Can you identify – let’s say — the three most difficult / painful challenges you’ve ever had to face? Times in your life when you might have wondered, “why ME?” … or even, as you were suffering, just “WHY?!”
We each have our own varieties of pain in life. Some pass. Some we live with forever. But the question — “WHY?” — is surely universal. Different religions, different cultures, offer different answers. Surely the question has been pondered throughout humanity’s existence on the planet.
Of course, the question can be asked about circumstances that don’t involve pain or suffering. It can be asked and (maybe answered, at least in our own minds) about events that seem minor at the time, yet turn out to have long-ranging consequences.
So why did composer, Paul Guzzone, and I meet when a production company hired us, separately, to create and pitch a product launch proposal to a large pharmaceutical company, with a song custom-written for their event? We had tremendous fun working together. And although our song, and the meeting content it was part of, was not selected by the pharma execs (their mistake!) over our competitors, Paul and I became friends. Eventually we asked ourselves, “Hey! Why are we creating songs only for companies to use in motivating their sales forces? Why don’t we write for the public, too?”
So we started writing for ourselves. One result was “Everything Happens for a Reason.”
And … why did Italian tenor, Michéal Castaldo, with his uniquely glorious voice and style happen to hear the song … love it … and tell us con brio that he wanted to record it?
Why did I become friends and musical partners with globally-known DJ, producer and remixer, Tony Moran? And why did I introduce Michéal and Tony to each other for a different project entirely? Could it be that my introduction led them discover that they wanted to collaborate on a Dance Club remix of “Everything Happens for a Reason”?
You’ll find a perceptive and enthusiastic review of Michéal’s original version (blue cover art) + and a later, also enthusiastic review of the Dance remix version by Tony Moran and his colleague, Warren Rigg, in music industry journal, SKOPE. http://skopemag.com/?s=castaldo
To quote from my own lyric, “IF everything happens for a reason” … then, perhaps a reason (“Una Ragione,” as Michéal expresses it in Italian) is the comfort and encouragement that the song has given to the many people with whom Michéal and others have shared it. I long ago lost count of how many people appreciatively thanked him for sending them the song as a birthday greeting, for example. People from all over the world have responded by telling him that the song and his performance have given them hope and a comforting perspective on their lives and worries.
Here’s a link to an interesting video – shot in “Little Italy” in NYC — if you’d like to see Michéal perform it. (You’ll have a choice of seeing the lyrics on-screen or not.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CITzTG4-MNY
Here’s a link for purchasing the Dance Remix version on amazon. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01CPJJP90?ie=UTF8&keywords=micheal castaldo&qid=1458060332&ref_=sr_1_3&s=dmusic&sr=1-3-mp3-albums-bar-strip-0
And here’s a link for purchasing it on iTunes. https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/everything-happens-for-reason/id1091184539
I’m proud of this song and of the talented team that has transformed it for the Dance Floor. I invite you to listen, own it and move along to the beat, as I do … even as you may choose to reflect on its message.
There’s a client at ExxonMobil – Anita Riddle — whom I respect and enjoy supporting. Even as an outsider, I can tell that she’s highly respected and for good reason.
For years I’ve helped her and her people improve their presentations – their words and the PowerPoint visuals that bring them to life. Last fall, she invited me to Houston where I addressed an executive team focused on Women in Leadership. I shared some proven tips I’ve learned through the years on how to enhance any speaker’s presentation skills.
More recently, Anita told me about another use of my words, beyond speeches and presentations: how a song I wrote with composer Jim Papoulis had special meaning to her family. I’m touched by the story and would like to share it here,
It’s about a choral song, To Those Who Came Before Us, which I wrote with composer, Jim Papoulis. Here is a project overview from the sheet music (to be published this spring.)
“To Those Who Came Before Us” honors those in everyone’s lives and personal histories whose hard work, achievements and sacrifices precede us and inspire daily efforts to attain our aspirations. For Jim, these include his parents – Athanasios and Caryl Papoulis. For Mike, it’s Sam and Lucille Greenly.
Written during a time of uncertainty and danger, when military men and women are challenged to represent their nation with loyalty, courage and potential sacrifice, the song was also conceived to honor such bravery.
The songwriters are humbled to partner with a remarkable organization, The Independence Fund, which works to move severely injured American military veterans toward greater independent mobility.
This valiant non-profit organization helps enable the complete physical and emotional healing of severely injured Veterans … from supplying the disabled with all-terrain wheel chairs and other rehabilitation equipment for mobility again, to hyperbaric oxygen therapy for faster healing. The Independence Fund also partners with the caregivers of our warriors, helping them with the challenges associated with the devastating injuries of war.
To donate: http://www.independencefund.org
I never served in the military. But it’s been an honor to write speeches for Dr. Richard Jadick, including a successful TED talk. Dr. Jadick is a bona fide war hero and one of the founders of The Independence Fund.
I had given Anita a copy of the song (now on iTunes, amazon, etc.) A few weeks ago, she told me how her 13-year-old daughter, Sierra Schmidt, used it in her 8th grade class at York Junior High School in Spring, Texas.
Sierra had chosen my song for a Veteran’s Day project. It honored her uncle, Sergio Riddle, now retired from the military. This young lady created a video around the work that Jim and I had poured our hearts into … and she earned an “A” which makes me feel proud.
Anita said that her sister cried when she saw the video, and that her aunt and cousin in Chile were also quite moved by it. Well it moves me too, so I offer it here if you’d like to see. My sincere congratulations to Sierra for the “A!” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ih9p74ATe2E
This is to document a musical project I’m glad I was asked to be part of. I’m a lucky guy to love what I do – from speechwriting and presentation coaching of some smart, hard-working execs, to being a lyricist, with few other real skills.
Words have always been my friends. Whether I’m writing a speech, video script or song, it means a lot to me that I can use them to express a message with a positive impact on others – their careers or their lives.
So here is the story of “Always My Angel.” read more →
While writing this, I saw an interview with Jeb Bush acknowledging something to ABC’s Jonathan Karl. A media consultant had recommended that – to “fix” his campaign – Jeb should be … should own … himself.
He should be REAL.
I know first-hand how wise is that advice. I’ve lived my own transformation from a young man unable to walk – merely to walk – comfortably across a stage … to being able today to address an audience of 5,000 or more with confidence and ease … and to help others attain that skill, since I know so well what it’s like NOT to have it.
I gave a speech in Houston a few weeks ago — to ExxonMobil’s GSC’s Women in Leadership Team. I was impressed by their commitment to the development and career advancement of women … in a traditionally “man’s business” of oil rigs and drilling. It has meant a lot to me, since coming home, to get reports that the audience – mentees and mentors of both genders, and at different levels – got real value from what the story I shared … and the “how to” learnings that were part of it.
And now … I was asked to tell my story in the chapter of a book.
It’s the eighth in a series, in which different experts in their fields share the truths and insights they each have learned from life … in order to help others, readers, make positive, life-enhancing changes of their own.
The book in which my chapter will appear is The Change8 … the eighth book in the series. The title of my chapter is “From “Stage Fright” to the Power of Authenticity.” I’ve lived that story. And I’m happy now to share it.
As a corporate speech writer & speech coach, I’ve worked on many big corporate meetings and events … for IBM, Motorola, ExxonMobil, J&J, etc. I’ve also covered major events as a journalist – the Academy Awards, the Republican and Democratic political conventions, big computer trade fairs, etc.
No production I’ve worked on or written about involves more detail, complexity and emotional sensitivity than the “Miss America” Pageant. Thanks to my having written “Our Great Virginia” – now the official anthem of that state – I was invited to the Pageant by Kylene Barker McNeill, the first Miss Virginia to become Miss America (1979.)
Here she is, arriving on the Red Carpet.
And here’s the transformation of the Giant Hall. From this …
To this …
As I was reminded while viewing from prime seats on the sixth row at the front of the stadium Sunday night, there’s a tremendous difference in the feeling of watching something spectacular at home and being there live.
When Sam Haskell, the organization’s CEO, apologized to Vanessa, you could feel emotion throughout the hall. For many like myself, it was a symbol of our ability to rise up after a fall or, as Taylor Swift sings, to “shake it off” and move ahead to new triumphs. Here’s Kylene, with Vanessa Williams, her “Miss America Sister” (1983.). I don’t know it felt at home on TV, but it was quite affecting in the hall.
At the end of the show, I got to meet several of the “Celebrity Judges.” Brett Eldredge — American country music singer and last year’s CMA winner of New Artist of the Year.
And Kevin O’Leary – Canadian entrepreneur, venture capitalist and judge on TV’s “Shark Tank.” (Shown here with Ian McNeill, Kylene’s very accomplished businessman husband.)
Ultimately, as I packed my bags for the trip back home to my Day Job and to several speechwriting deadlines (I never miss ‘em!) — I couldn’t help but reflect on three things …
- the discipline, talent and drive it takes for every State Contestant to have gotten to Atlantic City in the first place.
- the support and love that each contestant showed to the others … more like sisters than competitors.
- the real good the organization does –
giving out $303,000 in scholarship money at the national Miss America level
but nearly $6 MILLION in scholarships when national, state and local awards are combined.
THAT is life-changing for many, many young women.
It was a privilege to be there in person, especially in the “invited guest” status I enjoyed. And it was an eye-opener to experience, first-hand, the human dynamo that is Kylene Barker McNeill.
I’m experiencing aspects of the competition that I never knew existed and meeting remarkable people of accomplishment and talent. Among them are Kira Kazantsev. She is the third consecutive Miss New York to have become Miss America. During her reign, she has been working with and championing organizations like United States Military overseas and the Children’s Miracle Network Hospital.
I’ve also had the pleasure of getting to know Kylene’s Canadian husband, Ian McNeill — President of Combat Batteries in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, specialists in industrial batteries and chargers. Given how impressed I’ve been with Kylene, I wasn’t surprised to discover that Ian is an extremely savvy and personable executive, who’s also a genial and down-to-earth guy.
One of the things I experienced on the wet Saturday afternoon of this weekend was the “Show Us Your Shoes” Parade down Atlantic City’s Boardwalk. I’d always been dimly aware that there was, indeed, “a parade” … but I hadn’t imagined the enormous scale of it all.
With over 4,000 participants, including 15 floats, 15 marching bands, nearly 50 dance troupes, 16 choirs and dozens of special units, the event was more than two hours long.
To share the background with you, I’ll quote a story by Robert Rosiello on casinoconnectionac.com.
Ed McMaster, who served as president of the Miss America Organization for several years before the pageant moved to Las Vegas, told us back in 2004 about its origins.
“Our contestants used to dress in gowns for the parade, but since they were riding in cars and their feet were hidden, they’d wear something comfortable—flip flops, sneakers and slippers,” McMaster said. “People got wind of this in the early 1970s and one year tried to sneak a peak at the shoes. They even got up on a balcony but still couldn’t see them. Finally they began shouting, ‘Show us your shoes!’ The contestants thought it was hilarious and decided to give them something to look at. It’s been a great tradition ever since ….
The 53 contestants this year had artistic freedom to design their own shoes in whatever manner they felt best represented themselves and their respective states.
As I observed yesterday from the Judges’ Balcony, Miss District of Columbia honored the U.S. Marine Corps, Miss Florida had the Gators logo on her shoes, Miss Idaho featured a potato, and Miss Kansas displayed wheat on hers.
New Jersey proceeded down the Atlantic City Boardwalk with a Monopoly Board.
(“Boardwalk” – get it?)
Miss Virginia honored the equestrian excellence of her state with horse-riding boots and horses on her umbrella, etc.
It’s all tremendous fun while boosting the diversity and richness of each contestant’s home.
What I’m realizing more and more, though, is the magnitude of the effort, talent and discipline that goes into all this. Even more important: how much good the Miss America Organization does by empowering its contestants with life-changing, career-advancing opportunities that help these young women become valuable contributors to our country and to the world after all the pomp and pageantry is done.
Last night, I was invited to the Forever Lounge … an amazing chance to meet and chat with former Miss Americas I had watched as a child and then steadily as an adult over the years. Even some Miss Americas who got their crowns before I was born. All of it giving me a much heightened respect for what the Miss America competition symbolizes … and achieves.
The Tux is fresh out of the cleaner’s, and I’m excited for the privilege of attending the Miss America Pageant in person this year, after watching it intently for so much of my life.
I’ll be a guest of former Miss Virginia (1978) and Miss America (1979) Kylene Barker McNeill. This is the result of my having written Virginia’s new anthem, “Our Great Virginia.”
For now, I’m forbidden from any contact with Kylene, since she’s a Preliminary Judge this year – helping to choose the contestants who’ll compete in the national ABC broadcast this Sunday night. Here she is with the reigning Miss America, Kira Kazantsev from the San Francisco Bay Area.
In getting to know Kylene, I’ve gained a heightened sense of respect for every contestant, and for the program itself. that it offers the largest scholarship program for women in the United States … boosting careers and achievements.
The Miss America Program has allowed many young women to graduate debt-free – tremendously important, given the high cost of education. Ms. Dierdre Downs wanted to be a doctor and was in the Miss Alabama Pageant 4 times before winning but won scholarship money every year. After finally winning the State Title she went on to win Miss America (2005.) She is now DOCTOR Deirdre Downs and debt-free.
This is a back-stage video clip of Kylene being “challenged” this week by comedienne, Dana Blizzard. Kylene’s winning talent for was an astonishing acrobatic dance act. Here, tough, you’ll see what a game gal she is … with the kind of “ready for it” spirit that helps to define a champion. Can’t wait to meet her – I admire and enjoy her already.
Ever since I was a child, I’ve watched the Miss America Pageant with awe and fascination. This year – astoundingly – I’ve been invited to attend in person. That’s a result of my having written the lyrics to Virginia’s official new anthem, “Our Great Virginia.”
The song was broadcast throughout the state in June as part of the competition to select the Miss Virginia who will represent the Commonwealth in Atlantic City. Just that was a thrill for me: hearing my words performed by previous Miss Virginia winners to the entire state.
At the national televised Pageant, I will be the guest of Kylene Barker McNeill … Miss America (1979.)
Kylene is one of the Preliminary Judges this year, with the huge responsibility of helping to select the top 15 finalists from an initial 52 contestants convening in Atlantic City. She and her fellow Judges will determine who will be featured in the Pageant broadcast (Sunday night, Sept. 13, LIVE on ABC, 9:00 pm EST.)
Even though I’ll be Kylene’s guest, through mutual friends, I’m forbidden from having any contact with her during the week leading up to the Pageant. Strict rules protect the impartiality and integrity of judges from outside influences.
Actually, I’ve not even met Kylene in person. But she has already enriched my knowledge of what a “beauty queen” really is. For one thing, take a look at the kind of Acrobatic Dance skill she developed. This talent was among the many reasons she became Miss America.
Obviously – aside from the beauty, poise and intelligence required to be a winner — the ability to perform in this way takes tremendous discipline and commitment … surely a reflection of character.
In addition, however, as I’ve come to know Kylene through emails and phone conversations, I realized that she’s a person of tremendous accomplishment. (Getting to know her, firsthand, has raised my respect for all successful Pageant competitors.)
Kylene is a successful entrepreneur. At only 23, she was running her own retail clothing store on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach, FL. (That’s the ritzy equivalent of posh Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.) She’s a published author, has done network TV fashion reporting and — having majored in fashion at Virginia Tech — produces fashion shows today to benefit charities including the Cancer Alliance in Naples, FL. She has also been a corporate spokesperson for Clairol and other organizations. She is also a rather serious competitor on the golf course.
Already I’ve come to appreciate the fact that the Miss America Organization (MAO) is the single largest scholarship program for women in the United States. It has helped many young women graduate debt-free, despite the tremendous cost of a college education these days.
I was impressed to learn, as well, that MAO partners with the U.S. Department of Education to encourage women to excel in areas that are currently under-represented by female participants: science, technology, engineering and math.
Bottom line: I’ve been learning a lot! I’ve begun to see more clearly how the entire competition rewards its participants for their hard work and drive, with remarkable educational and career opportunities that result.
I’m looking forward to attending the Pageant in person, and to sharing some of my on-site impressions with you right here!
After almost twenty years without a state song, the Commonwealth of Virginia now officially has two … one of which, astoundingly enough, is mine!
As of July 1, 2015, “Our Great Virginia” became the official anthem of the Commonwealth … the Traditional State Song of Virginia. (“Sweet Virginia Breeze” by Robbin Thompson became the official Popular Song.) Governor Terry McAuliffe signed both songs into law on March 26.
In mid-August, 2015, my two Virginia champions of the song … Historian, Prof. James (“Bud”) Robertson and his dynamic wife Betty … visited New York City from their beloved state to join me, DJ Tony Smith, and Jim and Sophia Papoulis for a celebration of what we had accomplished together.
Crucial to making this happen was Virginian, Truman Ross. When Bud was looking for a lyricist, Truman helped by turning to my best-in-class professional song plugger in Nashville, Chris Keaton (originally a Virginian, himself) who recommended me.
The assignment was to write lyrics to the classic American folksong, “Oh, Shenandoah,” long associated with Virginia. (One of these days, I hope to visit the Shenandoah Valley and see the Shenandoah River in person.)
Composer/Conductor Jim Papoulis – my partner in composing three of the four Dance Club songs I’ve written that became Billboard-charted hits – did the beautiful arrangement of the folk song with my words.
Sophia Papoulis – in addition to her gorgeous vocals in one of its performances – helped manage the project with grace and professionalism.
And DJ Tony Smith – a bona fide legend from the Disco Days, who’s still at the top of his game – helps me pursue my passion for songwriting and makes my life happy in countless ways. (If you want to hear his work, he has a regular Disco Classics program on Sirius XM Radio, Channel 54, every Thursday night @ 9pm Eastern … repeated Mondays at 1pm Eastern. The sounds and focus vary from week to week.)
So the six of us had a wonderful dinner at Gallagher’s Steakhouse. The next night, the Robertsons, Tony and I saw “Hamilton” … one of the most impressive and influential Broadway musicals I will ever have seen in my decades of avid theater-going.
So … let it be known … Happy Workaholic I may be … but we did take time to celebrate in style. I’m immensely honored (and still amazed) actually to have written a real state song. And I’m grateful to my parents, Sam and Lucille Greenly, who gave me the strong work ethic that still powers me today as I use the few real aptitudes I have – as a writer … whether of speeches, video scripts or songs. I’m a happy and lucky guy.
I cannot be objective about this movie, “Begin Again.” It has too many personal connections for me … too many levels on which I, in particular, would inevitably enjoy and be touched by it. I was so affected by it, in fact, that I don’t trust myself to recommend it in a blanket way to others.
BUT … Hypothetically speaking …
If you happen to relate to the power of a song – not just “music” but an actual SONG — to reach into people’s hearts … and if you like tapping your feet and swaying gently to a beat even as you’re being moved … and/or if you have any reason to relate to the actual inspiration, creation and production of a song …
If you have experienced, as I have, the feeling that everything you thought you could count on in your life has disappeared beneath your feet – suddenly dropping you into an abyss and leaving you in doubt as to if and how you could possibly carry on, let alone imagine yourself actually happy again some day …
If you enjoy smart, contemporary screenwriting that can make you laugh AND feel pangs of poignant emotion, both in recognition of what’s true …
If you admire clever, insightful direction … wonderfully thoughtful, intelligent and sensitive acting … and savvy set and costume design …
And if, perhaps, you remember and enjoyed the movie “Once” and/or the Broadway Musical (winner of 8 Tony Awards, including Best Musical” – written and directed by John Carney who created “Begin Again”) …
Then, maybe … that’s all I’m saying … maybe you will consider this movie as wonderfully special as I did. But given who I am, given the person I’ve become, I simply couldn’t help myself.
So I surrender. I love this movie. (And I’m listening to the sound track as I write this … even as I’m thinking of the next song I will write — immediately following the speech I’m working on right now for a major exec I very much enjoy supporting.)
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