ready to go past playing prescribed parts?

Episode 51: Resourcing “Thrive City” tuition-free programs w/ Violinist/Pastor John “Adidam” Littlejohn

On Today’s Episode…

Join me with Guest speaker John “Adidam” Littlejohn- violinist, pastor, educator, emcee, acoustic hip-hop artist and organizer of the Thrive City String Bootcamp as we talk about this exciting, tuition-free program as well as John underlying philosophies of life, music, and teaching.

[Chris- please add content here givinga  little back story- why are you so excited to interview John?  How did you meet and/or what’s the thing that stands out to you most about him and/or this interview]

Our discussion includes...

  • Thrive City Bootcamp- what it is, and how it got started, and where to apply
  • Teaching in inner city schools and giving the students the best
  • How John inspires Chris
  • John’s work in the ministry and how it does and doesn’t intersect with his music teaching
  • How love is action- time and effort
  • John’s philosophy and beliefs- trusting in God’s plan and seeing the beauty of the diversity of who God is
  • The importance of getting outside of yourself and centering helping others


Listen on Google Play Music

[00:00:00] Chris: so John Little, John, thank you so much for joining me, taking your time today. Uh, great to see you. You’re a huge inspiration to me.

[00:00:07] John: Oh, man, I’m honored. Like you, it goes both ways. I’m very much inspired by you and I’m excited to be here, man.

I’m a fan of the podcast and, uh, that I get to be a guest on it and it’s like, yay.

[00:00:20] Chris: well, we’re, I’m trying to rush this out because you have your, um, your tuition free, uh, summer camp is happening like in a week or two from now, but in the future, people will know that it’s every summer, if they see this every summer, but I’m trying to get it out the door.

So first of all, before we get into, I know it’s gonna be awesome discussion cause I always have, it’s always inspiring to me to, to get your perspective. But first of all, I wanna just come outta the gate and let people know. I think it’s called thrive city, uh, string bootcamp. Yeah. And it’s tuition free.

Uh, Online camp. You also have it in person, but you’re in Canada. So for [00:01:00] most people listening to this, they’re gonna want to know about the online thing I’ve seen it. It’s amazing. So, uh, what are the dates first of all.

[00:01:09] John: Okay. So yeah, there’s two camps, long name. You got it. Perfect. You’re like one of the few people , it’s such a long name, thrive city string bootcamp, but it’s really string bootcamp and thrive city is this idea of, um, it’s, it’s a lot of different things.

It’s I don’t even know what it is. Not even really a label or anything like that. It’s just this idea of getting music to whoever it needs to get to. So sometimes you see thrive city attached to music, meaning when you see thrive city on it, it’s like this music was made to get to you and we’re trying to get it to you.

And if you see thrive, city string, boot camp, it’s like this camp is trying to get to people because music is about people. Like I I’ve just never been one. For, um, music for applause music for awards, it’s got to change lives. And so thrive. City string boot camp was like, all right, we need a camp. That’s gonna get the job done.

We need a camp that does [00:02:00] creativity, but we need a camp that does technique. Like you can’t, you know, like when you say hip hop violin, when you say jazz violin, don’t think that means out tune out of time. You know, no creative ideas, you know, at the same time, when you say you’re a violinist, or you say you’re Vos, you say you’re a cellist.

Like, know that, that when you’re saying you’re a musician, which means you should be speaking the language of music. So you can’t just be playing things off a page and not having any music come out of it. So we needed this, um, to design a camp that was a perfect marriage. Creativity and technique like straight up scales, arps, like, you know, like you do this, uh, Shradieck, you know, like Galamian, I love pedagogy anyway.

I we’ll go into that later. But so the dates for the camp coming up this year, which is so late , it’s like, it’s next week. So we’re, we’re, we’re doing this, you know, like, uh, so it starts on the 25th and the 29th, [00:03:00] that’s the virtual camp. That’s all levels. People are in classes based on their sort of abilities.

So if you’re a novice student, um, you’re in a class with other novice students, you’re gonna be working on, you know, in technique class things like shifting and getting more comfortable, um, you know, with your facility around the instrument. And then we always have a creative component. And then at the virtual camp, we’re working towards putting together a video at the end.

Um, just so that you’re even practicing kind of this 21st century mode of performance of. Collaborating with video. And then we have advanced class as well, advanced violin class each year. Uh there’s violin, Viola cello. Let me be, be clear, but I’ll teach the violin class each year. We pick, uh, like a different pedagogy to kind of like cover.

So this year I’m all about the VAEs and their techniques and their double stops. And so in a technique class, we’re gonna be going through some of those things, as well as some of my own personal things that I’ve seen work really well over the years. Just [00:04:00] facility, uh, access to your technique, um, you know, cleaning up your bow hand, uh, you know, just all those things.

And then we learn a piece, uh, also in one week, uh, it lasts from 9:00 AM to 12:30 PM every day, Pacific standard time. So it’s just a half a day, cuz that’s a long time to be on zoom. And then every day there’s an asynchronous component, which actually you helped me with. You helped me with this a lot, um, where we, uh, you record a video, then we give you comments every day on that video.

And the videos are all sort of leading towards this final. Performance video that you submit that we put together. Uh, so if you go to our website, string boot, camp.com or check us out on YouTube, you’ll see some of the videos from past, you know, from last year.

[00:04:46] John: And then we do this in person camp. If you do wanna come to British Columbia, which I think is the most beautiful place on earth, like British Columbia is phenomenal.

And we, we have this, this camp, um, in the mountains, uh [00:05:00] that’s that it’s our in person, advanced seminar. We tried to keep it kind of smaller this year. Um, and so it’s just for advanced string players, same thing. You’re gonna do chamber music, chamber orchestra, and like creative improv things. Um, one thing that’s in our curriculum that, you know, is kind of trying to cram a lot of information into one paragraph on the website, but there is this, um, idea that when people like they hear infinis, um, you know, the beatboxing string tri that I’m in.

They’ll come to me and say, I wanna play hiphop violin. You show me how to play hiphop violin. Or they see my, a down video. They see me beatboxing or rapping. And, and then they kind of get put on a bunch of scales in our PIOs. And like, you know, like you gotta play in tune and your sound has gotta, and you gotta get rid of the tension.

And, and they’re like, oh, what are we doing? Hip hop. And I’m like, okay. So this is one of my things about non-classical music, which is like a gazillion genres. Like music comes from us out into the [00:06:00] instrument. So if you can’t hear music inside of you, um, if you can’t match and you playing a string instrument without threats and you can’t match intonation, if you can’t stay on a beat outside, if you can’t rock side to side and just do a basic two step and just stay on the 1, 2, 3, 4, if you can’t clap on two and four.

What makes you think you’re gonna be able to play hip hop? If you can’t do hip hop or what makes you think you can play jazz? If you don’t have it in here, if you can’t sing a solo. So we do improv, but we do body percussion and we do quieter. Like every string player has to sing and they all can. And we, we, we and six part harmony and it’s beautiful.

And it’s funny, the kids have such a deep musical experience just from getting those things out. I’ll say kids, but it really is all ages. Last year we had eight to like [00:07:00] 40 something. Um, and we are, we welcome all ages. Anybody that wants to come. Can come anyway. I hope they answered the questions. I kind of went all over with it, but

[00:07:10] Chris: oh, I love it.

Thank you so much. Yeah. July 25th, the 29th tuition, free tuition, tuition free.

[00:07:16] John: And, and yes,

[00:07:17] Chris: and I think the big thing I want, uh, listeners to know is, uh, I mean, from my perspective, having C it, my takeaway is it’s very intensive. It’s deep dive, like high level, uh, nurturing and studying. And I mean, you guys are like, it’s really this intense three and a half hours a day of teaching.

Yes. And when I say intense, I mean, you, obviously you have different levels. You’ve got the more advanced and then you’ve got the, the younger or the well novice, you’re calling it novice. And, but intense in the sense of like, this is very highly personalized, you know, um, teaching from super high level teachers.

And one of the things I hear you talking [00:08:00] about is. And yeah, it’s a lot of technique. It’s a lot of that. It’s funny because as you’re saying, , you know, it’s like a lot of times, I mean, we’re, I feel like I’m a thousand percent on the same page with you. Just, yeah, I know it. I know it a lot of times I have found myself telling people, Hey, you’re practicing too much technique, you know, classical violin.

You’re like, you’re not. You know, you’re just practicing technique, but you’re not doing all these other things you could as a musician, but , but you’re kind of saying the flip side of that is like, if you wanna play hip hop and all these fun things, you still gotta be able to play in tune. You know, you gotta be able play, which I agree with a thousand percent ,

[00:08:36] John: it’s one of my biggest pet peeves, like classical players that say they’re playing jazz and they just play a little bit outta tune and think they’re playing jazz.

And I’m like, that’s such an insult. like, that’s not jazz. That’s just out tune. Like, you know what I’m, it’s not on time. You just, you, you denigrated the level at which you play. Why not bring your best to every music for, I don’t, I don’t get that thing. So I get it a [00:09:00] lot where people say, you know, look like I’m doing hip hop and they kind of like do something raggedy and I’m like, no, no, no, no.

Yeah. Bring, bring your all to everything. And you’re right. It is intensive. I’m kind of an intensive person. I like my, one of my favorite hip hop lines, 50 cent, I got a lot of living to do before I die and I ain’t got time to waste and I feel the same way I do a lot and I don’t have time to waste. And neither do you, like there’s so much in everybody’s life that they can do if you just get to it.

So it’s like, you know, it’s not intensive in a way that beats down on you. It’s a, it is intensive in a way it’s like intense encouragement and intense equipping. And so if you come to this camp for five days, you’re gonna leave feeling better about yourself. Um, just like that I can do more than I thought I could do, but also with some real tools, like I am doing more than I was doing before I came in here and everybody could use a sharpen up.

Like it’s great for me every year, my [00:10:00] playing improves just from having to teach. Um, so no it’s yeah, the, the it’s July 25th to 29th this year, and then July 2nd through the sixth, it is tuition free. Um, Me and my two partners, uh, that I work with on this camp, Anthony and Alex Chung, they’re the twins in Inventis.

[00:10:18] John: And we started doing this together in 2009. We, uh, we started off as a free camp for just InnerCity students. And then it was such a cool program that a lot of students were going, no, we want to do it too, but we can pay for it. And then we started, so we kind of branched it out from InnerCity students and let anyone sign up.

And then it started to be sort of a paid camp up here where we would just bring in, um, students that couldn’t afford it and give it to ’em for free. But then there were a lot of string students who weren’t InnerCity students who, you know, plan a string instrument is really expensive and they were really meeting the camp, but they just couldn’t pay for it in the summer.

They’re [00:11:00] paying for all the lessons during the year, all that stuff. And so we sat down, um, and, and said, okay, The students that need access to this camp cuz thrive city. We’re trying to get this camp to the kids that need it or the people that need it. They can’t come because they can’t afford it. Some of the kids that can just write that check, maybe sometimes aren’t caring about music so much or they’re just coming cuz their parents sign them up.

And so we’re not getting the camp experience that feels like you really reaching the people. So I just like I got up in a concert and just announced we’re canceling tuition next year. No plan. no money. Just faith. It was like the whole, the kids are like, you know, the orchestra was like at the final concert of the camp and the board, uh, we’re part of the Delta community music school.

Uh, we, they, they host us and it is an amazing school here in Delta, British Columbia. But some of the boards were, was in the audience. They were like, what did he just say? Like, [00:12:00] we barely are making the budget with people paying and he’s gonna give it for free and Christian, something. You said that, um, and some of our conversations that is so true, it is hard to give away stuff for free, but dang, it’s worth it.

Like if you can figure out how to do it, the, the reward of this camp, when kids didn’t have the barrier of paying tuition, now they do pay room and board. The online students will pay like a a hundred dollars production fee, but they’re getting like, you know, over well over a thousand dollars worth of intense instruction, uh, private lessons, all that kind of stuff.

They’re not paying for any of that. Um, so it’s, once you have that happen and you see a kid get up and just realize their potential at this camp, and you knew that they wouldn’t have had this opportunity if they had to pay. It’s like, it’s worth all the blood, sweat, and tears that goes on during the year for this five days.

Like the amount of work that goes into this five days, but it’s, it’s worth [00:13:00] every bit of it.

[00:13:01] Chris: And I’m guessing, uh, it’s probably like 20, maybe a max of 20 people. I mean, it’s pretty, it’s pretty into, it’s a small camp.

[00:13:08] John: Yeah. Yeah. Cause we have to pay faculty. So it’s not discount faculty pay for those who teach here.

We gotta pay them. You know, we want good teachers.

[00:13:17] John: And one of the problems I ran into when teaching in inner city schools and the states, um, of course I live in Canada now, but for a while, I mean, I grew up in the states and I was teaching in, in inner city. Baltimore is that some teachers, not all, some, there were some really great teachers, but some teachers were giving inner city students, inner city education.

And if they have more challenges than others, they actually need the best teachers. And I found that I was even starting to do that at the beginning was kind of giving them less. I show up a little bit late or, you know, and. I got checked. I checked myself. I was like, yeah, John, why are you doing that? You teach it at the Peabody prep and you’re giving these kids everything.

And then you’re coming over here [00:14:00] and you’re giving them scraps and you are denigrating their worth, not, not their actual worth, but what I’m saying their worth, I need to give them more. So I flipped it. I gave the Peabody prep students. I was just in pedagogy classes, teaching there, um, all that I could give, but I gave the, the inner city students more.

Um, I, I poured myself fully into it and we saw the fruit of it. And I was like, all right. Yeah, that that’s a lesson learned. So even at these camps, like I’m doing my best, which is why we bring you in, uh, to bring in the, the best, the best. My, and my teacher, Herbert green. He comes in every year. And he, he gives these kids, the master classes I was getting as a grad student at Peabody.

Like he, he gives it to him and it’s, uh, that makes my heart happy because I know they’re not getting less, they’re getting a tuition free camp, but they’re getting what people pay thousands of dollars to get.

[00:14:58] Chris: Where do people apply [00:15:00] online again? It’s uh, is what’s the website

[00:15:02] John: string bootcamp.com. Um, and for the application process, there is a short assessment video that you need to do.

Um, we call them an assessment because we really are looking to bring in any of the kids or people that wanna do the camp. Cause we do have lots of adults. Um, so yeah, that short assessment, we see to see how you play so we can match you up with the right class so that you’re not in a class that’s too easy or too advanced for you.

And then, um, then you apply online. It’s a $50 application fee. And then we listen to everything and then we send you kind of a, like a decision, an invite, and then you register, um, based on that. And it, this all is like a tour two day turnaround type type thing,

[00:15:45] Chris: string bootcamp.com, and a lot of people that, um, I know I had referred to it last year and people had an amazing experience.

People came international, um, yeah, people came having so much fun, attend this. And, uh, I remember when I was a [00:16:00] kid like going to Chatauqua in the summer, that was where I went that’s in, uh, New York state. Uh, and that was like my quote unquote conservatory training. Like when you talk about Peabody, you know, these serious conservatory environments where the teachers are, are super high level and, um, the atmosphere is one where everybody there is all about the music all day, uh, Uh, the

[00:16:28] John: talk was the real deal all day.

[00:16:30] Chris: I dream about music. right. Yes. Yeah. Come on.

[00:16:35] John: I be down.

[00:16:36] Chris: Yeah. And, and so, and that’s what this camp, um, that’s what I think that’s it. I, I relate that in my mind, to my experience of that Conservancy and I know there’s limits to what anybody can do on zoom. Uh, but this is not a thing where you’re gonna get lost in the mix.

It’s very personalized. It’s very intimate. You’re getting the highest level teachers. Yeah. Tuition free [00:17:00] period.

[00:17:00] John: Yes. So, well, you know, but Christian, you know, I gotta give you how to give you your props, you know, always do, uh, cuz I honor you man, like you you’re my dude, uh, you helped us a lot with this. So we, we canceled it in 2020, cuz we didn’t know what we were gonna do with the pandemic.

We didn’t know how to run it online. We were just figuring things out. We didn’t know if, if you know, in summer 2020 you were thinking it was gonna kind of open back up. You didn’t think it was gonna kind of, you didn’t know. So we cancel. I didn’t wanna do it online until I knew it’d be quality. And I wasn’t sure, I wasn’t sure that we would do a good camp on zoom.

There was a lot of thought. And so I really appreciate you, man, like you and I talked a lot and you do such a wonderful online program. And like, if you guys are listening, I’m sure you, you listening to his podcast, you know, Christian’s the man already. But if, if some of our people came over and you just discover in this, I’m telling you sign up for everything that you see, that’s his, like, Christian’s the real deal.

Like, no, like one of my favorite things about you is you’ll do small talk, you know, uh, in [00:18:00] the church, you know, I I’m a pastor too. So the church, we do a lot of small talk, but I don’t prefer it. I like to get to it and you can get to it. And your classes are like, Like my classes are the same. Like we play, like, it’s not like a podcast interview.

We play you playing and you playing. like, you know, uh, but you come in, you put that loop on and you get people, I mean, going to it. And you figured out zoom in a way that I hadn’t thought of when it came to classes and last year it made the difference. It was such an effective camp. And I just gotta say on this podcast, thank you like props to you.

Like, because of you, like, you really helped us to translate this in person experience into a really quality online camp. So.

[00:18:50] Chris: You are welcome. I’m I’m so excited for people just to know about it and to be a part of it, cuz I it’s it’s the real deal. So string [00:19:00] bootcamp.com. Pass it on to anybody, especially if they have a financial need, but even if they don’t anybody looking for an, just an awesome experience, it’s gonna be July 25th to 29th.

Uh, summer of this year, and then the, the, uh, in person, if you wanna go to British Columbia is August 2nd to, to the sixth. If I understand correctly. And again, this is for cello, Viola and violin, world class faculty, including, uh, John Little John, and also the Chung brothers. If, if I understand that correct

[00:19:31] John: brothers Chung that’s right.

Anthony and Alex Chung violinist, and Oli and Janelle Raino, um, doctor and pedagogy, cello pedagogies teaching one of our cello classes. Um, and we, we add in teachers as the need, as the levels come in and we go, okay, this is who we need. Uh, so we may even have another teacher than that. The in person camp is residential and it takes place at camp Luther, this really beautiful camp.

Uh, but the facilities outside, I [00:20:00] just wanted to mention this before we go on. So I don’t know about Chatauqua, but some of the camps I went to. Like those cabins were built in like, you know, like 1930 and were never updated. Like frogs in the shower, like, you know, toilet stop flushing, blue lake fine arts camp, which shot off the blue lake fine arts camp.

But that, that, that living experience was rough. Uh, but it’s such a great camp, but this is not like that. It is like, like a nice college dorm, like individual bathrooms in each room because of the pandemic. Like, you know, we’re, it there’s no vaccination policy or anything like that at this camp, but we are doing individual rooms for each person.

Um, as opposed to before we would do sort of shared roommate situations. Um, but we are kind of SPAC some things out just because we, you know, we’re still still in this guy. Um, but yeah, uh, it’s really, and the food, like it’s like, uh, they, they, you know, they all, um, Food issues. People have, like they’re creating [00:21:00] like the amount of care this camp would put into our kids every year, just their, their kitchen staff.

Um, it’s phenomenal. So I would, yeah, even just, if you’re, if you’re afraid of that going away and going, how is this gonna be? The accommodations are, are really, really good.

[00:21:16] Chris: That’s beautiful. My son just went to blue lake, uh, this, uh, summer, the last couple summers, and he’s had a great time. I’m hoping to go next summer.

[00:21:22] John: And it’s a great blue lake is special. So I grew up at blue lake. Um, that was what made me wanna be a musician. Wow. But blue lake is like thousands of students. So there’s like this rock concert feel around music, you know, that you. How raggedy those cabins are. like, like, cause you’re like, yeah. Then you go back to sleep and you’re like, yay.

This thing is raggedy. Even the faculty cabins are raggedy. Like yeah, blue lake is rough, but I would, I would, I would go back a thousand times over like what you get from there. Yeah. You know, the music [00:22:00] must be good if it makes you forget.

[00:22:01] Chris: Yeah. Yeah. So string bootcamp.com. Everybody go there. If you know somebody, or if you are, whether novice, whether, uh, advanced, uh, check it out. Tuition, frees,

[00:22:14] John: violin Vello yeah.

[00:22:16] Chris: High, high quality tuition free. And, and, and I’ve heard you say before, I mean, as you said, there is like sort of an application fee or an administration fee of like a hundred dollars, but I’ve pretty much heard you say before, like if somebody’s really sweating it and they can’t come up with that a hundred bucks, you guys are gonna work with them.

[00:22:33] John: Yeah, no, no contact us. That’s the thrive city part, literally. So, I mean, you know, part of why we do the application fee, cuz we started off not doing it. We would have is that we had people just not show up. Right. And you know, when you, like, I grew up very poor. Um, I found the money to do what was valuable and because I had to find the money.

I valued it. And I [00:23:00] was surprised, you know, like we even kind of lost a grant at the beginning because we were supposed to have a certain number of students and we gave it away totally for free. And some people just didn’t show up and then we didn’t have the numbers. Right. And then we almost lost a grant that we really needed.

And we put so much work into this camp. I don’t wanna set up a situation that allows others to devalue it. Um, and so that’s why we started doing the non-refundable $50 application fee. So we’re not super flexible on that. We may change the fee and go, but, but there has to be some sort of commitment from someone if we’re gonna commit to giving a free camp yeah.

And raise this money for it, there has to be at least a commitment from the students that I’m not gonna sign up just to reserve a spot and then not show. I’m really serious about this. And we get students from, yeah. I mean, I would say maybe Suzuki book, two, three level through university students playing Tycos concert, like all, you know, we get, we have grad students that are coming.

We have professional music teachers [00:24:00] that come, um, it’s, it’s a wide variety. Uh, but because we value it, I think it’s kind of infectious where they go. Yeah, no, I’m gonna, I’m gonna give my all to this as.

[00:24:11] Chris: That’s beautiful.

[00:24:12] Chris: So I wanted to, uh, I had a couple other questions to ask you about today. Uh, and of course I wanna be respectful of your time, but, but I mean, I kind of jokingly in the email that I said to my list.

I said, you know, uh, John Little John is to me right now, the most interesting man in the world. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen those, those commercials. It’s like doki, like doki. Yeah. Yeah. Like the most interesting man in the world, to me, you’re like, like seriously, you’re like the most interesting man in the world.

And, uh, but it’s not just about interesting, but it, it you’re you’re, to me, the things you say are very interesting, but also just inspiring because I think for lots of reasons, because if I had to characterize it. I find you to be very [00:25:00] selfless and giving and loving and it, it, and it’s just incredibly inspiring.

You know, that, I mean, I, if I had to say those are the things that I find to be it it’s like. A lot of times, and we haven’t talked to in a while, like, you know, but, but I mean, a lot of times I’ll just be sitting around and be like, what would John do?

[00:25:21] John: oh,

[00:25:21] Chris: and I’ll just, and it it’s like, you’re almost like, you know, I mean, I just got to meet you maybe a year or two ago, but it’s almost like you become this person in my mind that like you’re in my life.

Like I think of you, I think of, uh, it just, you inspire me to be better, man. That’s all I can. I mean, and I’m just being honest about it. And so I kind of wanted to ask you some questions based on some of the conversations we had, number one about like ministry and what it means to you to be a pastor. And then also to talk about some of the conversations we’ve had around equity, diversity and inclusion in our field.


[00:26:00] Chris: Um, I wanted to start off with the ministry piece. Um, couple questions I had here, um, How if, if your whole goal is to be a quote unquote, and I don’t know if I’ve got the verbiage, right. But to be a minister or a pastor, if that’s your whole, like, kind of the thing that guides you through life is ministry a, a ministry mission, then how does, uh, how does being a performer and a teacher go along with that?

[00:26:30] John: Yeah. You know, um, if I think about ’em separate and, and I love the way you’re asking it, cause you’re putting it together. But if I think about it separate, it doesn’t make sense. Um, let me just say first, you know, thank you for what you’re saying, anything good you see in me is God. Um, that’s, that’s the work of Jesus in my life.

That’s the only way I can say it. And I’m not saying that to preach on your podcast, I’m saying it, you just have to tell the truth, like, right. Like I know what my life has been like, and I know why I am the way I am and why I have the goals that I have. [00:27:00] And a person that’s been loved much can love much.

And I’ve gone through a lot of hard times, but I really, when I look back, like I could tell two kinds of stories. I could tell a story of my life. That would be like so tragic and I’ve gone through lots of tragedy, but the smile you see is genuine because. In the middle of all that tragedy. I see the love of God over my life in a way that I can’t deny, because I know that I should not be here.

And there’s nothing like remembering when you’re in the middle of a career that I should not be here. Like, um, like not meaning I don’t deserve any of those things, but I mean, like there were many things in my life that should have taken me out or should have been in another situation yet here I sit.

And so if not, if, if it can happen for me, why can’t it happen for someone else? And so it’s like the, I never thought I would be a pastor. Um, that was never a goal of mine. [00:28:00] I actually really was like anti that idea. um, and you know, anybody knows me close knows like John was never talking about being anybody’s pastor.

I am just me and I think it just took me a long time. To just be me. So I don’t feel very interesting. Um, I feel very me and the, the, the evolving in my career and the, the way things are sort of unfolding as of late, are just being less apologetic about being who I am. I hear music the way I hear it is different than some other people.

And I was trying to make music at first that other people would like, but I didn’t like it. And I was like, you forget it, I’m making music. I like . And at least I have one fan. It’ll be me. You know, at least one person will like the CD. That’s me. Um, I, I like doing that. Like [00:29:00] I, I do care about people and, and I can’t turn that off.

I can’t turn off caring about someone else to promote myself. I’m not a great promoter. You probably know this. You, you even pushed me this way. That’s why this camp is being announced all late. Or when I record an album, when I write a piece, I’m trying to get better on social media about saying what I do, but I really get a little bit annoyed.

I’d rather just do it than to talk about what I do. But part of the industry that we’re in, you do have to be able to talk about it. But I, I like, you know, like I’m a dad, I’m a husband. I like, I’d rather just do those things and do ’em the way that’s me. And that’s them. Uh, when I’m pastoring, I’m fully there.

Like I’m playing I’m not thinking of being a minister. I’m ministering. I’m not thinking of being a musician. I’m making music. And if my life is defined by my actions and the, the, you know, as one of my friends saw, Paul says the sum total of my choices. If my life is defined by those, [00:30:00] it all makes sense because it’s just a combination of actions.

At some point, my actions are music. At some point, they’re a counseling session with a couple, at some point they’re a sermon. At some point, they’re going into a prison. And you know, at some point it’s rapping some point it’s it’s, whatever, because it’s all the same idea. But whenever I’d sit down and try to put ’em into little categories, it, it doesn’t work.

[00:30:27] John: Um, so to me, music is ministry ministries, music. It’s one of the same when I’m teaching private lessons. I’m not evangelizing in those lessons, you know? Um, but I am ministering to those students. You know, this, you can’t teach music without teaching life. You can’t teach someone how to, how to be a musician without teaching them the tools that it takes to personally manage themselves for those who need that, uh, to be bold for those who are scared, you know, um, to put two thoughts [00:31:00] together, um, to combine technique with musicality and excellence, like to have people raise their standards.

Sometimes I’m a whole coach like disciplining, you know, in a, in a firm, but loving way, telling kids who are so disrespectful to their parents, not in here. , uh, I know you talk to your mom like that outside of here, but in here, you’re gonna talk to her in a way that that has respect. Because if you talk to her like that, you think you can talk to me like that, and I’m gonna let you know now you ain’t never finna talk to me like that and I’ll have this talk with four year old fi and these kids, they get it like, um, so some kids in my studio learn respect.

They learn, some kids learn, you know, um, whatever’s necessary to me. That’s ministry. Right. And it’s the same in church. It’s the same in church. Like I, I’m not gonna. Preach a message or talk to someone in a way that’s not connected to their real life. And music is the same. I don’t know. [00:32:00] I mean, that’s, I’m trying to explain it’s something I never really explained, but in my mind it all is one thing.

Um, it’s not separate,

[00:32:08] Chris: but, but your, but your day-to-day life in terms of where you, the places you go and the appointments that you meet are they separated? I mean, it’s like now I’m teaching now I’m in church.

[00:32:19] John: That you’re right. Yeah, totally, totally separated. But I’m me and all of those, but I’m a different part of me.

So I’m not a different version of me. It’s just, all of us is never necessary in everything, right. So it’s like, who does John need to be for this situation? And I can still be a hundred percent me, um, but just what’s appropriate, uh, for this time. So when I’m teaching you. You have the feeling that you’re the only person in my life at that moment, because at that moment, that’s what I’m thinking about.

Like you, how can you improve? What are you sounding like? What’s going on? What are your barriers? How can I encourage you? How can I challenge [00:33:00] you? Um, you know, uh, what kind of approach works better for you? I gotta be flexible enough. I, I study a lot of pedagogy more than people would think a lot of violent pedagogy, because I feel like I need to have six systems of pedagogy, at least in my mind because of every student, so different.

I have to be able to look at them and figure out how can I get them to their goals, the way they learn. And for some, a real like regimented approach works. And for some, it just doesn’t and it’s my job to figure out. Okay. What is that? Now? Th that thing I’m talking about right now, figure out. That is action.

That’s time. That is investment. And that takes a lot of energy. So it’s like, I gotta bring myself fully to the table. Um, otherwise I feel like I’m not.

[00:33:48] John: Hmm. Like, love is in action. That’s the best way I can say it. The, I can’t say I love you. This is the Bible, right? I can’t say I love you, but not show it. [00:34:00] I can’t say I love you and neglect you, or I can’t say I love you and hold back information.

I can’t say I love you with zero effort because if you love somebody they’re worth the effort and that’s not just romantic love. That’s not just church Christian relationship love that’s teaching. I can’t say that. I don’t tell my students. I love them cause they have me weird, but you know, like I, I show it like, right.

You know, like my students know I would care about them because there’s an effort that I’m putting in and I don’t know everything, but I’m definitely gonna put forth a solid effort. I’m gonna give you the attention that’s needed. Um, yeah. And then at the end of that, I can say whether, whether they go on to, you know, great things in music like some do, or whether it’s just something that enhances their life while they’re young, that leads to other things.

I have the peace of knowing at the end of the day that, okay, I did my part of their journey. Peace is expensive. [00:35:00] Peace is one of my biggest goals. It’s um, I wanna love to the point that I can have peace.

[00:35:06] Chris: That’s so deep to me. Um, and I, there’s so many things I want to ask you about this, but I’m sensitive to our time, but like, but so one of it is that comes up for me is about entrepreneurship.

And like, because you know, I coach a lot of people in business and we’ve had conversations before where I just, I just hit a wall with, because you’re you’re cuz I feel like someone, you, you know, I don’t want to mischaracterize your philosophy, but I feel like one time you said something to me, like, you know, Chris, I just leave it up to God.

What, whatever it’s gonna be. It’s gonna be where, whereas like, and in one way that feels like opposite to me. Like what I teach my I’m sure. It’s not totally, but it feels somehow on the surface, like opposite of what I’m like, you need a strategy and you need to yeah, yeah, yeah. You know, and you need to have a goal, a money goal, and you need to have a, and you’re like, you know what?

I [00:36:00] don’t know about all that, but that’s good. But I just leave it up to God and whatever God has for me.

[00:36:04] John: Well, yeah, but it’s not negligent. Like, it’s not like, um, but I, so which one comes first, that’s probably when we get, I love these conversations too, when we talk about it and you’re like, okay, that is not the way I work.

Like that business model that you’re doing. Or so to me, the, the, and I, I’m not saying it’s different to you, but it’s like the. Like, um, okay. You know, what’s the best way to explain it. God has a plan and that helps me not have to have the responsibility of coming up with the plan. God loves everybody. And he has a great plan for everything.

He’s God like, I, I, if he wasn’t God, like, uh, if he, if he needed me to give him ideas, he wouldn’t be God and I’m going, okay, I’m talk. I’m talking about what I believe. I’m not, I know there’s really an pluralistic culture, so I’m not, I’m not assuming everybody believes the same thing. I’m just talking about [00:37:00] me.

Um, but the God, I believe in created everything that exists and, and there’s some things wrong in this situation. And, and I believe that the, the same guy that created is the same guy. That’s the solution. And so if I don’t wanna waste any time, I don’t wanna spend my time trying to do something only to find out later.

That that was not the solution, no matter how much I thought. So I appeal to that. God, I pray, I pray for everything and I pray and say, okay, what do you want to do here? Um, sometimes I get an answer sometimes I don’t. Uh, but sometimes I hear from God and I’ve learned over the years to quiet myself enough, to hear from outside of myself, to hear from God, not just everything outside, but from God specifically.

And then I get a plan, you know, I want you to do this. That’s where the strategy comes in. [00:38:00] I just receive the, what I do it’s received. Um, it’s not like a, I don’t have goals that are outside. The goals God has given me are so big that that’s the rest of my life. and when you have a goal, one of the things I love about ministry and, and being a, you know, being in ministry, nothing about the titles, all that kind of stuff.

I love that my job is people, and I’m saying this as an extroverted introvert, like I’m not liking to be in crowds, but meaning like what I’m giving time to every day is trying to improve this seemingly deteriorating system. There’s gotta be hope somewhere. Everything can’t be bad news, everything can’t be, um, disaster.

And there’s so much somewhere there has to be light somewhere. [00:39:00] There has to be hope. And so to be able to look into that situation and. And try my hardest to get rid of my own ego and, you know, because it’s there and to say, all right, how can I be for your good, I trust God with my life and my good and he’s been faithful.

So I’m free to be there for your good, because I’m taken care of, you know,

[00:39:27] Chris: Wow.

[00:39:28] Chris: I guess one of the, the ways that I wanted to frame the question, which almost feels unfair or weird or something, which, you know, the question is like, what can like nonbelievers take from, it also feels kind of selfish.

As I ask this question is like, you know, what can a nonbeliever learn from someone like you that has so much faith and assuming that it works for you? Like that’s, that’s what I feel like it works for you because you’re such an effective person. You seem to be surrounded by community. You seem to [00:40:00] be, uh, graceful in the things you do.

Like you seem to be almost effortless in just, I don’t know, you seem so intelligent. You seem successful to me in and in a broad definition of success. Like, and so it feels like it works for you , you know, so, so what can people that are non-believers, how can they learn from some of these things that you.

And I’m not saying maybe they will turn to faith. I mean, as I’ve, as I’ve. Yeah.

[00:40:29] John: I mean, there’s no replacement for God. It, um, the way God is in my life and the way I believe God is his agency in the world, there is no replacement for that. So I can’t be like, well, here’s, here’s another God that you can have because there’s them talking to the system I’m in.

I believe there’s only one God. Um, at the same time, like I do believe that it like there’s a general, um, I believe that God has reflected in everybody, whether or not they’re [00:41:00] Christian or not. I believe that we see the hand of God, the, the, the beauty of the diversity of who God is. Um, you know, we see all that.

God is not a, uh, a person. God is God only described in themself. And that magnificence, if we look for it, you see it in everywhere. and this is how you find hope in darkness. This is how you find hope. And this is to me, the light. This is, this is, this is, this is when things are seeming like something light is swallowing me up, where is my lifeline look for that and whatever you’re in, literally in anything like I see God at Eucharist.

I see. I see. Um, so I would say to, to a nonbeliever, um, someone who, who, you know, um, or from a different faith background, look outside of yourself. I know that’s very cult, counter cultural. Uh, we are always look inside yourself, you know, realize all your [00:42:00] that’s a very lonely life. And that’s a lot of responsibility for a person.

And, and I truly believe that when you make someone and calling foolish, but when you look outside of yourself and look to serve others, you are taken care of.

[00:42:17] John: just to put some meat on the bones, to this question, you know, kind of come out of the philosophical about. You know, um, how people of different, different belief systems, you know, um, can, can be more loving or, or kind of do some of the things I’m talking about. So teachers, um, don’t make the goal of teaching, having a successful teaching career.

Don’t look at students as the things that are gonna help you get to your goals. Look at the student, it’s just looking outside of yourself and look at helping them get to their goals and build a legacy. How about that? How about building a legacy of helping students get to their goals and just [00:43:00] let that goal where that goes?

Um, musicians, when you’re on tour, see the people around you, you know, a tour, you know, with infinis and, and we go all around the. See the people next to you on the plane. I’m not talking about being annoying. You feel like you gotta preach everybody or, you know, but just see them. And then you’ll know what to do.

You’ll know who to smile at. You’ll know who to say hello, you you’ll say thank you. You know, uh, if you’re touring around the world, just learn, thank you in another language and just see the people that are carrying your bags. And you know, if you’re in a music school, say hi to the janitor, like just look outside yourself.

Don’t be so busy trying to get where you’re going, where you’re missing everything, you know, get outside, look around and look , it sounds silly, but don’t just go where you’re going, like stop. And just like, I, I live in Vancouver sometimes I just look at the mountains and I just, wow. And it just [00:44:00] reorients my day.

So that’s when I say get outside yourself. It’s it’s that I’m talking specifically to musicians to, and to me, this is performance. When I’m performing, especially the classical mindset is so toxic and it’s all in here and it’s just those thoughts want to eat me alive. And I, I don’t ever, like, I I’ll psych myself out.

I wanna perform like, no, nevermind, you know, before performance, but I get outside myself. I think of somebody might be here tonight. Somebody got dressed up. Somebody spent their hard earned money for on this ticket. Somebody’s on date night. Somebody, somebody needs to be encouraged. Somebody’s depressed.

Um, somebody needs something here and they came here for it and, and I need to go out and I need to see them. I can’t necessarily give everybody what they need, but if we could just start by seeing one another, to me, that’s, that’s intercultural relationships. That is it’s, it’s a solution to so many things.

And it’s one of the [00:45:00] things that. It’s supposed to be what Christians do. I don’t think, I think there’s a lot of examples that we see, unfortunately, where people aren’t able to see different than them, which is such a shame, because I feel like that’s very UN Christlike behavior. Uh, he was very much able to see, I believe, outside of himself and to have Christians that would somehow like, think that they can’t do that or something evil about really just seeing somebody else, like who can I go out to coffee with you and just listen to you?

um, yeah, I’m not saying I do it perfectly all the time, but to me, those are some things that some anybody can do at any time. If you’re a parent, I know you’re busy. I know the kids are wearing you out, but just look at them and keep looking at them because they’re changing and become familiar and refamiliarize yourself.

And then refamiliarize yourself. Again, if you have longstanding friends, like see those friends, like, you know, if you’re [00:46:00] married, See your spouse. Just take a moment. It’ll take long to see somebody else it’s humbling in the best kind of way. Um, it makes me feel like I’m a part of something. Great. And then for me, I just take that extra step.

I look for the God in everything.

[00:46:21] Chris: Hmm. That’s beautiful.

Um, I am, I want to schedule a follow up with you for, to talk about some other things and, and if it’s okay with you, I wanna put a pin in it today with this, which is so much food for thought and for the heart, I think, um, is that okay with you?

[00:46:44] John: I would love it and call me anytime.

[00:46:47] Chris: And, and I mean, I, you know, the, the, the note that I had written to myself before, I’d asked you that last question was that, you know, I feel. [00:47:00] You have clarity, you have community and you have positivity. And, and those are things that I feel like if even if somebody and I understand, you’re not trying to let me take the God out of the situation, I get that I’m okay.

[00:47:18] John: You know, no ID answer,

[00:47:20] Chris: but, but I feel like that is a common. Maybe it’s a com those things are common denominators for people. And I love what you’re saying as far as like, you know, take getting outside of ourselves and, and look for something that’s bigger than us. And I,

[00:47:34] John: yeah, you do it to me.

[00:47:36] John: And I’ll could I, if I could be so bold on your podcast, ask you a question.

Uh, you’re so helpful and you look, you look for ways to help people. You’ve, you’re so helpful to me. Why are you like that?

[00:47:50] Chris: Uh, good question. I don’t, I don’t have an easy answer. I mean, for you to be honest with you, I mean, you, you know, because you were so generous to [00:48:00] me from the first time I met you. And so I’ve always felt that I had like a, a debt of gratitude to you and I’ll always be really to you.

[00:48:09] John: That’s so funny to me because I’ve always, and I mean, this, I I’ve, for me, it’s like, I feel like, uh, it’s a very Christianized to you. uh, which so, but I know we’re from different backgrounds, which I love. Um, but to me, I feel like the way you’ve been towards me is like, I see God’s favor in my life. That’s the word I would use?

Like, like I’m blessed because Christian, like, uh, you know, like you’re part of that. And, and I leave our interactions like, wow, I’m a blessed guy. Like. To have Christian, like, you know, in my life. Like, and I, and I, like I said, I know, I hope that’ll make you feel weird, but it’s like, I wonder, like, it’s just, so when you say that, it’s like, how, like, I feel like you’re giving me more than I give you.

Um, but that’s.

[00:48:59] Chris: Well, hopefully we, we can [00:49:00] talk about that. That’s one of the things I wanna talk about in the future, you know, if I bring you back in the future, because you know, when, when we, when I first approached you, it was, I was asking for help around, you know, conversations with American strengths teachers association.

Right. And you just, you gave so much of your time, so much of your expertise, um, and effort. And, uh, and so that was, you know, the, okay.

[00:49:22] John: We’ll talk about that. That’s yeah, no, cause that’s a. Yeah, man.

[00:49:27] John: I appreciate you. That’s all I can say.

[00:49:29] Chris: I appreciate you too. And so string bootcamp.com. Find John Little John, wherever he is.

Uh, look him up. He’s on Instagram, Facebook, uh, string, bootcamp.com. Anything else?

[00:49:42] John: They need to know. Adidam music. So string bootcamp, all over the web. You can find us anywhere, put the word, those words together, string bootcamp. And then for me, look up a Dom music and that’s that’s, that’s my website, Twitter, Facebook, uh, Instagram, everywhere,

[00:49:57] Chris: Adidom music all day.

[00:50:00] I dream about music.

[00:50:01] John: I know it’s kind of weird. It’s like all day I dream about music, music. .

[00:50:04] Chris: That’s great. I love it. Thank you so much, John. I’ll let you go. We’ll be in touch soon for sure.

[00:50:11] John: Bye

About Our Guest...

John “Adidam” Littlejohn is a violinist, pastor, educator, emcee and acoustic hip-hop artist currently based in Vancouver, Canada. 

A graduate of Peabody Conservatory, he has been featured on NPR, CBC, ViolinChannel.com, RapRemnant.com, DMC TV (Egypt), and in the Baltimore Sun, Georgia Strait, and Strad Magazine and toured throughout Europe, Egypt, China, and North America as a soloist and one-third of Infinitus, the beatboxing string trio.

His performance credits include Michael Bublé, Weird Al Yankovic, the Clark Sisters, Richard Smallwood, Regina Carter, Elmo, Andrea Bocelli, the TransSiberian Orchestra, Rod Stewart, Blake Shelton, Kehinde Wiley, Newark (Delaware) Symphony (as concertmaster), and Darin Atwater’s Soulful Symphony (as concertmaster), and the Baltimore Opera Orchestra. 

As a member of Infinitus, he has also held multiple performance residencies with the Lincoln Center in NYC.

John is deeply committed to changing lives through music education. He is the founder and director of the Thrive City String Boot Camp, a tuition-free intensive retreat for intermediate to advanced string players. Additionally, he has performed over 1500 outreach performances in schools with Infinitus. He is currently on the faculty of the Vancouver Academy of Music and the Delta Community Music School. His students have won competitions and have gone on to study music in university. He is a frequent clinician and adjudicator at music festivals, camps, workshops, and seminars.


Creative Strings Podcast explores intersections between creativity, music education, string playing, music business, and culture.


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