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March 6, 2016
Posted by Seth Boustead

Although my life is hardly a prison, lately I have escape on the brain. It all started two days ago when Maria and I went on an organized bike ride and this woman named Cassandra casually told us that she had just bought a one-way ticket to Mexico and so this was the last ride she would be leading for a while, maybe forever.

All through the ride I couldn’t stop thinking about it. A one-way ticket? Maybe forever? How is she doing it? What about her stuff?  What about family obligations? What about the need to make money and contribute to the commonwealth through the rendering of taxes upon your income and purchases?

I was also jealous because, although I didn’t go this year, I would normally be in Mexico myself right about now.   For the last several years I have escaped the weather every February and decamped to Mexico City for two weeks of sunshine, Spanish lessons, amazing food, trips to the pyramids and salty, lime-encrusted beers.

And then, thinking of escaping to Mexico City made me think of my first Spanish teacher there, Berenice.  She taught us swear words in Mexican slang and said that her favorite verb was huir, which can mean to flee like from the scene of a crime like OJ Simpson but which also means to escape, to chuck it all and hit the road like Dean Moriarty. When I returned the following year she didn’t work there anymore and I haven’t seen her on any of my subsequent trips.

As far as I can tell Berenice made good on her escape. I do wonder from time to time though what happened to her and what her life is like now and if huir is still her favorite verb.  I wonder if she and Casandra will meet up on an organized bike ride somewhere. And I wonder which definition of huir she was really talking about.

March 1, 2016
Posted by Seth Boustead



It’s nearly spring and for me that always means it’s Sound of Silent Film time.  This year I’m producing the event in New York and Chicago within a month of each other so it’s an extra busy time.

A huge part of my promotion strategy is postering and after all of these years I still mostly do this myself,  partly because I’m a control freak who doesn’t believe others will center the poster properly, but also because I enjoy biking around the city slapping posters on every bulletin board I happen across.

Once inside a building I think of myself as a ninja.   I get in and out lightning fast, leaving a trail of posters in my wake. No one sees me come or go, they just see an awesome event that they should probably try to get out to.

Last year things didn’t go quite as planned however.  I was heading into Columbia College which is a goldmine of bulletin boards but which also, as I now know, has notoriously strict parking rules.  I had chosen not to bike this time and to drive instead and left my car outside with flashers on and in the time it took me to artfully place posters and postcards on ten floors of one building, my car was towed.

I came out flushed with my victory only to find that I now had to take a humiliating walk of shame to the underground city facility where literally hundreds of similarly dispirited people wait to be gouged for the privilege of getting their car back, which also now has nifty numbers painted on the window so everyone knows what an idiot you are.

That set the publicity ninja back a bit I can tell you but I’m hoping to get the mojo back this year.



February 1, 2016
Posted by Seth Boustead

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 9.30.39 PM

It’s an exciting night tonight as many Iowans head to the polls as the first in the nation to cast their votes or, in election parlance, to caucus, which is an Algonquin word that translates roughly to “let the right one in.”

Although there is some cause for alarm, what with a socialist running and all, I do think it’s worth remembering that the results in Iowa rarely mean anything in the long run.

Mike Huckabee won the thing for the Republicans last time after all and, well, that just wasn’t going to happen.  Although at least he actually has some experience with governing.  And he plays bass in a rock band which is kind of cool although it does have the unfortunate name Capitol Offense.

I mean who names their rock band after a crime punishable by death? That’s just not a good idea.  What if their albums are criminally bad as in fact many of the good folks in the comments section of Youtube seem to think.

After some listening, however, I would argue that their version of Freebird is pretty dang good.  That it is in fact definitive.

January 28, 2016
Posted by Seth Boustead


We in the arts are always being told to refine our “elevator pitch”, a succinct account of what we do and who it benefits, delivered presumably to a potential investor with a short attention span with whom we are currently sharing an elevator.

Despite the fact that this situation has never happened to me I have worked diligently on my talk for many years and have even tried, so far without luck, to reduce what we do at the arts organization I founded, Access Contemporary Music, to one perfect, ideally less than Faulknerian-length, sentence.

Then recently I found it right under my nose.  We were about to launch our new website and I was looking for snazzy quotes to put on the Support page and found this amazing quote from the Chicago Tribune’s John von Rhein.  “A Utopian vision of contemporary music for everyone.”

Yes!  That’s exactly how I would state our mission in one sentence if I had only had the ability to do so.  Weird how someone outside the organization can sum us up so perfectly.  My only quibble would be that I have always found Utopian societies to be a bit dull and I’ve lived in a few.

The truth is you need a little excitement once in a while. A good bar fight or something to liven things up.  So I would change it to “A Utopian vision of contemporary music for everyone, with the occasional bar fight.”  Now that’s an elevator pitch!


December 30, 2015
Posted by Seth Boustead

shanghai-new-music-festival_600x2501Relevant Tones was recently invited to cover the Shanghai New Music Week, a sprawling international contemporary music festival with world class ambitions.  Unfortunately for me though, the dates coincided with another trip I had planned and I was not able to go, so my producer Jesse McQuarters went without me and I’m only now getting a chance to listen to the music and interviews that he brought back.

Not surprisingly the festival is extremely ambitious and well funded and the performances are of a uniformly high quality.  The organizers of the festival are justifiably proud of what they’ve put together and they seem to be connecting with audiences in Shanghai, (nearly every concert was sold out and overall attendance rose this year to more than 8,000.)

In many ways this is something that could only happen in China.  Artistic Director Wen Deqing is absolutely right when he says that audiences for contemporary classical music in the U.S. and Europe by and large are smaller than what you see in China.  And yet the festival is a little too carefully cultivated and the programming is, in my opinion, a little too heavy on European and American composers.

Shanghai New Music Week is indicative of modern China in general, a country that is self consciously emerging as a world player after hundreds of years of swinging between regional influence and total isolation.  Now that in recent years it’s stepping onto the world stage for the first time, China is very much like the awkward debutante coming out at the ball.

And again this is most evident in the music that they’ve chosen to program.  There is no music by South American or Scandinavian composers because China doesn’t think those composers are important. On the international front they’re mainly programming American and European composers because that’s who they want to impress.  If that sounds familiar it’s because that’s exactly how the U.S. was during its debutante phase a couple of hundred years ago; obsessed with Europe, lacking a national cultural identity and awkwardly stepping into a cultural leadership role.

China has the resources and the intent to dominate the world classical music scene but in order to do this they need to move away from American and European models, find their national cultural identity irrespective of western trends and, most importantly, they need to take the muzzle of their artists and give them absolute creative freedom.




December 23, 2015
Posted by Seth Boustead

sandspursI was an indoors kind of kid and I’m an indoors kind of adult now.  I like reading, long walks to the refrigerator, playing the piano, listening to and writing music, drinking beer and most other indoor pursuits.

Every time I engage in an outdoor activity I am reminded of my essential indoorsiness and my recent trip to Florida is a case in point.  I decided to break my longstanding dislike of the outdoors and go to the beach to participate in an activity called Frisbee.

This was surprisingly fun for a while but it wasn’t long before I made a miserable throw and the Frisbee went straight into a patch of what I now know are sand spurs. I didn’t know this at the time though and so blithely walked into said patch barefoot to retrieve the Frisbee.

You see, when you’re not an outdoors type not only do you not know about things like sand spurs but you also are always trying to overcompensate and prove to everyone that the outdoors is not scary and full of vicious things that want nothing more than to senselessly cause harm.

Of course it hurt but I was too proud to show it and wanted to get the Frisbee so I kept on going.  When I got out of the patch I had easily fifteen clusters of sand spurs in my feet.  Apparently I don’t know the proper technique for pulling them out either because my attempts only got them stuck in my hands as well as my feet.

With tweezers and the help of a gracious wife who understands me I managed to get most of them out but as I type this there are still two in my right thumb, one in my left index finger and two in my left foot near the heel.  Do they work themselves out naturally?  Will I require surgery?

This wouldn’t have happened if I had spent my vacation drinking beer and reading Sci-Fi as I had originally intended.  Damn you outdoors!



December 16, 2015
Posted by Seth Boustead

Screen Shot 2016-01-01 at 12.57.47 PMWe’re getting slowly closer to the end of the year which is the time when people start thinking about how they can improve their lives and be better people in the year to come.

I never think about things like this because I’m already as good as I’m going to get, but I was reminded recently of a life goal that I impetuously set many years ago which I have as yet failed to meet.  It was my 22nd birthday and I was a music student at the University of Missouri Columbia by day and a delivery driver at a sub sandwich shop by night.

I had always had a kind of prickly relationship with the store manager but on the occasion of my birthday he surprised me by giving me a really thoughtful gift: the complete rags of Scott Joplin.  As pretty much anyone who knew me at the time knew, I was a big ragtime fan.  I was touched by the gift and told everyone within hearing distance, (four other employees and three customers if memory serves) that I would learn them all.

Fast forward 22 years and I can competently play about half of them and can hack my way through another ten or so and the others I haven’t even started on yet.  Joplin wrote a ridiculous number of rags!   And they’re hard too.

Also, it seems that hardly anyone ever wants to hear me play them.  From fellow music students to girlfriends to random passersby, ragtime is nearly always greeted with at best a condescending smile and at worst malicious, anti-ragtime comments on Twitter.  Yes, that happened once when I was playing a ragtime piece publicly.  It’s hard enough to perform without worrying about the audience flaming you on Twitter before you even finish the piece, but I’ll save the anti-Twitter diatribe for another time.

The other reason that I’ve never learned them all, the real reason, is that, once I learned twenty or so I became lazy.  I enjoyed playing the pieces I knew and didn’t seek out the new rags. But I got the book out yesterday, which has been schlepped from apartment to apartment and piano to piano for so many years now that it’s in tatters, and learned a new rag called Solace.

It’s a beautiful, melancholic rag and I enjoyed learning it so much that I’ve decided to learn another new one.  Who knows where this will end?  Perhaps years after my impetuous promise I’ll actually wind up fulfilling it.

I don’t know though because again, they’re really frickin’ hard!



December 8, 2015
Posted by Seth Boustead

I have deleted this post because it was mean spirited, badly written and woefully short on perspective.  Thanks to everyone for the copious emails and comments.  Though the original post was idiotic to put it mildly, I have learned a lot and am thankful for the perspective I have gained.





November 30, 2015
Posted by Seth Boustead

sheetmusicside1It’s hard to believe now but you used to be able to walk into a store and purchase sheet music. It sounds crazy but I know it for a fact because I worked at Carl Fischer Music, when I was a student back in the mid ’90’s.

You could actually walk into the store, go to the second floor and buy the parts and score for a Mahler symphony.  Right there in the store!  Imagine such a thing.  On Wabash next to Jimmy’s Steakhouse, which was frequently temporarily closed for health violations but still ran a bustling business, there was a four story sheet music store that carried everything from Billy Joel to Olivier Messiaen.

The store was very slow to adapt to changing trends though.  Even in 1996 we couldn’t believe they didn’t use a computer to track inventory and sales and they were totally unprepared for the Internet age.  They also had a bad habit of hiring whack-jobs.

There was Phil, the front man for a band called Teen Alien who liked to tell anyone who would listen about the adverse effects of past heroin use on his bowels, there was James the drummer and pathological liar who worked the register and robbed the store blind daily, and there was Don the outspoken pagan who hated Christmas and yet every year was scheduled to work the floor on Black Friday.

Don was a scowler and hated everyone but he liked me because apparently in Egyptian mythology I’m quite a bad ass.  He told me this one time while no fewer than four customers tried desperately to get his attention and while I myself was helping a guy who insisted on following me around singing the song he was looking for instead of providing me with a title or composer or something concrete.

Although Don’s blather was distracting at the time, I was curious about my mythological past.  I looked it up later when I got home and it’s true.


I’ve been a very bad god indeed.






November 28, 2015
Posted by Seth Boustead

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 1.46.15 PMHistorically I always looked forward to this time of year because most things in my life slow down and I feel like I can take a short break without something going horribly wrong. Although it gets dark at 4:00 PM, and everything is dead, and the temperature is slowly but inexorably decreasing to the intolerable level at which it will remain for the next several months,  this time was always a welcome respite. Though it came at a price.

I’m still looking forward to the restful part but I haven’t come to terms with exactly how much the holiday season has changed for me since the death of my mother three years ago.  I’ve spent the last two seasons trying to pretend that Christmas doesn’t exist and this is the first year that I’ve allowed my wife to put decorations up in the apartment and will spend the fateful day with family instead of cowering in a bunker somewhere.

Christmas was the most important time of the year for my mother and fraught with all sorts of hidden meanings and expectations.  There was a sense that if everything went off right we could correct some fundamental wrong in the family. If we could be a family at Christmas it would last throughout the year and even move backwards in time and bring us together retroactively.

The problem is that we were a family at Christmas, just not the family she seemed to want.  So mythologized had Christmas come for our mother that it was impossible for her to articulate exactly how it should be, what defined the perfect Christmas she so longed for and it was a setup from the beginning, there was no way we mere mortals could ever properly fulfill our roles.

It was a paradox then that when I was in the thick of my usual mid-Fall stress, I would daydream about going home for Christmas knowing that there was a price to pay for the time spent vegging on the couch, home cooked meals and nights out with old friends.  But I also knew that even if I never went out, spent all of my time singing carols and baking cookies and driving around looking at Christmas lights, it would still fall short yet again.

These thoughts come to me now when I’m the midst of writing a very intense piece of music and I can’t help but feel sad. This is the time of year when I go home to rest but pay the price for my resting but this year, like the years before, there is no longer that home to go to.  And now I’m the one for whom Christmas falls short.





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