From John Cage to Afro-Cuban Jazz: Concerts You Do NOT Want to Miss This Season

by Maggie Molloy

Ahh, fall. The leaves are changing, the rain is sprinkling, the sky is cloudy, and the pumpkin spice marketing is in full swing. Those hot summer days are finally behind us and we’re back to our familiar, cozy, flannel-covered fall in Seattle. After all, October is a time for new beginnings, new adventures, and—most importantly—new music.


Seattle’s 2016-2017 concert season is jam-packed with fresh new music of every shape, style, and structure (or lack thereof). From John Cage to Afro-Cuban jazz,  Astor Piazzolla to Andy Warhol, Benjamin Britten to Brazilian poetry—there is something for everyone. Here are some of our top picks for the season:

On Stage with KING FM: Second Inversion is thrilled to host two concerts this year as part of the second season of On Stage with Classical KING FM! In March, we’ll present the Seattle Marimba Quartet with an eclectic program of classical favorites, modern marimba repertoire, and interactive drumming rhythms drawing from Afro-Cuban, Brazilian, and African musical traditions.

Then in May, back by popular demand, we present the Seattle Rock Orchestra Quintet with the mesmerizing Tamara Power-Drutis for a program that transforms pop songs into art songs, reimagining both classic and modern tunes as intimate chamber works for the recital hall. Check out our videos from last season for a sneak-peek of what you can expect.


Seattle Symphony: Ditch the conventional concert-going experience of strict seating, fancy attire, and three-hour long performances with Seattle Symphony’s [Untitled] concert series. This season you can catch landmark works by Witold Lutosławski (arguably Poland’s most innovative composer since Chopin), drench yourself in the dramatic soundscapes of Polish composer and singer Agata Zubel, explore the wide-ranging musical styles of Soviet era composers, and even enter into the twisted worlds of two of America’s most confounding cultural icons: pop artist Andy Warhol and jazz pianist Thelonious Monk.

And speaking of jazz: Seattle Symphony will also co-present their annual Sonic Evolution concert with Earshot Jazz this November. Grace Love and the Garfield High School Jazz Band join the symphony for an evening celebrating two extraordinary Seattle musicians: the incomparable composer and record producer Quincy Jones and the legendary blues singer Ernestine Anderson, both of whom attended Garfield High School.

Untitled Concert

Meany Center for the Performing Arts: Formerly known as the UW World Series, Meany Center is still just as committed as ever to bringing music from around the world to their Seattle stage. In November, they’ll feature the Grammy-nominated Imani Winds quintet, known around the globe for their dynamic playing, culturally conscious programming, and adventurous collaborations. Argentine tango composer Astor Piazzolla, Cuban-born jazz saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera, and Palestinian-American oud and violin virtuoso Simon Shaheen are just a few of the composers listed on this program.

In January, the New York-based Jack Quartet presents an evening of composed and improvised music along with visiting artists from the internationally acclaimed Six Tones Ensemble and UW School of Music faculty members Richard Karpen, Juan Pampin, Cuong Vu, and Ted Poor. And if you can’t make it to these concerts, don’t sweat—Second Inversion will be broadcasting them live on our online stream.


John Cage Musicircus: Come one, come all to the John Cage Musicircus this November 19! This multimedia concert “happening” features over over 60 musicians, dancers, performance artists, and poets simultaneously performing pieces from Cage’s expansive body of work, including the Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano, In a Landscape for (unprepared) piano, Child of Tree for amplified cactus, Third Construction for unorthodox percussion instruments, Cartridge Music for amplified small sounds, 45’ For A Speaker for spoken voice, and much more!

Performers will be stationed all over Town Hall, with audience members encouraged to explore how the sonic and visual experience shifts as they wander freely throughout the building. Plus, Second Inversion’s own Maggie Molloy will present the pre-concert lecture, perform two piano works, and distribute free copies of her John Cage Diary series as a zine for audience members to take home!

john-cage-musicircusNorth Corner Chamber Orchestra: Celebrate those cozy winter nights with NOCCO’s annual Solstice Celebration, this year featuring the music of Stravinsky, Respighi, Bach, and Seattle composer Angelique Poteat. Then in February for Black History Month, NOCCO performs a program featuring a newly commissioned work by local composer Hanna Brenn and performance artist C. Davida Ingram alongside classics by two Pulitzer Prize-winning African American composers: Scott Joplin and George Walker. And in April, their season wraps up with a brand new world premiere by NOCCO’s principal clarinetist and composer, Sean Osborn, along with well-loved works by Rossini and Haydn.

noccoSeattle Modern Orchestra: These guys are starting their season off with a bang: three new premieres by living composers. First, a U.S. premiere by Lithuanian composer Vykintas Baltakas, then a West Coast premiere by German composer Wolfgang Rihm, followed by a world premiere by American composer Andrew Waggoner featuring Grammy-winning guest pianist Gloria Cheng.

The rest of the season features cutting-edge collaborations with University of Washington’s Solaris Vocal Ensemble and the Paris-based clarinetist Carol Robinson, a world premiere by SMO co-artistic director Jérémy Jolley, the 80th birthday of legendary Seattle trombonist Stuart Dempster, the 90th birthday of renowned Seattle clarinetist and composer William O. “Bill” Smith, and the centennial celebration of American composer Robert Erickson.

gloria-chengUniversal Language Project: ULP is back for another season of interdisciplinary and out-of-the-box collaborations between 21st century musicians and artists of all disciplines. In October: a multi-media work by Marcus Oldham about racial reconciliation (featuring Second Inversion regulars the Skyros Quartet). In January, composer Chris Stover showcases his works for chamber jazz ensemble featuring spoken word, found sounds, and dance inspired by Brazilian poets. Then in March, the season wraps up with a surreal, outer space-inspired performance featuring artist Erin Jorgensen with local musicians, the overtones of her 5-octave marimba merging with intimate whispering and beautifully minimal music in a small stab towards enlightenment.

erin-jorgensenEmerald City Music: Now in its inaugural season, Emerald City Music is on a mission to make classical chamber music accessible to broader audiences in Seattle and Olympia. And they’re not wasting any time: their inaugural season features 45 renowned guest artists from around the world. Each of the concerts offers a uniquely thematic glimpse into the chamber music repertory, featuring classical masterworks and newly composed music alike. Bookended by concerts featuring familiar works by Bach and Beethoven, this year you can also expand your classical music palette with cutting-edge performances of works by the likes of Henri Dutilleux, Thomas Adès, Benjamin Britten, Bohuslav Martinů, Percy Grainger, David Schiff, Per Nørgård, Ryan Francis, Thomas Koppel, and more.

dover-quartetTown Music Series: Curated by Second Inversion Artistic Advisor Joshua Roman, the Town Music Series programs cutting-edge and virtuosic chamber works which bring together the best of old and new classical traditions. Their 2016-2017 season kicks off with cellist Joshua Roman joined by violinist Caroline Goulding for an evening of dynamic duets by Halvorsen, Kodály, and Ravel. Stay tuned for details on the rest of the season!

joshua-romanWayward Music Series: If you’ve got wayward or otherwise unconventional music taste, the Wayward Music Series will keep you satiated all year long. Check their online calendar or subscribe to their newsletter for specifics on upcoming events, which span the new music gamut from contemporary classical to the outer limits of jazz, electroacoustic experiments to explorations of the avant-garde, eccentric instruments to unorthodox sound art, multimedia collaborations and much more.

wayward-music-seriesThese are just a handful of the new music happenings we’re most looking forward to this season—for more up-to-the-minute details on experimental, avant-garde, and otherwise unconventional music events around the Northwest, check out Second Inversion’s full event calendar!

Diary: How to Read John Cage

by Maggie Molloy

For a composer who once created an entire piece out of silence, John Cage certainly had a lot to say. So much, in fact, that he recorded a five-hour diary in the years leading up to his death.


Titled “Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse),” the piece is written in eight parts, traversing vast musical and philosophical territory—often within the span of just a few sentence fragments. Cage’s writing extends far beyond the music itself, all the way into the trivial details of everyday life and back out into the vast expanse of history, global politics, philosophy, science, and society—and all with an idiosyncratic dose of humor and wit.

Inspired by his fearless exploration into the art of sound, I made it my mission to read through his entire diary and create my own personal diary tracking the experience. Click on the icons below to read each installment!

Introduction Part I Part II Part III Part IV Part V Part VI Part VII Part VIII

Seattle Symphony’s Tuning Up! Festival

by Maggie Molloy

The Fourth of July is almost upon us, and you know what that means: parades, picnics, and barbeques abound! And while hot dogs, fireworks, and flag-covered clothing are a (somewhat) relevant expression of American independence, our county has a whole lot more than just cured meats and corny t-shirts to be proud of.

Tuning Up!Which is why this summer, the Seattle Symphony is turning off the barbeque and turning up the music with Tuning Up!: a two-week festival celebrating American musical creativity in the 20th and 21st century. This star-spangled celebration features nine concerts which traverse America’s vast musical landscape, from jazz to Broadway, avant-garde to minimalism, classics to Hollywood, and much more.

So whether you crave the jazzy grooves of George Gershwin or the swinging blues of Duke Ellington, you can hear it all during the Tuning Up! Festival. Maybe you prefer the massive soundscapes of John Luther Adams, the hypnotic minimalism of Philip Glass, or the movie magic of John Williams—the festival has all that too!

Suffice it to say, Second Inversion is all over this festival. Come visit us at the KING FM table in the lobby at the following events for music, magnets, and other free swag!

Stage & Screen: From Appalachian Spring to the Red Violin
Thursday, June 23 at 7:30 p.m.

From stage to screen to concert hall, these giants of American music transcended borders and paved the way for generations to come. Among them is Florence Beatrice Price: the first African-American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer. The Seattle Symphony pays tribute with a rousing orchestral rendition of her ragtime classic, Dances in the Canebrakes. Plus, dancers take to the stage alongside the Symphony for a performance of Aaron Copland’s famous folk-inspired and Pulitzer Prize-winning Appalachian Spring.

The program also features Leonard Bernstein’s elegant Divertimento for Orchestra, poignant movie music from Schindler’s List and The Red Violin, and a heartwarming tribute to the late Marvin Hamlisch who, among his many accomplishments in music, served as the Principal Pops Conductor at the Seattle Symphony from 2008 until his death in 2012.

The Light that Fills the World: A Meditation in Sound & Light
Thursday, June 30 at 7:30 p.m.

In the face of trauma and political turmoil around the world, Seattle Symphony offers an intimate meditation in sound and silence, light and dark. Julia Wolfe’s My Beautiful Scream, written after the events of 9/11, opens the program with a slow-building and softly illuminating agony. What follows is utter silence: John Cage’s famous 4’33”.

The program also features Pulitzer Prize-winner John Luther Adams’ immersive, Arctic-inspired soundscape The Light That Fills the World, the delicate breath of Morton Feldman’s Piano and Orchestra, and Philip Glass’ scientific salute, The Light.

Plus, the Symphony invites you to submit your own Glass-inspired photographs to be featured during the performance. Deadline for submissions is this Friday, June 24.

In the White Silence: John Luther Adams’ Alaskan Landscapes
Friday, July 1 at 10 p.m.

To say that composer and environmentalist John Luther Adams is inspired by nature would be a bit of an understatement. He spent much of his life composing from a 16×20 ft. one-room cabin in the Alaskan woods, creating large-scale soundscapes which blur the line between nature and man-made instruments.

In 2013, the Seattle Symphony commissioned and premiered John Luther Adams’ Become Ocean, a 42-minute meditation for large orchestra which went on to win a Pulitzer Prize and a Grammy Award.John Luther Adams

And now, during this special late-night concert, the Symphony revisits one of Adams’ earlier explorations into sonic geography: the 75-minute soundscape In the White Silence. The piece unfolds slowly and patiently, translating the vast horizons of the frozen far north into a musical landscape of clean, radiant harmony and subtle transformation.

Looking for more in American music? Check out the Seattle Symphony’s Tuning Up! Festival Map below:

Tuning Up! Visual Guide

STAFF PICKS: Friday Faves

Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from this Friday’s playlist. Tune in during the indicated hours below on Friday, June 3 to hear these pieces. In the meantime, you’ll hear other great new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre 24/7!

Tyondai Braxton: Casino Trem; Bang on a Can All-Stars (Cantaloupe Music)

coverThe composer Tyondai Braxton has been busy with some interesting projects. We hear of a lot improvised electronic music  performances in Brooklyn, and a 2013 installation piece at the Guggenheim Museum that featured a quintet of musicians sitting cross-legged on sci-fi ovular pods – some interesting stuff. His Casino Trem from Bang on a Can All-Stars’ Field Recordings is a rich tapestry of every electronic color of the rainbow, and makes me feel like I’m in the middle of an installation just listening to it. – Geoffrey Larson

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 11am hour today to hear this piece.

Stephen Sondheim: Johanna in Space (arr. Duncan Sheik); Anthony de Mare, piano (ECM Records)

1444893095_coverThis arrangement is born from Sondheim’s epic horror musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.  In the musical, a handsome sailor spies a young woman (Johanna) at her window and in song he declares his love, learns her name, and promises to come back for her.  Later, Sweeney Todd (Johanna’s father) sings his own version of “Johanna” as he imagines what she’s like as a grown woman.  In Sheik’s arrangement the two versions combine and take on an unearthly vibe created by the layering of dozens of guitar improvisations via a tape echo.  It’s within this echo that Anthony de Mare’s delicate and sleek piano deftly drifts. – Rachele Hales

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 1pm hour today to hear this piece.

Nick Brooke: Chokoloskee (Innova)

826coverI absolutely love it when music conjures specific images. Nick Brooke’s Chokoloskee is one such piece. Written as a an alternate-reality “tableaux” on the town of Chokoloskee, Florida as part of the album Border Towns, the composer describes this work as “surreal Americana.” For me, this music is the sound of the memory of a legendary summertime party; not the objective sounds of the party in real-time, but what my recollection of the party sounds like, as experienced as an aural memory.

This piece incorporates radio samples, historical and field recordings, as well as “live” performance into a lively and pleasantly strange mashup. Aside from being riotously fun, this piece accomplishes the composer’s goal of “blurring the line between recording and live performance.”

All in all, Chokoloskee is a refreshing listen. I suggest using it to assist the planning of your next outdoor party. – Seth Tompkins

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 5pm hour today to hear this piece.

John Cage: Dream; Bruce Brubaker, piano (Arabesque Recordings)

51cEChNX7tLWhen you hear the name John Cage, you probably think of prepared pianos or philosophical musings, complete and utter sonic chaos, or maybe just 4’33” of silence. But Cage was actually a very thoughtful, introspective composer and thinker—and in few works is that made clearer than in his solo (unprepared) piano piece “Dream.”

Composed on a single treble clef staff (which is extremely unusual for piano), “Dream” features hardly any left-hand accompaniment at all. Instead, the utterly translucent melodic line drifts slowly and freely from one sustained note to the next, with pedal blurring all of it into a beautifully simple and ethereal dreamscape.

The piece was originally written as a piano accompaniment for a dance by choreographer Merce Cunningham, Cage’s life partner and frequent collaborator. Like so many of their cherished collaborations, “Dream” has since become a quiet, hidden Cagean gem—a soft and gentle reminder to immerse ourselves in the sounds around us, both in waking and in dreaming life. – Maggie Molloy

Tune in to Second Inversion in the 6pm hour today to hear this piece.

Inside John Cage’s Prepared Piano: Q&A with Jesse Myers

by Maggie Molloy

The avant-garde and always-iconoclastic composer John Cage threw a wrench in the Western music tradition when he invented the prepared piano in 1940. Well, maybe not a wrench per se—but an eclectic assortment of hardware supplies, nonetheless.
Prepared Piano - Photo by Maggie MolloyAll Photos and Video by Maggie Molloy.

Presented with the challenge of writing dance music for a small stage with no room for a percussion group, Cage discovered it was possible to create an entire percussion orchestra with just a single instrument—a grand piano. His creation was the prepared piano: a grand piano that has had its sound altered by placing everyday objects such as screws, bolts, and pieces of rubber on or between the strings.

And that small, humble stage on which he first invented it? That was actually right here in Seattle, at Cornish College of the Arts. At the time, Cage was working there as composer and accompanist for the dance department.

Cage’s prepared piano works have since been studied and performed all over the world—and now, Seattle-based pianist Jesse Myers is bringing them back to the Northwest for two very special lecture-recitals on Cage’s famous Sonatas and Interludes. Performances are Saturday, May 14 at Stage 7 Pianos and Friday, May 20 at the Good Shepherd Chapel Performance Space.
John Cage Sonatas and Interludes - Photo by Maggie Molloy

Though the Sonatas and Interludes are among Cage’s most famous recordings, live performances of the work are relatively few and far between. That’s because most artists and venues shudder at the thought of placing sharp metal objects inside something as sacred and pure as a piano—plus set-up, take-down, and tuning a prepared piano takes hours.

Suffice it to say, it’s not so easy to get your hands on a prepared piano. And so, me being the unabashedly nerdy Cage fan that I am, I jumped at the opportunity to drop by to Myer’s piano studio and experience Cage’s prepared piano live, in-person. Myers was kind enough to let me try my hand at the prepared piano, and to answer some of my burning questions about his upcoming performances.

Jesse Myers - Photo by Maggie Molloy

Second Inversion: What do you personally find most unique or inspiring about Cage’s music and artistic philosophy? What drew you to his prepared piano works specifically?

Jesse Myers: As a teacher, I tend to be a pretty analytical musician. Form, structure, and harmonic analysis of the great masterpieces of classical literature are some of the most exciting things for me to explore. It is perhaps the biggest motivation for me to continue to explore new and challenging music. But this has been quite different compared to, say, Rachmaninoff or Beethoven.

On the surface, the most unique aspect of this music is obviously the preparations to the piano, something that John Cage invented. Beyond the preparations and from a compositional perspective, the pieces are exceptional in regard to their lack of harmonic structure and their reliance on a rhythmic form.

The vast majority of music that exists, across all styles from rock and roll to classical, is built on a design of tension and release (dissonance to consonance)—and this is done so by harmony. Once Cage prepared the piano, it destroyed the possibility of harmony functioning as the glue that holds the music together. Instead, Cage developed a form solely on rhythm.
Table of Preparations - Photo by Maggie MolloyRemarkably, he did so in a way that short phrases relate to that of the whole of the piece, a form he called “micro-macrocosmic structure.” Like a fractal, its structure, one could say, is more natural (as in life and nature) than harmony. Harmonic rules are man-made and academic. Fractals are found everywhere in nature. Nature in art is an important aesthetic perspective when playing and listening to his music.

I’ve always been intrigued by this music but received some squeamishness from people in charge of performance spaces. That’s unfortunate and discouraging. If you don’t know any better, it sounds like it could be damaging to the piano, but a properly prepared piano is totally benign. My technician, Kenn Wildes, is the owner of Stage 7 Pianos, one of the venues for these recitals, and he was really open-minded to the idea. His initial agreement to have me perform these was basically the start of this project. Kenn is such a strong advocate for classical piano in our community and an invaluable resource for me as a pianist.

SI: How do you go about practicing Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes? Do you practice with or without preparations, or some combination thereof?

Jesse Myers Practicing - Photo by Maggie MolloyJM: I practice the music both prepared and unprepared. It’s like knowing two different pieces of music. The unprepared version actually works musically which I find fascinating—they are modal or diatonic at times. When I prepare the piano for these pieces it is as if I am witnessing a cast of performers getting ready for an elaborate theatrical production where all the characters put on their makeup and costumes to become completely different and unrecognizable. Playing it unprepared, though musically still rewarding, feels a bit like the actors are just practicing their lines in their jeans and t-shirts without any staging. I never expected that sensation to occur when I started this project.

I teach at home Monday through Friday. On the weekends I prepare the piano for the Cage and unprepare it for Monday’s lessons—my students probably wouldn’t want to hear bongos and rattles instead of their Chopin. The first time I did it, it took four hours. Now it takes about an hour just to get the material in the piano and maybe another 30 minutes of tuning.

SI: As a classically trained pianist, can you tell me a bit about what it was like for you to sit down and play a prepared piano for the first time? What are some of the major unexpected differences or similarities between playing a standard grand piano and a prepared one? 

Jesse Myers Piano - Photo by Maggie MolloyJM: At first it was very disorienting. Playing something like a simple ascending scale causes the pitches to zigzag up and down. When you expect the sequence of pitches to get higher, they may sound lower or sound like a bongo or a rattle. I have to say though, it didn’t take long to acclimate to Cage’s prepared piano.

The biggest difficulty after learning the notes has been dynamic relationships (volume) among the changing timbres of the different notes. For instance, if Cage asks for the notes to steadily get softer, I have to be mindful of the preparations within that phrase because some notes may be muted with rubber, or have a bolt with a nut that rattles on it. So the same pressure applied to each key results in a varying array of volumes.

One of the questions I get a lot is whether or not the notes feel different when you strike the key. Basically, can I feel a note rattle or clang? There is no tactile difference among the notes of a prepared piano and a regular one. So I have to know what sound the note will make before I strike it. So if I practice the piece without the preparations, I’m actively “translating” the sounds in my head.  Not so easy, but I’m getting better at it.

SI: What are some of the unique challenges and rewards of performing this music?

Sonatas and Interludes Sheet Music - Photo by Maggie MolloyJM: I think every serious pianist should try this music at some point in their career. I’ve become a better musician and that’s the biggest reward. Though I don’t think I’ve necessarily become a better pianist from it, as the pianistic skills developed are probably isolated and catered to these pieces alone.

Musically, however, it has matured me in that I have found a brand new way of emoting. I cannot rely on melodic and harmonic expression or pianistic tone. Since working on this music, my job has been to create an emotionally captivating performance in the absence of the only tool I’ve ever performed with—the unprepared piano. Try asking a chef to make world-class dish but take away her knives and whisks, but instead give her a rubber mallet, a garden spade, and a wheel—now there’s a cooking show.

SI: Have you tried playing other music or writing your own music on Cage’s prepared piano?

I have a lot of fun improvising music on his prepared piano. Most of my improvisations end up sounding like Mickey Hart in a tripped-out part of a Grateful Dead show. I’ve never tried to structure a piece though. Some of the sounds are so unique that I can’t help but hear the Sonatas and Interludes when I play them. I think if I were to compose something for the prepared piano I would have to change up the preparations and start fresh. Cage’s presence is inescapable in these preparations.Prepared Piano - Photo by Maggie Molloy

SI: What are you most looking forward to with these two upcoming performances, and what do you hope audience members will gain from them?

JM: I think this is some of Cage’s most accessible music. In the very least, I would like to open the audience’s mind to exploring more of his music and more of his ideas in general. Even outside of his compositions he is an incredibly interesting figure who seems to be incapable of uttering anything except the profound.

For the more-seasoned Cage listeners, should they come, would be to show a fresh take on these pieces. This music is electric with rhythm and I want these pieces to get into your bones, not just your mind. Beyond that, these performances will sound remarkably different than anything you’ve ever heard before, even if you are familiar with the music. No two pianos will ever really sound the same once they are prepared. This is ever-changing, living music.  

Prepared Piano - Photo by Maggie Molloy

Jesse Myers will present two prepared piano lecture-recitals on Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes. The first is this Saturday, May 14 at 7:30 p.m. at Stage 7 Pianos in Kirkland. The second is next Friday, May 20 at 8 p.m. at the Good Shepherd Chapel Performance Space in Wallingford.

New Music: There’s an App for That!

by Maggie Molloy

New Music AppsThe average American spends nearly five hours a day on their smartphone. That’s about a third of their waking life.

What could we possibly be doing for all that time? Well, usually we’re just wasting it—we’re scrolling through our Facebook feed to pass the time on a long bus ride, Snapchatting our friends from across the room during a TV commercial break, Instagramming our afternoon coffee, or checking for new matches on Tinder.

So much time wasted swiping left, right, upside down, right-side up—which is why I figure if we’re going to spend hours on our phone each day, we should at least make it worth our while. Why not spend that time improving our rhythm, enhancing our musical knowledge, exploring new music, or listening to some of the greatest artists and thinkers of our time?

Next time you find yourself stuck on a long bus ride, bored during a commercial break, or sitting alone in a crowded café sipping your coffee, turn off your social media and engage with these new music apps:

Second Inversion App

Okay, so this one’s an obvious pick—but here’s why: our app gives you on-the-go access to our carefully-curated 24/7 live stream, expansive video archive, on-demand concert recordings, new music event calendar, Joshua Roman blog posts, album reviews, and much more. You can also create a “Favorites List” of pieces you hear on the stream, or even set a custom alarm clock so that you can start each day with the latest in contemporary classical!

SI AppAnd rest assured, there are no commercials, no top 40, no corny talk radio—just 24/7 new and unusual music from all corners of the classical genre. Oh, and did I mention it’s FREE?

John Cage Apps

The 20th century composer and iconoclast John Cage is most famous for two main contributions to the classical canon: 1) his “silent” composition, titled 4’33”, and 2) his prepared piano pieces. The John Cage Trust has created apps out of both.

John Cage 4'33"Cage’s three-movement 4’33″ is perhaps his most famous composition, teaching audiences that there is really no such thing as “silence,” but rather, the sound of the world around us is music in and of itself. In the app, you can capture your own three-movement performance of the ambient sounds in your environment, then upload and share that performance with the world. You can also listen to others’ performances, and explore a worldwide map of ever-growing performance locations. But here’s the coolest (read: geekiest) part: the app features a recording of the ambient sounds at play in Cage’s last New York apartment, which he found a source of constant surprise, inspiration, and delight.

John Cage Prepared Piano

Cage threw a wrench in the Western classical tradition (literally) when he invented the prepared piano in 1940. By placing everyday objects such as screws, bolts, and pieces of rubber between the strings of a grand piano, he created an entire percussion orchestra within a single instrument. Now, you can create your own entire percussion orchestra—within a single smartphone. Choose from dozens of sampled sounds of a piano prepared with the actual materials used by John Cage in the preparations for his Sonatas and Interludes, then record your performance and share it with the world!

bitKlavier Prepared Digital Piano App

Composer and electronic musician Dan Trueman gave the original 20th century prepared piano a 21st century facelift last year when he created the prepared digital piano. Instead of bolts and screws stuck between the piano strings, virtual machines adorn the virtual strings—transforming the piano into an instrument that pushes back, sometimes like a metronome, other times like a reverse delay. The virtual strings also tighten and loosen on the fly, tuning in response to what is played. And in true 21st century fashion, you can download the prepared digital piano as an app, plug it into your MIDI keyboard, and create your own compositions.

Third Coast Percussion Apps

John Cage Quartet AppPercussionists are on their game when it comes to new music apps. Third Coast Percussion actually has three: John Cage Quartet, the Music of Steve Reich, and Resounding Earth.

The John Cage app is based on his 1935 Quartet, which is scored for “any four instruments or sounds.” With this app, you can choose from a variety of pre-recorded sounds or record your own sounds to create a custom version of the piece!

The Steve Reich app allows you to create your own music using compositional techniques made famous by this minimalist composer, including phasing, additive processes, and canons. You can even record and sample your own sounds to make it truly your own!

Steve Reich App

Resounding Earth is the title of a 2012 composition written by composer Augusta Read Thomas for Third Coast Percussion. In the piece, the group performs on over 125 bells from all over the world. This app allows you to explore the incredible sounds and history of many of the bells featured in the composition, enriching your own knowledge of percussion practices around the world!

Resounding Earth

Unsilent Night App

Unsilent NightPhil Kline’s Unsilent Night is an electronic composition written specifically for outdoor performance in December—but you and your friends can perform it anytime of year (as long as you have smartphones). Participants each download one of four tracks of music which, when played together, comprise the ethereal Unsilent Night.

Gather up as many friends as you can around a pile of boomboxes, speakers, or any other type of portable amplifiers, and instruct everyone to hit “play” at the same time. Then walk through the city streets creating an ambient, aleatoric sound sculpture filled with shimmering bells and time-stretched hymnal melodies.

Steve Reich Clapping Music App

In 1972, minimalist composer Steve Reich composed a piece using very minimal musical means: just two people, clapping. Sounds simple, but it’s actually pretty difficult: two people clap the same short rhythmic pattern, with one repeatedly shifting their pattern by a beat until the two patterns align again. This app allows you to test your own rhythm by tapping in time with Reich’s constantly shifting pattern, gradually progressing through all of the variations.

Steve Reich Clapping MusicChoose from “easy,” “medium,” “hard,” or “practice” modes to up your rhythm game—if you achieve a high score, you can enter into a competition for the chance to perform the work live. And, you can also take part in a research project which investigates how people learn rhythm.

PhonoPaper App

Okay, so this one is about 30 percent Russian spy cryptology but 100 percent awesome nonetheless. The idea was inspired by old Soviet technology that uses visual codes for sound synthesis. Here’s how it works: PhonoPaper is essentially a graphical representation of sound (this can be music, a human voice, etc.); in other words, it is the two-dimensional audio barcode of the sound.


This app allows you to 1) generate your own PhonoPaper by converting a recorded sound into image, and 2) use your phone camera as a real-time PhonoPaper-code reader, to convert the image back into sound. How cool is that? You can even use the code reader to convert graphical representations of musical scores back into music—check out their site for some examples using pieces by Bach, Mozart, Lully, and more!

So whether you’re secret coding your latest symphony, clapping through a Steve Reich simulator, or just kicking back and listening to the Second Inversion stream, there’s so much music to be heard! Why waste time on social media when you have all these incredible new music apps at your fingertips?

Four Simple Ways to Make the Most of Your Practice Session

by Joshua Roman

I’m gearing up for the next trip as my 3 week stint at home in NYC comes to a close. It’s been nice to have so much time in one spot, especially as I’m putting the final touches on my new(ish) apartment space and getting my taxes out of the way. I love to use my time at home to prepare for upcoming performances, so that I can be present as much as possible while traveling. Lately I’ve been thinking about how to best use the practice time I have, whether at home or on the road, and some basic principles came to mind. I think they’re worth sharing. In fact, some of these principles are applicable to many tasks, pursuits, or other focus and skill-dependent activities – like writing a blog post!

Joshua Roman by Hayley Young 11(Joshua Roman. Photo credit: Hayley Young)

1. Have a clear goal.

This is something that I’ve learned over the years, and I wish there were more emphasis placed on it when we are developing our practice habits. When you pick up your instrument, make sure you already know what you want to accomplish, and how much time you have to do it. Hours spent in the practice room are not the signifier of progress. Playing with the vague intent to generally “get better” is not as effective as having a basic plan to follow, and it’s better to change that goal mid-way through than have no goal at all. This goal can be as detailed as nailing a particular passage, or learning a certain amount of music and detail (I find this works best when you’ve studied the score beforehand with no instrument) or it can be a less tangible but still important goal, like setting aside time to:

2. Explore.

While task-oriented practicing is effective in achieving specific goals, music is also about exploring and finding your voice. New techniques, new sounds, sometimes even entirely new approaches or styles are waiting to be discovered if we would just experiment a little. I like to explore as part of my warm-up; mixing scales with little fragments of music I like, often adding some improv and loosely structured goofing-off. And by loosely structured, I really just mean setting a time limit so that I don’t neglect the more schedule-dependent results that I need to achieve. It’s nice to have time for this at the end of practicing, as well. This practice technique is particularly fun to throw into rehearsals. 🙂

3. Take breaks.

Breaks are an incredibly important part of practicing. Sometimes it feels like I get into a zone, and things just click. Often, after a practice session where I stay in that zone for too long, I find I didn’t really do anything once I got there other than just repeat things or run them for my own pleasure. That’s also important, but in terms of the lasting effects of any particular session, science and anecdotal evidence have shown us that letting the brain rest in between exercises (muscular or mental) increases our ability to retain the progress we’ve made. How many breaks you should take depends on the nature of what you’re practicing and way it fits into your day. I like to never play for more than 50 consecutive minutes, and if I’m working on something particularly gnarly or have a fast-approaching deadline, I cut that down to 30 minutes max. It might seem counter-intuitive, but in the end I get more out of the time I use and my muscles feel better as well. You can still do intense sessions; if I have a limited amount of time within the day to get things done I might do 50 min on, 10 min off for a few hours. I use a timer to help manage this, and generally stop right when it goes off unless I’m within one or two minutes from finishing whatever I’m working on at the moment. The timer I use is on my phone, which leads me to the next very important point:

4. Turn off distractions.

Phones have airplane mode, but mine might as well be called “practice mode”. It’s very important to make sure your mind is with you when you are practicing. This is the time you are developing the habits on which you will rely in performance, and the ability to focus is paramount. Shut the computer, hide the iPad, and turn off notifications on all of your devices. If you’re really concerned about missing an important message, many devices have features that will let you control just who can reach you at certain times. Otherwise, FOMO is not an excuse! You can check in on Snapchat and Facebook when the timer goes off; you’ll have to grab the phone to stop the timer anyway. For random ‘to do’s’ and inspirational thoughts that jump into your mind, set a pen and paper next to you to catch those items, and move on quickly. Personally, I do not consider the vibrate or silent mode extreme enough – airplane mode is the way to go.

One exception to this: I do enjoy experimenting with distraction sometimes, and think it’s worth it as a way to test your level of focus. I grew up in a house full of practicing, talking, and sometimes yelling (four kids, what do you expect?). Tuning out the noises around me was a necessity, and in some ways I’ve found that a busy practice environment can sharpen your focus if you approach it with the right attitude. Now, I will sometimes turn on the television and/or radio in my hotel room, and practice “against” it. I always feel good when I realize I have no clue what show is on even though it’s right in front of me. On the other end of the spectrum, I also like to practice with a sleep mask, and even earplugs, just to force myself to focus on the ear/mind/body connection.

Joshua Roman by Hayley Young 1There are many elements to a good practice session, and everyone has their own unique personality which influences the nuances of their practice habits. What to practice, how much to practice, and when to practice are all important questions, and maintaining enough objectivity to know whether your practice technique is effective can be tough. I used to think I practiced best at night, but eventually realized that was just when I liked playing the most, because physical technique somehow gets easier for me later in the day. However, my best and longest lasting results currently come from first-thing-after-I-wake-up practicing. Ugh. Not a fun discovery. Sometimes that just means I take more naps, though…

(Joshua Roman. Photo credit: Hayley Young)

I strongly recommend that no matter how advanced you are, or happy with your routine, you change it up every once in a while to see what you might be missing. There’s always another way to look at things, and often we get comfortable with “good enough”, when “great” is just around the corner, waiting for us to look up and adjust our path.

These four simple tips are ways you can help bring the best attention to your practicing, whatever stage of a routine you may be in at the moment. Soon, I’ll be posting a few more specific thoughts on practicing in the 21st century. We may not be able to ask Brahms or Bach about fingerings, but we have a few tools of which they might well have been envious!

Miles Davis – Kind of Blue (full album)
John Cage – “Dream” from
Maurizio Grandinetti – Cage & Dowland: Equivoci
Ayub Ogada – En Mana Kuoyo (full album)