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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.





November 20, 2015
Posted by Seth Boustead

nielsenI got an email today saying that 20,000 people tuned into WTTW last night to watch 1001 Afternoons in Chicago.  Considering that it aired twice more the following day in less desirable time slots, I’d estimate that it’s probably up to around 30,000 people total now.

That’s a lot of people watching the movie and hearing mine and Amos Gillespie’s music, but hearing the ratings report gave me a mixed reaction too.

As long as we’ve had air waves we’ve wondered who, if anyone, is tuning in to what we’re broadcasting and, as a longtime radio host, I’m totally sympathetic to this. Of course I want to know who is listening to the show, what they like or don’t like about it and how we can get more listeners and better engage the listeners we have.

This is a natural impulse for anyone who puts themselves in public view but it’s also a dangerous impulse if unchecked.

There has to be a strong balance between tailoring your content to the listener and curating your content and guiding the listener.  If a given broadcast scores high ratings it’s a natural impulse to want to air that program again or create more content like it and in the short run this may be a good strategy but long term you run the risk of turning off listeners and flooding the airwaves with garbage if you don’t adhere to some kind of standard or programming philosophy.

Chasing ratings just to have high ratings is a pointless pursuit and has led to some of the worst programming decisions in television and radio history.  The pursuit should be to have high ratings for excellent content, not to devalue your content to have high ratings.

I got a thrill thinking of 30,000 people watching our film, but I’m very glad that we made the film first and then WTTW agreed to air it. I wish it were always done that way.

Make quality content and then find the best place for it.  Please stop making content designed to drive ratings higher.  In the long run it doesn’t work, it underestimates the audience and, because people are going to watch television regardless, it creates shall we delicately say, a less discerning consumer.





November 12, 2015
Posted by Seth Boustead

placard1I’m putting the finishing touches on the first movement of my new piano concerto and am facing a familiar conundrum. How do I know when the piece is finished?

This is such an interesting problem for composers and I’d love to hear from others about how you know when a piece is done.  For me I guess a lot of times it’s when I just get tired of futzing with it and have to move on.  Other times I’m forced to stop working by an impending deadline which is kind of nice.

How many times after a deadline has passed and I’ve sent the piece to the performers have I said that I would go back later and fix it up?  Almost every time.  But how many times have I actually done this?  Almost none and I think it ‘s a good thing.  It really is so easy to fall down the rabbit hole and continue to work on a piece long after it’s done.

There have been many times now when I’ve heard a piece of mine performed and remembered the struggle I had with deciding that it was in its final form.  But upon listening I could never remember where I had had the trouble.  The truth is that the piece now exists in that form and that’s what it is.

Could I have made it better?  Possibly.  But it gets not only highly subjective at this point but also highly theoretical and for me at least I’d prefer to bang out another piece than endlessly wrestle with the same few bars.  That said, I really need to improve the middle section of the concerto, it’s just not quite right…



November 5, 2015
Posted by Seth Boustead

renaissance_soulFirst let me say that I am passionately against all self help books of any kind by any author whatsoever.  I haven’t read this book because it seems like a self help book and, as I’ve said, I’m against them but, I must say that I find the premise of this particular self help book, which I will never read, to be intriguing.

We celebrate the Renaissance man in theory but in practice we say things like jack of all trades, master of none.  Well, as someone who is interested in practically everything on the planet and has jacked around in many trades while mastering none of them, let me tell you that I get pretty tired of being accused of wasting my life and of attempts to reduce me to one thing.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking that I should focus on composition or radio or arts management or a hundred other things I like to do like read history, shoot pool and collect rare algae.

In the book, or so I’ve heard as I will never read it, Lobenstine makes a distinction between people like Ben Franklin who are interested in and good at many things, and people like Mozart who are hyper focused on one thing and have indisputably mastered it.

For example if they both had a concert coming up Ben Franklin, upon hearing that he had to promote it, might think “here’s another interesting thing I can learn” whereas Mozart might think, “why would I promote it?  I’m the composer.”

To me both points of view are valid.  There are people who specialize in promoting concerts so why not pair them with people who specialize in performing or composing music?  And yet as a person who finds it impossible to specialize I like to think that we’d be missing out if the world were full of specialists.

There’s something magical about the quixotic pursuit of devoting yourself to learning as much as possible, and doing as much as possible, within the lamentably short framework of one lifetime.

As I’ve said, I won’t read the book because I’m too busy jacking around to read self help but I’m glad that she wrote it and I hope others read it.  Now, off to my basket weaving class!



October 30, 2015
Posted by Seth Boustead

free_weightseb3bcb06-e429-45ce-8eef-a2b699e81f17largerI consider the whole process of going to the gym to be penance for past sins and work hard to make the experience as miserable as possible in order to gain good karma.  Part of this is not bringing my own ear buds but listening to whatever dance music they play to pump us all up.  Running on the treadmill to Kate Perry’s truly dreadful “This is How We Do,” it once occurred to me, however, that a casual observer, upon seeing me move my body to this music, might mistakenly think that I enjoy it.

I have since modified my running style in such a way as to, I believe, show that I am not in fact endorsing the music but am simply subjecting myself to it in such a way as to curry favor with the Gods.  It looks weird but seems to be working.

I clearly need to find a way to communicate this when I’m on the machines though.  For example a few years back I was sitting on the shoulder press machine taking a break and enduring Sak Noel’s insipid song Paso, “I don’t wanna study, I just wanna party,” when I suddenly had a great idea for a project.  I had worked with my colleague Amos Gillespie on music for dancers inspired by Ben Hecht’s 1,001 Afternoons in Chicagoand was now looking for a new project that combined music, theater, literature and radio and I thought what if we turned some of those stories into a radio play?

I was so excited I jumped off the machine thinking I would hit the shower and get home right away to work.  Another gym patron, however, upon seeing me jump so suddenly smiled and said, “I love this song too baby!”

It was demoralizing.  But at least the project has turned out well.  The film version of 1001 Afternoons in Chicago airs on Chicago’s PBS station November 19th at 10:30 PM!

October 30, 2015
Posted by Seth Boustead

Screen shot 2015-10-31 at 11.18.29 AMFor years I’ve described ACM as a global organization, a network of composers, performers, audience members and students.

We’re not quite to the level that I want to be at but tonight we took a major leap forward.  ACM composer members from the U.S., South Africa, Scotland and Germany had pieces performed in Seoul.

On November 6 ACM’s resident ensemble Palomar will perform works by Korean composers at the International House at the University of Chicago. This is the beginning of what I hope will be a continuing, fruitful cross-cultural exchange of music.

Videos will be posted from both concerts very soon!

October 25, 2015
Posted by Seth Boustead

o-MAN-WITH-EYES-CLOSED-facebookI was recently at a concert that opened with a famous piece by Steve Reich and, as the music began, I looked around at the audience who were clearly not new to Reich’s music because they all immediately began to adopt what I call the Steve Reich face.  You relax your facial muscles, you close your eyes and you think happy thoughts while you meditate to the music.

At the risk of alienating myself from nearly the entire human race let me just say that I don’t particularly like Steve Reich’s music but I think this has more to do with me than with the music. You see, I don’t particularly like meditating. I’m also not really into repeating cells, looping, phasing, development through minor permutations or happy thoughts in general.

I much prefer music that engages intellectually or emotionally rather than the austere sound of repetitive minimalism.  Since Reich’s music is currently literally everywhere though I have to find something to do for the at least 20 minutes if not more like an hour, that the piece lasts.

The good news is since everyone has their eyes closed, like at church, I can take my phone out. Again though, it’s not Reich, it’s me.  Also, Music for 18 is a masterpiece, I know this, I just think I’ve heard it enough times to last me.


October 19, 2015
Posted by Seth Boustead

Raynovich_miesThat’s my friend William Jason Raynovich performing music by Edinburgh composer Katrina Burton at the Robert Carr Memorial Chapel as part of Open House Chicago.

For the last four years ACM has worked with Open House to commission composers to write music for several of the spaces and then put musicians in the spaces to perform the music.  It’s become one of our signature events, it’s highly successful and it’s always a great time.

As every year I went to all of the sites with music with the ACM A/V team recording and filming the pieces for video documentation.  This is always such a fun day as we rush from site to site, meet new people and enjoy the other ancillary Open House events.

For example this year on the football field at IIT, just a block north of the Carr Chapel, the engineering students were having their annual pumpkin launch competition.  They design and build their own catapults and then try them out in a competition.  While none of them worked super well, it was still a blast watching them work their crazy contraptions.

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