Thoughts and experiences on various topics: puzzles, games, AI, collaboration, music, politics, and whatever else is on my mind

Musical Notes

[Apologies for the “blogslip” this week  (missed my Sunday target)…]

Did I mention that I love music?

I love to listen to music, play music, and have tried my hand at composing/songwriting.

Listening to music

I love to listen to music.  When I’m working on my computer, I love to have iTunes playing in the background.  My favorite genre is blues, but I also enjoy classic and progressive rock, as well as newer groups such as ColdPlay and Muse.  I have a long list of “favorite blues musicians”, but one that I particularly think deserves to be better known is Sherman Robertson, so I’m giving him a special mention.

When I can afford it, I enjoy going to blues clubs, concerts, or outdoor blues festivals.  This August I enjoyed both the Gloucester Blues Festival, and the annual Blues & Brews Fest.  In June I was able to attend my first Chicago Blues Festival (in Grant Park).  The highlight for me was the pre-Festival concert at Buddy Guy’s Legends, where I heard Shemekia Copeland and Kinsey Report (both great!). Also first heard Quinn Sullivan – a young teenage guitar prodigy who is being mentored by Buddy Guy!

I also listen to music on the radio – though the ads get to be extremely annoying.  I regularly listen to Carter Alan’s Sunday Morning Blues on WZLX FM Boston.  My other regular show is Blues Breakers with Tom Marker on WXRT FM Chicago – I listen to this via the Internet.   I regularly record both these radio shows using the service of, a free service that usually does a decent job of recording radio shows available on the internet ( also has a paid service that let’s you record more shows and use more storage to keep recordings longer).  I listen to Sunday Morning Blues “live” on Sunday mornings (9am-noon) when I wake up in time (which I haven’t done consistently of late).  I then listen a 2nd time (or 1st time if I overslept) with the recordings after the playlist is posted (usually by Monday or Tuesday).

Playing Music

I love to play music, too!  I started piano lessons around 1st grade (thanks to my father who was my piano teacher!)  Piano / keyboards is still my favorite instrument.  I also studied trumpet from 4th to 12th grades, and even tried Jazz Band at MIT, but I never loved trumpet like I do piano — the piano is just so much more versatile!   I got my first electronic keyboard as a grad student – an RMI that I played through a Fender Reverb amp.  I had fantasies of joining a rock band, and even tried the occasional audition, but never got off the ground with that.   I tried to learn guitar, but never felt comfortable with it — too hard for me to memorize all those different chord patterns.  I also taught myself recorder, which I found quite enjoyable.  I especially enjoy the Renaissance piano/recorder duets I have, and always am pleased when I have someone to play with (I’m to do either the piano or recorder parts!).  My favorite classical music for piano are Beethoven sonatas, especially my life-long favorite, the Pathetique!  While working at GTE, I enjoyed collaborating with a flute-playing colleague to play the Bolling Suite for Jazz Flute and Piano – a wonderful piece of music.

Song Writing and Improvisation

I enjoy piano improvisation, and have also tried my hand at some song writing.  I wrote a couple songs back in high school, then some more in college.  In the aftermath of my divorce, I channeled my emotions into writing a fair number of songs.  I even audited a song-writing seminar at MIT.   In that seminar, we had to write a new song each week – at first I thought that would be impossible, but it turned out to be fine.   The deadline of “finishing” a song in a week meant that I couldn’t obsess endlessly trying to improve or perfect it.   There is a counterintuitive interplay between “quantity” and “quality”.  Surprisingly, striving for quantity (lots of songs) can also lead to better quality (compared to tinkering with a single song trying to perfect it).  I’m reminded of the writing seminar I participated in at ESG at MIT – we consciously tried to write continuously (stream of consciousness) without censorship.  This ended up being very liberating.   I also recall reading an anecdote (I forget where) about an art teacher who divided his ceramics class students into two groups:  the first to aim for quantity, the second for quality.  The surprising outcome was that those students striving for (and being judged by) quantity, also ended up producing higher quality work!  My “mini-theory” to explain this is that the quantity group is getting more experience by trying more new and different things, and thus also encounters more learning opportunities.

Open Mic nights

This Spring, I dusted off some of my old songs, and started performing them at Open Mic nights in the area.  The Open Mic at Nourish Restaurant in Lexington Center turns out to be very convenient — I only live a block away, and there is already an electronic keyboard there, so I don’t have to schlepp my own!   For better or worse (and often worse in my case), the performances there are recorded, so I now have audio available of many of the songs I’ve performed.

This Summer, I had the great pleasure of collaborating with my daughter Rachel (who is a violinist – music conservatory major).  We performed arrangements of several of my songs, plus a cover of a Bonnie Raitt song.  I really enjoyed this collaboration.  I was reminded of how much I value collaboration in all aspects of life – not just technical development work.

I finally collected the Nourish recordings to make available (in all there crudeness and roughness) on my web page.  There is now a link to my “Music page” from my “Home page”:

The direct link is:

There are even two videos of me and Rachel (kindly recorded and shared by another Nourish open mic participant).

Caveat:  These are not polished performances, so don’t expect a lot.  I hope, nevertheless that you can derive some enjoyment from my sharing them.

“If music  be the food of love, play on …”  — William Shakespeare

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