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Driving to Distraction

Somewhere a hill blossoms in green and gold. And there are dreams all that your heart can hold” ― Maurice Jarre

I rarely ever play piano gigs anymore but I took on a ton this summer because, inspired by Paul Manafort, I’m saving up for a new python-skin jacket and so I was driving to one of these gigs or racing really as I only had an hour to get from downtown Chicago to Lakeview in rush hour traffic or not so much racing really as sitting immobile in traffic cursing everyone around me though mentally because I had my windows down and the last thing I needed was a confrontation and who knows who has a gun these days and I flashed back to my first gig in Chicago.

Not my first paid gig but my first gig.  I was fresh off the boat so to speak and saw an ad from someone looking for pianists for a show called Monster Piano. I don’t think they do this anymore but it was like thirty pianos with two people to a piano playing cheesy things like Somewhere, My Love.  It didn’t pay, required that I attend three rehearsals in the burbs plus the concert and I didn’t have a car at the time so in short it was the kind of gig only a still wet behind the ears 22 year old would think was worthwhile.

The gig was posted on the bulletin board at the old Carl Fischer music shop on Wabash where I was working at the time.  I was paid $6 an hour to help people purchase everything from Billy Joel’s Rootbeer Rag to Rachmaninoff’s third piano concerto because the movie Shine had just come out and everyone thought it would be cool to buy that piece and practice it until they went insane though needless to say the vast majority of people just didn’t have what it took, not to play the piece necessarily though that’s certainly true but I mean to become insane trying. People just don’t have that kind of dedication anymore.

At any rate I would leave Carl Fischer after a long day of listening to people hum tunes at me in the vain hope that I’d recognize them and track down the out of print sheet music for the song even though everyone knows that out of print is out of print and we didn’t even dream there would be something like Ebay back then and I would go to DePaul to practice though I wasn’t a student and would have to sneak in which hardly required ninja training and I would practice and practice because I really didn’t want to be the one pianist out of sixty who screwed up and knowing my luck would be the only individual pianist anyone would actually hear just as I played a wrong note during the chorus of The Man I Love.

I practiced a lot and the gig came and went and I got a ride home from someone who was dating a guy who worked for the Federal Reserve Bank which I thought was cool even though I had no idea what that was.  We were listening to a Jazz trumpeter on the radio and I said that’s Miles, I always recognize Miles and she said are you sure it’s not Chet Baker and I said, yes I am because Miles uses a mute like ninety percent of the time and Chet never uses a mute even though I’m not sure if that’s true though I think it is.

I got home to my little studio apartment and put away my music notebook, made a snack and watched network television because I couldn’t afford cable TV and we didn’t have things like Netflix or Red Box back then so watching a movie wasn’t an option.   I remember so much about that night but weirdly don’t remember what I watched though if I had to guess I would guess that it was M*A*S*H.  Seems like M*A*S*H was always on back then.  Some things never change.

Thirsty Ears Festival Is This Weekend


Chicago’s only classical music street festival is this weekend!  The Thirsty Ears Festival happens this Saturday and Sunday and we’ve got a great lineup.

Join us for two days of music, food, craft beer from Empirical Brewing, neighborhood vendors, kid-friendly activities and general merriment.  The fest happens on Wilson Ave. between Ravenswood and Hermitage.

I’m very excited to present our Sound of Silent Film Festival on the street Saturday at sundown largely because we want to sell more beer but also because it will be so cool.  I rented a 25′ foot screen for the occasion.


Concept Lab Volume IV

Concept Lab is a process-oriented exploration of musical creativity featuring finished works, works in progress, improvised works and collaborative and multi-disciplinary projects in all stages of completion.

Concept Lab Volume IV features pianist Jenny Lin who has partnered with ICEBERG New Music, a collective of 10 composers, to create a program of solo piano etudes that juxtapose new sounds against some of the most challenging and thrilling works from the existing repertoire.

We’ll also hear a new piece by yours truly (that’s me) and newly composed music from Composers Concordance members Gene Pritsker, Roger Trefousse and Dan Cooper and a brand new work for violin and cello by Matthew Browne performed by Irene Fitzgerald-Cherry and Talia Dicker.

Sunday, August 26 at 6:00 at Cornelia Street Cafe in Manhattan.

Songs About Buildings and Moods


For years I’ve written and commissioned new music inspired by architecture in Chicago, Milwaukee and in Barcelona.  For ACM’s first concert of the season we’re presenting several of our favorite architecture-inspired pieces over the years performed in a concert setting with videos of the buildings.

Highlights include the original Sears Tower (the one they built before the famous one,) Mies van der Rohe’s Carr Chapel, the Women’s Lounge at Union Station and many more.

The show is Monday, September 10 at 7:00 at the Davis Theater in Chicago.  More info here.

NewCity Article on Morton Feldman

I wrote an article for NewCity Magazine last month about Morton Feldman as a concert preview.  It starts like this:

It’s a story by now legendary in classical music circles. Among the audience at the New York Philharmonic’s premiere of Anton Webern’s Symphony, Op. 21 in January of 1950 were two composers who were incensed at the audience’s obvious disdain for the new work and who were uninterested in the more traditional fare on the rest of the program and so stepped out into the lobby. They met, struck up a conversation and became fast friends who would go on to have a profound impact on twentieth century American music.

I’m talking about John Cage and Morton Feldman and the story is so famous that to this day composers routinely leave concerts at intermission all over the country to go roaming the halls of various symphony centers looking for fellow innovators with whom they can change the world. Actually, I made that part up but it’s certainly plausible.

Read the rest here.

Last Month on Relevant Tones

Hey, I host the country’s only weekly syndicated radio show dedicated to contemporary classical music.  This is what we did last month!


July 6     Henryk Górecki
July 13   Musical Miniatures
July 20   Just Intonation
July 27   Joan Tower

A Little Seth Music: Casa Mas de Miquel

As long as music inspired by architecture is on my mind, here is the video of a piece I wrote for a building called Casa Mas de Miquel in Barcelona.  The musicians played it in the building eight times over the course of the day for around 125 people each time.


Miscellany, mélange, hodgepodge, etc.



I recently gave a pre-concert lecture at the Grant Park Music Festival and my guest was pianist Natasha Peremski who was playing Rach 3 and who was most definitely not insane. In face she was pretty casual about the whole thing even agreeing to do a public talk with me an hour before the show.  Dang.

I googled it and Miles did in fact go through a lengthy period in which he played with a mute but it was by no means ninety percent of the time.  Chet did use a mute on occasion too so looking back I have no idea who that trumpeter we heard on the radio was and the announcer didn’t say which is one of my pet peeves.


My favorite part of Thirsty Ears is when we show up at 8:00 AM on Saturday and block both ends of the street simultaneously using our cars as placeholders until we can get the barricades out.  I feel more powerful than a Federal Reserve Bank employee. Though in fairness I’ve never worked for the Fed and still don’t really quite know what they do.

I’m doing the pre-concert lecture at Grant Park tonight and it’s on Chopin’s first piano concerto.  He was 20 when he wrote and premiered it. He wrote it for a girl.  They never got together though apparently she was fond of the concerto.  Chopin never used a mute though there were times when he didn’t talk much.






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