The Home Key #16

An Interview with Dean Olsher


Rick Moody

   My friendship with Dean Olsher goes far enough back, now, that I can’t quite remember how we met, excepting that it was at the time when Olsher was the host for a truly important arts-omnibus radio program on WNYC radio in New York City, the show entitled The Next Big Thing. As with New Sounds, another WNYC show that I listened to very often, The Next Big Thing was the sort of radio programming that would only be probable in the New York area in its heyday. It was rangy, it was weird, it was unpredictable, it was multi-media, it was experimental. As distinct from shows that were on radio but not quite sound-art-oriented, like Radio Lab or This American Life, Olsher’s shows were totally formulated in a sound-rich environment. They profited from storytelling, often, but they were more created as symphonies for the ears, perfect on headphones or with a good stereo system. Music was a big part of this peculiar, energetic mix of genres, and it was pretty obvious to people who were interested in the Dean Olsher buffet of forms that he knew a lot about music.
   So: I was both unsurprised and very delighted this year when the thing happened at last, out of left field. Dean Olsher announced that he was releasing an album of music. You can find it here, as well as on the streaming platforms. I had known that Dean, when he left the radio world, had gone on to become a music therapist, of which more below, and I knew he played a bunch of surprising instruments, like a bunch of horns, but I didn’t know to expect that at some moment he would record. The album grabbed my attention, from the first, for its very unusual mix of interests: jazz-like, but through-composed; folky but full of unfolky chords and harmonies; instrumental, but featuring two very singular chanteuses, in Rachelle Garniez and Suzzy Roche; noteworthy for accordion, but the kind of virtuosic accordion that you associated with new music, not the kind that they play in Greek wedding bands; full of fascinating arrangement ideas, where the accordion duets with a violin, or a clarinet; includes a short drum solo. All in all, it’s music made for adults, and quixotic adults at that. What an improbable first album, by an eclectic, brilliant, sensitive musician!
   We worked on this interview for six weeks or so, by email, starting in March, and that accounts for its luxuriant and thoughtful answers (and a few bits of longeur by me, for which I apologize). As with few interviews I have done recently, it develops toward a really big, interesting ending, which perhaps augurs directions that Dean Olsher the musician could migrate toward on his next outing, to which we should look forward.

Q: Incredibly, because I have known you for so long, I do not know what your early musical training and habits were like. What did you listen to as a kid, and what had the most outsized impact? 

A: My first memory in life is singing along to “Happy Together” by the Turtles. WABC’s Cousin Brucie was spinning it in heavy rotation in early 1967, so that puts me at three and a half years old.

By the age of 12 I developed a daily routine: I’d come home from school, stick my head in between the stereo speakers next to my bed, and study liner notes for hours at a time. I was a lonely only child, and my closest relationships were with my invisible friends. They were not imaginary—they were the announcing staff of WNEW-FM. Vin Scelsa on the late-night shift single-handedly raised me to be a musical omnivore. He’d follow Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here with a movement from The Planets by Holst, and it felt as if I’d witnessed someone performing a miracle.

Another miracle was that the public school system in my corner of ultra-rural New Jersey was outstanding. It blows my mind when I think back to eighth grade, when Mr. Kurdilla taught us how to compose using Arnold Schoenberg’s 12-tone system. My high school marching band (I played trumpet and low brass) traveled to England to participate in the Harrogate International Band Festival. It’s such a complete tragedy that public school music education like mine is gone forever.

Q: This interview has you as its subject, of course, but I can’t not notice here that my early influences were remarkably similar, as I too listened to Cousin Brucie a lot, and Dan Ingram, and the heinous Don Imus, but then I moved over to AOR later, WNEW-FM, for example, and departed from the AM dial somewhat for good.  It’s funny to me that most young people know very little about those highly compressed, overly reverbed AM stations—where they always sundered off the end of the song. You had to be in a certain place and time.
   So in your recitation of the Vin Scelsa playlist, you’re conjoining classical with pop, and in this way you’re talking about creativity in radio and about an open-minded approach to music, which is to say a non-hierarchical one, a kind of non-genre-oriented approach to music. Is that accurate? Were you parents playing classical music? And what about jazz? Did that figure in those days at all?

A: Mixing genres felt so transgressive in the 1970s! It wasn’t until the 80s and 90s that my musical heroes — Bill Frisell, for example — lit a match to the ideology of genre.

My parents didn’t play any music at home, but I did try to connect with them, albeit one-sidedly, by playing their records.

My mother was amusical. She claimed to be irritated by music, although she did say her favorite piece was Gershwin’s “An American in Paris.” I was eight years old when she left the home where my father continued to raise me. Sometime after that I discovered her records in a closet. Her copy of “American in Paris” — which is about 20 minutes long — was not an LP, it was a collection of 45s! What a pain in the neck.

My father had been very musical in college. He played sax and clarinet in a dance band called Buttons & Beaux. The lead singer was named Buttons and the players were her “beaux.” As a young man he loved big band music — Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw in particular. But at some point before I came along he had left music behind. Because I would play his records, I developed an early love for swing music from the 1930s and 40s. My first radio show, when I was 14 (another miracle: Hunterdon Central Regional High School continues to broadcast to Flemington, NJ, and environs over WCVH-FM) included an hour of big band music, and the intro theme I chose was Artie Shaw’s “Begin the Beguine.”

Around that time I discovered I was able to figure out what was going on musically in the records that I loved. I don’t know if there’s any validity to the 10,000-hour rule, but I clocked at least that many hours every day after school at an upright piano in the living room. I remember listening over and over to Charlie Barnet’s version of “Cherokee,” picking out what each instrument was doing and reproducing the voice-leading at the piano. It was a eureka moment.
   I realize as I’m telling you all of this that, in the absence of parenting, I learned to parent myself by engaging deeply with music. 

Q: I didn’t know “Cherokee,” which I should have known! So this is a really unusual song to be obsessing over, though I will say that I had a similar thing with Joplin’s “Entertainer” at a similar time perhaps. Was there no rock and roll that was as instructive? What do you think accounts for an interest in a form that was “antique” at the time you were listening to it? And I want to note, Dean, the poignancy of what you say above. It’s moving.  

A: When I was five my mother gave me Revolver for Christmas, and since that moment I’ve been a lifelong and ardent Beatles fan. I did listen to lots of rock in the 1970s. In no particular order: Santana, Traffic, Sly and the Family Stone, Steely Dan, The Who, J. Geils Band, Stevie Wonder (rock-adjacent but hugely important to me), Elton John, Janis Joplin, Steve Miller Band, Rufus and Chaka Khan, ELO, Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, Van Morrison, Jefferson Airplane/Starship. Blood, Sweat & Tears. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. I had a soft spot for Chicago and Wings. Mostly I was indifferent to the Rolling Stones, although I do like a few of their songs: “Gimme Shelter,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Wild Horses.” I never gravitated to punk. Heavy metal bored me silly. I actively despise Hotel California.

Rock did not influence me as a musician. I never played in garage bands. Ragtime, on the other hand…. I attribute my interest in antique music to The Sting, which I saw in the theater the year I turned ten. Marvin Hamlisch’s soundtrack, with Scott Joplin’s compositions front and center, brought about what people described at the time as a ragtime revival, and for me it was a watershed moment in how I relate to music. The tune that grabbed me and would not let go is “Solace,” which I’ve arranged for this record. The way it was used in the film — it plays softly while Robert Redford’s character discovers his friend Luther has been fatally shot — this may have been the first time I experienced pathos in a work of art. I find such incredible comfort in this piece. In fact, it’s built right into the title. Later, as I studied to become a music therapist, I started following research that tries to understand why listening to sad music makes us feel better. The theory that makes sense to me is that it helps us to feel that we’re not alone.

I also love “The Entertainer,” and it’s such a bummer that people have come to hate it because of ice cream trucks. I play it as a ballad, with modern harmony, as if filtered through the musical imagination of Bill Evans. My reworking of “The Entertainer” led to “Lullaby,” the last track on the album. Joplin’s original is a kind of palimpsest: I composed new harmony, changed the time signature from 2/4 to ¾, and wrote a new melody. “Lullaby” is “The Entertainer,” recomposed.

My next project is going to be even more ragtime-centric. The conceit is: What if Tin Pan Alley had not wiped ragtime off the musical map? What if brass bands (Joplin played first cornet in the Queen City Cornet Band) had remained the dominant musical configuration? The brass instrumentation is the core, plus electric guitar, bass and drums, playing all the music that ragtime evolved into, including jazz and rock. And this band also absorbs the other musics brought to the U.S. by immigrants: Afro-Caribbean rhythm from Puerto Rico and Cuba, complex time signatures and harmonies from Eastern Europe, etc. I’ve considered naming this project Dr. Esperanto’s Village Jam Band, or something like that. We’ll see.

Q: I would perhaps argue that your rock and roll mood feels to me like an R&B mood alongside some rock-adjacent bands (Steely Dan and Traffic and Chicago, e.g., are not entirely rock bands, they are very loose, flexible, restless bands, and in the case of later Steely Dan, there’s almost nothing rock-ish about that at all), and as such the overall flavor is, as we were saying earlier, very widely engaged with respect to genre. This is excellent. I can’t quite move entirely into discussing your record, however, without stopping briefly at your very high-impact moment as a radio personality and public radio programmer. We know you were already doing radio as a young person, but you went on to make, for example, a radio program on WNYC that was notorious for its polyglot tendencies. Should we think that your post-genre interests as a musician are post-genre intellectual interests? That you are just that person who sort of thinks in multiple genres all the time? Did doing radio advance musical curiosities that were already working against genre, and/or did it simply increase that sense of freedom?

A: When I was creating The Next Big Thing,” management types kept asking “What is this show going to be about?” I thought it was such an odd question. It’s about whatever is on the air at a given moment. What is All Things Considered about? Eventually I settled on, “It’s a show about anything.” This rang bells for people, since the show about nothing, namely Seinfeld, was still fresh in people’s minds.
   For me, The Next Big Thing was first and foremost an exploration of all the different ways that radio is an evocative medium. Ira Glass would often assert that radio is a didactic medium. And while it’s true that most of public radio is made from that perspective, I argue strenuously that radio is not inherently didactic. My intention was to break away from that thinking and to create an hour of radio that proceeded along musical lines.

I came up with a format based on the movements of a classical sonata or symphony. The first movement, allegro, was usually a highly produced feature. Then, andante, a one-on-one interview. Following that, a scherzo, which literally means joke, and in our early days we had such smart improv comedy with Mark O’Donnell, David Rakoff, Janeane Garofalo, Ed Helms, and others. And then, finale-allegro, often a live musical performance or original play. By no means did we stick to this format in any consistent way, but it was the guiding principle in my mind about how the hour should unspool.

There’s a quote attributed to Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” My experience in radio makes me want to shout back yes, a thousand times yes.

One of the things I’m proudest of is the care that went into picking excerpts of interstitial music. In public radio, these are called buttons or bumpers. In the days when giants roamed the halls of NPR, directors Marika Partridge and Bob Boilen practiced the highest form of art in their selection of buttons and bumpers for All Things Considered. But, on another one of the news programs (I don’t think I need to say which one), it hurt my ears to hear the facile choices made—usually guided by geography alone. There was a tone-deaf literalism that would lead lesser directors to follow a report about a bombing in northern Ireland with a jaunty jig.

Next Big Thing staff would ask me what music would be good after this or that piece, and they would tell me the final sentence or two. And I’d always say, no, play me the last 30 seconds of tape. I had to hear the music of their voices. And I’d listen to whoever was talking, and I’d think, this person sounds like a trumpet. But not a Sousa march. A muted ballad. Oh, I think I remember a Chet Baker song that is the musical extension of this interview. Not the topic, but the emotional content of the person’s way of speaking.

I always think back to the soundtrack of Dead Man Walking. Pakistani devotional music has nothing to do with — is not at all about — an activist nun’s pastoral relationship with a man on death row in Louisiana. And yet the anguish of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s singing captured the emotional essence of the story in the most exquisite way.

Maybe all of this seems superficial, but to me the medium has always been the message.

Q: I wrote a whole radio manifesto about how stereotypical and reductive the music choices are on NPR, how reductive, and how they misapply what music is. So your observations ring very true to me. I am interested in your work as a music therapist now, and I note that your finally making an album, which I always imagined would happen at some point, coincides with this work now. How did these two things come about, and do they mutually reinforce?

A: The truth is that I had a midlife crisis and went back for a master’s degree to become a psychotherapist. As Viktor Frankl wrote, people create meaningful lives by helping others.
   It won’t come as a surprise when I tell you that my orientation as a therapist is of a piece with my philosophy of radio. There’s a movement afoot of embodied psychotherapies: EMDR is one example; music psychotherapy is another. These approaches are the neuroscience-informed grandchildren of gestalt and are the polar opposite of classical psychoanalysis.
   My main job as a therapist is to help people turn their attention away from their thoughts and to have an awareness of their feelings, which happen in the body. Instead of analyzing ideas about their emotions, I create an environment that encourages them to experience their emotions directly. Our brains are built to predict and assess threats to homeostasis, and our brains often get it wrong. The storytelling approach to therapy can be anti-therapeutic. Can cause real harm.
   The second track on the album, “Forget I Was Ever Here,” resulted from a series of therapy sessions with a patient who had Alzheimer’s disease. (I chronicled these sessions in an article for Vox.) “Marian,” the daughter of sharecroppers, grew up in the 1930s in South Carolina. At the time of my work with her, she was still processing the trauma she had experienced at the hands of adult men. This took the form of urgent vocal improvisations, which I accompanied at the piano. The apotheosis was when we arrived mutually at a mash-up of “Wade in the Water” with “Dido’s Lament” by Henry Purcell.
   These musical improvisations were what therapists call a container for Marian’s transference. (Freud described transference as the unresolved emotions that a patient projects onto a therapist; countertransference describes feelings that arise within the therapist.) My demographic circumstances could not have been more different from Marian’s, and yet she touched me in a way that kind of shook me. One reason is that I knew a bit about the musical world she came from. I had studied it, absorbed it, and continue to resonate deeply with it. I also had the experience of sharing a home with someone who was prone to violence. These therapy sessions with Marian affected me so profoundly that I spent many hours working through my countertransference during my practice time at the piano. That’s how I came to write “Forget I Was Ever Here.” In our last session, I sang it to Marian. When I was done, she looked startled and said, “Oh my God!”

Q: My God, Dean. That is a deeply moving story. I suppose I am coming to this conversation from a place of some resistance to conventional psychoanalysis, about which I recently composed a few lines (in On the Couch: Writers Anaylyze Sigmund Freud). I find your version of the narrative of analytic engagement, very powerful, and given what you have already said about your early life, it is maybe no surprise how music became the language of revelation not only for you personally but also for you in the engagement with your patients. When you got to writing the pieces for this album, what was your technique, exactly? Did you write on piano? What is the role of the wind instruments of your past in these compositions? And how through-composed are the pieces? Did you allow for improvisation in the playing at all? Or is it all written down?

A: Mostly I write at the piano. I compose and arrange every piece, and I leave at least one section for people to solo over chord changes.

It was important to me to make sure that I wasn’t too controlling. I asked everyone to bring their whole selves to their interpretations of the parts I wrote, and they did! As a result, some tracks came out sounding very different from what I had imagined. I loved that.

In the case of “The Perilous Night,” I wanted to convey, in music, both the excitement and danger implicit in e pluribus unum. To achieve this effect, I wrote parts where the musicians play sort of together, but not. And there are sections where they actively play against one another. This piece demanded that they keep it from falling apart, all the while adding complications that made it harder and harder for them. I was asking them to do something that is antithetical to their training.
The somewhat off-putting music theory term for this is heterophony. Charles Ives and Conlon Nancarrow had their ways of expressing it, by having two or more different musical ideas, with different rhythms, happening simultaneously.

I’m also interested in another aspect of heterophony, and really it’s the opposite idea. It’s those moments when two or more players interpret the same rhythm at the same moment in noticeably different ways. You hear it between Thelonious Monk and Charlie Rouse in “Crepuscule with Nellie.” There’s a similar thing going on between Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry in “Lonely Woman,” during the opening statement of the theme.

This is such a fascinating thread that’s woven into American music. On good days it embodies the pluralism that, for me, is an essential part of our country’s identity. On bad days I worry we won’t be able to keep it together.

Q: How about the lyric writing? There are two songs with lyrics. Are there so few because the word-fashioning comes over you less frequently than the instrumental composition? Were there special challenges associated with these two lyrics?

A: I’m having a flashback to a conversation you and I had a long time ago about listening to music when we’re writing prose. We agreed that only instrumentals will do. Wordless vocals are fine, but my brain can’t multitask when it comes to verbal meaning.

And then I confessed to you that when I listen to songs, I latch onto the music at the expense of the lyrics. It’s almost as if I have an impediment—sometimes I struggle to understand the words being sung. I’m not talking about mondegreens. Very often I just don’t pay attention at all to the meaning of the words.

Then you said you’re similarly sucked in by the sound world of the music, not by lyrics. This really surprised me, since words are at the center of your being.

I think the way you phrased your question is exactly right. Word-fashioning comes over me very infrequently. In the case of the lyrics on this album, what happened was that I had certain musical ideas that demanded words, and there was no one else to write them.

It would be so luxurious to have a songwriting collaborator. In my fantasy, we’d both be responsible for words and music, but I would handle the choruses, which I’m decent at, and my songwriting other would take care of the verses, which does not come naturally to me at all.

In the 1980s I came up with a chorus for a country song that I wanted to pitch to The Oak Ridge Boys, but I never managed to write verses for it. I really thought it had promise.

Q: Are you willing to share the words to the chorus of the not-Oak Ridge Boys song?

A: What’s the word that describes how painful it is to read lyrics without the music that goes with them?

Okay here goes. But you have to imagine it sung in four-part harmony by men, one of whom has a voice deeper than a sub-woofer:

Driving by moonlight.

Going 85 through the night.

Pretty soon I’ll be all right

When I smell the morning dew.

Trying hard to stay awake.

Drinking coffee until I shake.

I won’t put my foot on the brake

’Til I’m back home with you.

Q: I was talking to a guy, yesterday, who put forth the proposition that no one listens to lyrics and that all rock critics overindulge in commentary on the lyrics, but this story, about which I once got an earful from Frank Zappa’s widow Gail Zappa, seems like an old story to me. In fact: the truly great lyrics look just fine on the page. In the aftermath of this conversation with this guy, who alleged to be a Steely Dan fan, I felt like I should simply have quoted the one line from “Aja” that stops me in my tracks no matter what: “Double helix in the sky tonight/Throw out the hardware/Let’s do it right.” I wish I had written that! One can easily imagine your lyrics in the country/troubadour idiom, with the many strands of harmony. Sounds good to me. And: how did you manage to get Rachelle Garniez and Suzzy Roche involved?

A: I’d known of Rachelle for a long time without ever meeting her. She is an accordionist, after all. Will Holshouser, the producer of this record, suggested her for “Forget I Was Ever Here.” I knew immediately that she would be perfect, precisely because she would bring a whole different approach than the one I had in mind when I wrote the song. And she did! I was so surprised, in the best possible way, by how it came out.

   I had Suzzy’s voice in my head when I wrote the lyrics to “Hymn,” maybe because she has recorded an album of prayers. A long time ago I had interviewed Suzzy for The Next Big Thing, but we had not been in touch for twenty years. She works a bunch with the recording engineer Scott Lehrer, who had recorded some Next Big Thing” projects and who I hired as the recording and mix engineer for Letters of Transit. He is one of the most wonderful people you can ever hope to work with. (You see his name a lot in Playbill, because he’s a Tony-award winning sound designer for Broadway shows.) Anyway, he helped reconnect me with Suzzy and, luckily, she said yes. 

Q: Do you have a live intention with this music? An intention to go out and do shows? And if so how would you arrange the ensemble?

A: Beyond busking, I don’t do much in the way of live shows. There’s something about performing in front of a captive, paying audience that feels unnatural to me. I’m much more drawn to making music as an integrated part of everyday life. I like playing music for social dancing, which is something I did in my twenties. Back then I played piano for New England-style contra dances. After the isolation of the pandemic, I wanted to find a new dance community to join, but fiddle tunes are not my thing anymore. To my great surprise, I am taking my first steps infiltrating the Balkan brass band and dance scene in New York. I think I mentioned that in high school I played the baritone horn (it’s a small tuba, not to be confused with the bari sax). I bought one recently, and miraculously I’ve picked up where I left off when I was sixteen. I’ve always loved Serbian and Bulgarian brass bands. Very challenging music! But I find those harmonies really bracing, and the off-kilter time signatures make me want to move. A few months ago I contacted Michael Ginsburg, who started the Zlatne Uste Balkan brass band forty years ago, and asked if he could give me a lesson. The lesson morphed into an audition, and they’ve started inviting me to rehearsals. Soon I hope to be up to speed to the point where they ask me to play gigs with them. Tragically, Grand Prospect Hall — the architectural jewel in South Park Slope where they used to hold the annual Golden Festival — has been torn down, and I’m sad I won’t be able to play with them there.

Q: Can you elaborate on the busking habit a little bit?

A: There are at least three modes. Sometimes it’s just me playing accordion in Central Park. I play originals, French stuff, well-known songs. “Toxic” by Britney Spears is a crowd pleaser. There are lots of small children who can’t get enough of “The Wheels on the Bus.”

The past couple of years I’ve been part of Tilted Axes: Music for Mobile Electric Guitars. We walk around plugged into miniature amps. When I joined I was playing accordion, but since the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade I’ve switched to keytar. What Tilted Axes does is not busking per se. We process through the streets of New York City. Our repertoire consists mostly of compositions written by the group’s leader, Patrick Grant. He’s been part of Robert Fripp’s Guitar Circle, so some of the originals he writes are influenced by King Crimson. Because we wear coordinated black and turquoise costumes, there’s a Devo aspect to it, too. I love it so much when we turn a corner and see the surprised looks on peoples’ faces. A high point was when we processed over to Philip Glass’s apartment and played him an excerpt from Einstein on the Beach. (It was captured on video; I’m to the left of the drums, mostly out of frame until about 3 minutes in.)

Also I play bari sax in the L Train Brass Band. It’s a community band—a collective of at least a hundred people much younger than I am, and our repertoire is largely New Orleans music. No one gets paid. In fact, we pay membership dues. L Train does gigs in clubs, but my favorite is when we perform on the streets or in parks. Playing with L Train is the most therapeutic thing I do.

Q: Wow, I sort of feel like you buried the lede a tiny bit. In that, yes, the record is great, and very, very unusual, and so smart, but this live-music practice is just off the charts weird and wonderful. I watched the whole of the Tilted Axes performance of the Philip Glass piece (and several other videos), and it is so weird and delightful that I sort of don’t know what to say. Well, one thing I would say is that I definitely could not count that Philip Glass piece! How are you possibly playing without sheet music? Did everyone memorize how many measures there are before each rhythmical change? I literally don’t know how you’d play it unless you’re standing next to the drummer and the drummer warns you each time. It’s funny, because Glass never seems difficult when I think of it as keyboard music, except that it’s an endurance feat, but this seemed impossible! And it’s just so moving that this group of people would go play this on the street. It’s like the kind of thing that really so makes me glad to be alive. In this regard, can you just elaborate about on your use of “therapeutic” above? I’m interested in how the therapy takes place here, in which aspect of these performances? And, just for the record, don’t you live like in Lennox or Pittsfield or somewhere like that now? Do you come down to NYC just to busk in Central Park?

A: Plot twist! I spent the first two years of the pandemic hiding out in Stockbridge, in a house that I’ve owned since forever. Now that house is a full-time rental, and I’m living on the Upper West Side. One big motivator for moving back to New York City was the chance to be part of musical communities.

Community Music Therapy is a relatively recent development in the field, more prevalent in other parts of the world. While you tend to see it among marginalized populations, like hospitals or prisons, it’s an approach to therapy that does not subscribe to the illness ideology. It’s not about using music to treat neurological conditions, or in the context of psychoanalysis. The act of making music in a band or choir is itself the therapy.

It makes sense that Community Music Therapy is more developed in places like Great Britain, where they have a strong tradition of community music. Think of the colliery bands—sophisticated brass bands made up of coal miners, going back more than two centuries. I’m extremely jealous of that. The L Train Brass Band is the closest I’ve ever come to it. Being one little part of a very large whole—getting engulfed in a big sound that you’re helping to produce—is a reliable way to achieve ego dissolution. That sounds like a bad thing but it’s actually the holy grail of, for example, psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy.

I love that you call it a music practice, because that’s exactly the word I use. As the business model for professional musicians—along with journalism and radio, etc.—collapses in real time, the question becomes more urgent than ever: What are the various ways we can conceive of a life in music other than as a profession? For me, it’s a health practice.

And I’m glad to know you were moved by our performance below Philip Glass’s window. I was, too! Taking place, as it did, in the middle of the pandemic made it even more poignant. You’ve got it right about what it takes to memorize the constantly changing time signatures. I wrote out a road map that shows how many eighth notes are in each measure. It goes like this: 8-7-6-5, rest, 5-6-7-8, rest, 8-7-6-5-6, rest, sweet part, rest, 6-7-8, rest, 8-9-12, rest, sweet part. It was much easier to memorize this as opposed to pages of musical notes. And yes, that’s exactly why I chose to stand next to the drums! Because I had memorized my road map, they didn’t need to warn me. Since they’re emphasizing the strong beats of each measure, I totally lock in and that’s enough to keep me on track.