About Mark S. MerittSince childhood, Mark has been deeply involved in music. He began playing the piano at the age of four. While still in high school, Mark composed and co-wrote his first musical, Cupid’s Arrow, which he also directed and conducted. Later, he composed and co-authored another original stage musical, The Right Circles.
Mark has performed and composed for many events and productions, with New York City venues including The Supper Club, The Duplex, Gilda’s Club and the Magnet Theater. He has also made multiple appearances on ABC’s Good Morning America, including a special Christmas segment with Rosie O’Donnell (also see 1, 2).
As a songwriter, Mark was recognized in 2003 by Billboard’s 11th Annual Songwriting Contest with three Honorable Mentions, two of which were designated as Top 500 songs. Also that year, the Songwriters Resource Network’s Great American Song Contest called his work “exceptional songwriting.” In 2008, working as The Offhand Band, he wrote, produced and released Everyone’s Invited, an album of original songs for kids and families.
With extensive experience improvising in many styles, Mark has been working since 2010 with The Mop & Bucket Co., the premier improv comedy troupe in New York State’s Capital Region. In addition to being MopCo’s Musical Director, he also serves in this role for MopCo’s long-form house team Alf Pacino and its all-female house team Am I Right?, and it tickles him greatly to be the only male in that group. He improvises underscores for scenes and, working with the actors, he improvises songs, musicals and operas. He also develops and teaches MopCo’s classes on singing improvised songs.
After teaching traditional methods for a total of seven years, Mark is now a Master Simply Music Piano Teacher, helping students achieve breakthrough results as New York’s most experienced teacher of this extraordinary piano learning method since 2008. His two-volume Tune Toolkit Composition & Improvisation program is available exclusively through Simply Music and can be done even by people who’ve never had a piano lesson. Mark also co-founded Music Geeks Unite and co-developed its flagship offering, Play with Simply Music, a self-study program which provides the most comprehensive and affordable introduction to the Simply Music Piano method. He has additional music education programs in development.
In addition to music, Mark has many other eclectic pursuits. He wrote his first full-length screenplay at age 16, and as a Theatre Arts major at Cornell University (BA 1992, Phi Beta Kappa), Mark studied directing with Pulitzer Prize nominee David Feldshuh. Having been represented by the Farber Literary Agency (NYC) and Susan Smith & Associates (Beverly Hills), Mark has numerous other accomplishments in theater and film.
Mark also has strong intellectual interests centered around science, systems and positive change. These led him to write an award-winning thesis on sustainability for the City University of New York Graduate Center (MA 2001), and to create Potluck, a website which includes many of his related essays and papers as well as his original artistic works.
These pursuits also led Mark to co-found Emergent Associates, LLC, an agency specializing in personal/life coaching, group/organizational/business consulting and training, using a unique internally-developed approach which integrated knowledge about systems sciences, positive change and developmental psychology. The Appreciative Inquiry-based work of EA provided Mark with the foundation for many services offered through Potluck Creative Arts, including the songwriting workshop which formed the basis for the facilitated songwriting process he uses for Songs by You.
Sometimes, you can find Mark out and about taking sing-along requests for hours on end. It’s seriously just about the most joyful thing on the planet for him. Really. Also, slowly, Mark is writing new musicals and trying his hand at non-musical improv. And tap dancing.
About Appreciative Inquiry
Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is both a methodology for producing positive change as well as a mindset, a way of perceiving and understanding the world around us so as to always encourage positive change. Its goal is to bring life to human systems, and all that it does is based on a basic principle: find the best of what exists, then do more of it. This points to the two meanings of the word “appreciative” — to recognize and value something, as when we appreciate a person or a work of art, and to grow in value, as when an investment appreciates.
It’s a simple idea, but few are more powerful, and it’s surprisingly foreign to typical ways of thinking. We often find ourselves caught up in problem-solving, identifying what’s wrong and trying to fix it. But doing so never guarantees that we’ll get what we really want, only that we might get a break from something we don’t want. Indeed, systems disciplines tell us that such a focus is generally likely to address only symptoms rather than root causes, causing any break from our problems usually to be a brief one.
Shifting into appreciative mode, we get in touch with what we most want. The questions we now ask help us study what works, the seeds of success, so that we can increase the capacities that help satisfy our needs. This is often our best opportunity to find leverage points for systemic, positive change. By doing this cyclically, we can generate sustainable change in desired directions. Indeed, the process can be seen as an example of evolution itself, selecting the fittest from a pool of variation, carrying it forward, building on it to generate novelties which are then subject to further selection.
Originating as an organizational development framework, Appreciative Inquiry has helped countless businesses and groups achieve breakthroughs in positive change. No wonder, though, tapping as it does into our universe’s key creative processes, that AI can be used effectively to generate positive solutions in any situation requiring creative thinking.
Emergent Associates, LLC — a coaching, consulting and training company Mark co-founded — discovered many novel ways to apply Appreciative Inquiry. Forms ranged from full AIs down to 10-minute versions, with many levels in between, and they incorporated knowledge and practices from psychology, communication and beyond. Subjects included personal growth, project development and artistic creation. Given its organizational origins, AI has been especially effective as the basis for engaging in these efforts collaboratively.
Building off of that work, Mark’s Potluck Creative Arts specialized in the adaptation and application of Appreciative Inquiry for artistic creation, to which AI lends itself beautifully. Mark innovated AI-based approaches for creativity coaching, custom works and collaborative creativity workshops, including a songwriting workshop which formed the basis for the facilitated songwriting process he uses for Songs By You.