Skip to content

Musical adventures


Just a few of my musical adventures along the way….

Music and Photography

When the Hillman Photography Initiative started their “This Picture” series releasing a photo each month to start a community conversation, I knew our class at CMU Prep had to create a musical response to the photos. Check out this wee documentary showing how we did it!

Marimba and hip-hop

Local group Guardians of Sound has a wonderful mission — taking produced hip-hop tunes and arranging them for an acoustic ensemble. It was a huge treat to watch the rappers’ faces as they heard their tunes “live” for the first time. Here’s a recording from a recent performance at the University of Pittsburgh:

DoorThis Door….

I’m still buzzing after a beautiful performance by the Neighborhood Academy students after finishing a six-week residency with me (poor folks) mixing music and memoir. I went in to the residency with these perfectly minute-by-minute detailed lesson plans, and learned that it is more often than not that these lesson plans need to take a hike and we need to listen to what our young people want to say and think carefully about how they can say it in the most beautiful, meaningful way. And they did it, beyond my wildest expectations.

It always ends with a huge dance party. As it should.

It always ends with a huge dance party. As it should.

From the Top 

This year when I returned to help the Denver School of the Arts program put on their annual Telling Stories program, they had a surprise for me — they were chosen to perform on NPR show “From the Top.”  Wowza. Two Telling Stories groups presented, and all of the students helped launch an interdisciplinary program where they worked together for one hour to create a piece that explained why the arts matter in their lives. I can’t wait to share videos from this year’s concert, as well as the “From The Top” pieces!


Recent Writing

I’ll keep you apprised of any new articles and writing projects from me here:

Photo by Chuck Beard.

Photo by Chuck Beard.

“Thrive” — my new monthly column from Pittsburgh Magazine! I think it’s a little funny that in my early twenties I was the nightlife columnist, in my late twenties I was the sustainable/affordable blogger, and now in my thirties I’m writing about wellness. Past columns:

3 Terrific Places to Enjoy Flowers and Burn Calories: “As you take your bloom tours, keep an eye out for Yuele or her fellow gardener, Jaci Bruschi, working among the flowers. The two call themselves the “Sassy Gardeners,” and they love answering questions.”

Hooked on Hiking: “After spending almost the entirety of my 20s in outdoors-loving Colorado, I am forever hooked on hiking. All winter I look forward to the spring thaw so that I can trade my snow boots for hiking boots.”

Take 10,000 Steps in Pittsburgh: “If you’re one of the folks who is responsible for the recent spike in the use of fitness wristbands and watches, you might be looking for ways to increase the number of steps you take without pacing around the house.”

Do Yoga at Your Desk: “A symphony of sounds can erupt when we stand up after a long day of work at the computer — the pops, the creaks and the grinding stiffness of a body that has been out of motion for hours in bad posture.”

Dr Robert Kormos, director of Artificial Health Program and co-director of the Heart Transplantation Program, at UPMC Presby. Photo by Martha Rial.

Dr Robert Kormos, director of Artificial Health Program and co-director of the Heart Transplantation Program, at UPMC Presby. Photo by Martha Rial.

“Endless Challenges: 48 Remarkable Hours with 8 Pittsburgh Doctors” — In which through shadowing doctors I got to see brain surgery and sort of fell in love with the brain. Co-written with Patrick Doyle.

“Destination Unknown” — an essay for Pittsburgh Quarterly that describes our nation-wide search for our next home.

“10 Ways Pittsburgh’s Medical Community is Changing the World” — the May cover story for Pittsburgh Magazine; a look at how the Steel City is changing the game across disciplines in medicine.

“The Newcomer’s Guide to Pittsburgh” — a package in Pittsburgh Magazine’s City Guide by Patrick and I, and our first shared byline. I’ve linked to my essay on the city’s porch culture, one of my favorite attributes. Update: We were nominated for a 2015 CRMA award


This is my story.

The following was a presentation I gave at the University of Colorado-Boulder’s Entrepreneurship Center for Musicians. The students ate pizza and giggled as I told them my very silly path of finding my artistic voice. Thought I might share it with you, too: 

We could probably skip the next 20-30 minutes if I could show you the following comic and you and I both understood exactly what it meant in my life: 

drakemarchingI started walking an alligator in undergrad. I got dual degrees in journalism and music from Drake University, which is a small liberal arts college in Des Moines, Iowa. I went there because I loved writing, and I loved music, and they would let me get dual degrees, which I wanted for some reason. We also could afford it because I got scholarships , though some of those scholarships meant I had to play in the college marching band.

That’s the Drake University Marching Bulldogs. We didn’t have a name, actually, but the football team was called the Bulldogs, so I drew some conclusions. I played in the band for four years, and my most prolific moment was running out onto the 50-yard-line (while typing this I had to Google “football’s halfway line”) with a xylophone and playing the solo part to Santana and Matchbox 20’s “Smooth,” all while desperately realizing someone had put the accidental keys on incorrectly and that the F# was likely masquerading as a C#.


The Audition: Your Reactions

My article about orchestra auditions has created a ton of discussion online, which is thrilling. I do believe that conversation leads to change, and the classical world needs a lot of that right now. A sampling of the reaction to “The Audition” is below:

A Musician and the Audition of His Life (from All Things Considered):

My reaction: This segment was thrilling to hear, because the producers really brought the article to life through music. I especially love hearing Mike’s comments about the Dvorak: “To play it feels as though you’re staring down a rival band across the square and trying to make your celebration more joyful than theirs. ” 

Cruel and Unusual: It’s Time to Change the Audition System:

And so, with this article as exhibit A, case study one million and one, I’m going to hop on my Vftp soap box and publicly call for an end to the system. It is a life-ruining, soul-destroying monstrosity. In any other field, it would qualify as torture. It is a dehumanising and damaging process that extracts an untellable toll in human suffering on musicians across the country. Far from being the perfect system for choosing an orchestra, I would say it’s closer to being the perfect system for driving people out of the field, for destroying their self-confidence and for absolutely eviscerating their love of music. 
 (And a great follow up from Kenneth Woods, after a ton of discussion on his site, titled “Consensus: How to reform orchestral auditions.”)

Orchestra auditions or Displaying a lifetime’s worth of dedication in the time it takes for a successful truck stop sexual encounter

The illusion that the system is “fair” is what props up the entire idea. Nothing underhanded could possibly happen because of this screen I stole from a tuberculosis hospital in 1896 and placed here to obstruct the view of the judges! 
Update: “The Audition” has also been linked on Byliner, The Browser, and Longform.  These are incredible websites that support writers, and I’m a lucky lady to be included. Update 2: “The Audition” has also been linked on Ladyjournos and The Feature. Thank you for sharing my story! Update 3: And Longreads! Hooray! Update 4: Thanks to NPR’s Deceptive Cadence for linking to the piece! Update 5: Big thanks to Kottke for the link.
After the jump, a sampling of the thousands of Tweets and Facebook posts — holy wow, y’all. Keep the conversation alive!