Schooling Ourselves

Phil Circle
4 min readJul 6, 2021
Phil Circle Music (Phil’s desk)

I’m pretty proud to be celebrating my nearly 30 years of teaching music, by opening a school. With Phil Circle Music officially becoming a music school for adults, with several teachers providing lessons, we’re also growing a community. I’m delighted to be bringing in teachers who share my philosophy of music education, with a similar drive to see every student excel. We all see unlimited potential in each student we work with. We’re signing people up 7 days a week with plans for expansion.

To be a student of music means you’re someone who’s beginning to do more than listen loosely. It’s to be someone who’s become interested in embodying music, who’s beginning to hear it in everything. To be a student of music is to really listen with your heart. You begin to see it as a source of hope for yourself, and ultimately for others you might touch in the world at large, or your immediate community.

To be a teacher of music is to be someone who longs to walk this road of discovery with others, with every student. It means you’re finding the strength of this empowering art form in your life at all times, and you’re longing to help others find it and enjoy it for themselves. Done right, you approach it much like you’ve learned, but with the students’ unique perspectives brought into the storyline. Being a teacher who really intends to educate, or open, means that you’re constantly exploring new ways to listen, learn and share. You walk, sit, listen, play, and create alongside your students. Approached this way, it’s truly magical.

To be someone who creates music, composing or writing songs, is to combine these elements of student and teacher. You begin to learn from life every day, sharing your discoveries with all your heart to anyone who will listen, anyone who needs a little spark in their life in this moment. Creating music is a talent anyone and everyone can find. I truly believe this. Are there some who come more naturally by it, at first? Of course. But Van Gogh was judged to be a horrible artist when he first tried painting. It was only after visiting many other options for observation and expression, over a period of years, that he found his sight. Talent is often found in fortitude. It can be found through a fearless drive to be authentic and vulnerable, as much as in a naturally pretty voice or dexterous hand. Talent is partially found in developing the necessary skills. In music, we take a box of wood with steel strings, or our vocal cords, or some other tool, and use it to create emotionally appealing sounds from thin air. Advancement happens through the proverbial 10,000 hours of practice. Mastery can follow. But mastery of musical talent and mastery of a musical instrument, ultimately come from ones emerging creative voice. That’s when we find the freedom to be. That’s where we also allow ourselves the courage to fail. It’s part of the process. And we’re never alone in this journey.

Around any musician is a community. Within and surrounding this community is a kind of ecosystem. People come and go through this community and ecosystem and contribute something, or take something. The taking is not from a scarcity or greed mindset. It is through the receiving of the sharing of art. Sharing is the final step of any artist’s work. By recognizing our inherent connection to our community and ecosystem, we will find the energy to constantly replenish it. We will live in a gratitude-based place. Whatever goes out, comes back in from another direction or source. I’ve learned this from a few places and experiences in my life. But one of the key areas has been from within the Chicago music community to which I’ve belonged for more than 30 years.

Anytime I fell prey to isolation or lost my gratitude, or various other negative tendencies we can all have, I found myself also falling into that “we’re all doomed” thinking. It was often based on a misdirected frustration with the business end of things. This can destroy any individual or community’s forward movement. There’s plenty wrong with the business of music. There’s plenty wrong with the business of anything. But the “business of anything” doesn’t give people hope. The business of music doesn’t. No business does. Businesses aren’t designed to give hope. They’re designed to create incomes. It’s the music itself that brings hope. The business is just a tool. When used wisely and well by creative people, a little business sense can give them the freedom they need to continue creating great art. It’s not a compromise.

I’ve been saying this a lot lately: I have creative freedom precisely because I’m an entrepreneur. But I also made a choice early on. I chose to make this freedom. I saw my developing business skills as a tool. This is why I also try to instill some basic business savvy in all my students. This also requires that I remind myself and others of a healthy mindset around money. That’s what my article It’s Like An Ecosystem illustrates to some degree. As a follow up, I wrote If I Can Change The World (So Can You). I hoped that these would point to the balance I strive for. Between these two articles, you can find a sense of the underlying philosophy behind my school. They’re as close as I get to a business model. Which is different from a business strategy. I have that, too. Part of that involves what I’m doing right now; educating.

Chicago music is about to get better.



Phil Circle

Phil Circle is an award-winning singer-songwriter, author and coach, native Chicagoan who lives in Los Angeles, and founder of Phil Circle Music in both cities.