When Philip Sheppard was young, his music teachers told him not to play other kinds of music on his cello and stick with classical composers.

"In any culture when you talk about music, it's called playing. Yet all my cello teachers said, 'Don't muck around with that.' "

Sheppard's decision to play what he liked explains why the British composer and senior lecturer at the Royal Academy of Music was in Missoula on Friday talking to a roomful of students at Washington Middle School.

Sheppard was here courtesy of Missoula Sound Machine, a local organization that brings top musicians to share stories about how purpose and passion can make a difference in students' lives.

After warming up with a virtuoso solo rendition of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir," created with loops and pedals, Sheppard explained how the notion of play and creativity are interlinked.

"My day job involves doing weird things. Like if I want to film a performance, I'd rather go into Big Sky and shoot it with a drone. Why not? 'It's not normally done.' I don't care. That's more interesting," he said.

He shared pictures and stories regarding his boundary-crossing collaborations. He's collaborated with recently departed rock legend David Bowie and New York rapper A$AP Rocky. He shared stories about his work the Beijing and London Olympics. For the latter, he recorded the national anthems for all the participating countries.

He drew applause when it was noted that his playing was featured in the Harry Potter movies when the Weird Sisters appear onscreen. The fact that "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" director JJ Abrams used his music in a trailer drew even more clapping.

***

He told students from several Missoula area schools the importance of making a list. He shared Thomas Edison's daily to-do list, filled with inventions such an electric organ, a hearing apparatus, a battery to power a mobile phone.

Making lists is a way of making your own luck, Sheppard said. Luck is when preparation meets opportunity, he said.

"Being prepared, though, means working harder than anyone you've ever met in your life," he said.

If you want play football, get up two hours earlier than anyone else who has the same dream.

As an example of preparation, he recounted stories about how sharing his ambitions out loud helped make them happen. He told a band that he wanted to play at Glastonbury, the massive U.K. music festival, and that he'd do it for free. Not long after, they booked a slot and invited him to play.

"It happened because I told people my secret," he said. When you tell the right people your dream, "they will work to make that happen." 

***

Missoula Sound Machine is a relatively new venture. In September, it hosted Butterscotch, a singer and beat-boxing champion, for a talk at Washington Middle School.

They're not intended as straight-forward music lessons, said founder Paul Donaldson. Butterscotch, for instance, talked about the importance of art to her.

"She was able to openly discuss how music and art saved her life in a lot of ways, when she was struggling," he said.

Donaldson is a partner at Rocky Mountain Rigging Productions, which stages large-scale events across the region. He's a musician, too, and plays drums with Missoula country singer Shane Clouse. After coming up with the idea for the series, he used his connections to bring in the speakers.

While Sheppard's talk was filled with fascinating collaborations and plenty of British humor, he broached on a serious issue as well. While a photo of him with his school orchestra was projected on screen, he asked the room if anyone had been bullied. A number of students and adults raised their hands.

When he was young, a bully in that same photo punched Sheppard in the stomach because he was a musician, a blow that put him in the hospital. He even lifted his shirt to show the scar. In response, Sheppard said, "I was going to choose the best possible life I could possibly have just to prove to that guy that he would not win.

"I work with some of the world's most creative people. I promise you that every single one of them was bullied at school," he added.

Sheppard's speaking skills have been tapped by Silicon Valley companies to inspire their engineers and developers, and he won the Missoula crowd over just as easily. After the talk, students lined up to have their picture taken with him and get autographs. Some students asked him to sign their shoes.

He wasn't the only one greeting fans. During the talk, he invited Quentin Robinson, a Missoula-based dancer who goes by the name of SpecialFX on stage to perform his gravity-defying moves to Sheppard's music from a Conrad Anker climbing film, "Meru."

Anker is a resident of Bozeman, where Sheppard has Montana connections. He serves on the executive board of Hatch, a creative summit based in Bozeman and Big Sky that brings together thinkers from across myriad artistic, design, and business backgrounds. They form new initiatives, companies and projects, and also work with students.

"We will put top NASA engineers with middle-school kids, because why not?" he said.

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