, but it became so faddish and doctrinaire that a lot of harm was done to arts education. We now see the result of faddish, short-sighted academic orthodoxy.

    Are there perhaps other factors at work as well? Are there social forces in society that do not want “better human beings?” Would better humans not want to sit in front of a TV four hours day, and instead go to the theater, ballet, or jazz club? (In a 65-year life that means 9 years glued to the tube.) Would it mean that those better humans might look for deeper art forms than the three minute pop song leading to a commercial? Would better humans exposed to the thought of art begin to speak truth to power? Are there significant social forces in our society that do not want better humans, and thus do not want the arts to have a central position? Better humans might create social revolution. Is that what we’re seeing in Venezuela?

  2. Thomas Lloyd says:

    Well said, Stanford – you are doing amazing new things for music and young people in Philly with your “Play On!” program. Regarding the overwhelming waste of human and financial resources since the 1980′s in our prison system, the civil rights leader and legal scholar Michelle Alexander has been opening eyes as to how that came about and needs to be changed in her recent thoroughly researched book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_New_Jim_Crow

    More of us need to follow your example, and lead others by showing how music and music making can be a positive and dynamic part of building the whole person and rebuilding communities without any sacrifice of artistic standards or imagination, as El Sistema has proven.

  3. This is an excellent post in a truly terrific conversation — one which should be required reading for all cultural boards and leaders. “If no one noticed if we were not there, what value do we provide by being there” is a dramatic and vivid way of highlighting how leaders need to focus on creating value, not just the abstract notion of excellence. This value should be commensurate with the resources they are asking their communities to provide, particularly in tough economic times. There are a great many leaders who are wrestling with this issue now, and this conversation adds a great deal of insight to their challenges.

    Comment Tags: value
  4. Eric Booth says:

    Stanford–excellent post. Two thoughts.
    1) Some years ago when I was in Scotland, their cultural and political establishment were debating a national cultural entitlement plan–an official statement of what the citizens of the country could expect and demand of their country in terms of education and access to the arts and culture. Might that be a next step for a city like Philadelphia that is investing in its identity as a cultural destination? Or for other cities where we can provoke a conversation to achieve such a result? Stanford, with your excellent work creating Play On, Philly, an El Sistema inspired after school intensive orchestral program, you and your partner organizations are making a distinctive contribution to raising the aspirations and demands the usually-overlooked economically struggling sector can demand of their government.

    2) To answer your initial question. Scientists argue they can answer it. If a tree falls in the forest with no human around to hear it, it does NOT make a sound. It does send out an energy vibration, but it requires an ear that can receive that vibration and work its translational marvel in order for it to become something we might call a sound. Let’s hope humans can hear the struggling of the arts and arts education sectors and translate that into responsive action.

  5. Interesting take, Stan – I’ve been working on a complementary perspective for a few days now: