Another trip around the sun!

Today is my birthday!

It’s about 8:15am, and I am sitting on the couch with tissues lodged in each of my nostrils, occasionally uttering sub-sonic greetings to my dog. It’s a weird birthday tradition in my family. -OR- I’m just trying to help my body kick a good ol’ case of bronchitis. I do have a unique family, but it’s actually choice (B) this time. While it looks, by all measures, to be an unfortunate situation for one’s birthday, there is one big silver lining: I have dedicated time to write a blog post! This is a beautiful opportunity to reflect on my 33rd year, and all the neat developments it has held.

This year seems to stand alone in terms of professional growth. It has also held a unprecedented amount of personal contentment, and good health family-wide (current situation not-withstanding…).

Starting on a personal note, my husband and I recently celebrated TWO years of wedded bliss. Okay…it’s not like *every* moment is bliss – let’s be real. That would be weird. But we are closer and even happier together than we were on day one. I know we’re still relative mawwiage babies, but I can’t help but notice how our relationship shifts and evolves over time. It’s like…I generally expect things to remain unchanged unless I consciously aim to change them (Type A’s represent!) – but our relationship has a life of its own, changing constantly to reflect our ever-deepening understanding of, respect for, and affection for each other. I guess it’s not like we don’t work at it, I think each interaction is work toward that goal of an awesome partnership; it’s just rewarding to see the commitment and every-day work pay off.

If you’re reading my blog, you know David’s and my shared love of biking. It had been a handful of years since our last big trip together, so we were chomping at the bit for the tour of Seattle, San Juan Islands, and Victoria we took last summer. It was fabulously scenic and delicious (photos below), and ended with some quality time with my aunt and uncle in Bellingham (after my uncle’s epic minivan rescue of us after David’s tire bit the dust just SIX miles from our final destination…which was their house…).

On a familial note, I realize more and more each year how lucky I am to have healthy parents, parents-in-law, brother, siblings-in-law, cousins, aunts, and uncles around to enjoy. Just last night, as an example, both of the parents, the father-in-law, and an aunt helped coach me through a scary cold-related nosebleed. A nosebleed. Four parental figures on call. It’s a blessing for everyone in the world that I chose music instead of healthcare. Regardless, I had a case of the warm-fuzzies knowing they were all there! (It was a pretty epic nosebleed, for the record. You should have…seen the…other guy…)

Onto the professional life, this has been an exciting year in music. It’s been an example of how powerful it is to have a goal and to take it seriously. It took me a while to realize that the key to career success is NOT hidden inside a staid institution, but that it is in making new friends and connections, talking about your musical passions, and turning those passions into actual projects. Since this time last year, these are some things that have come to pass: the duo (L+M Duo!) I co-founded with fabulous marimbist Laurel Black has performed at 9 venues in 4 states. We’ve commissioned 4 new works (most recently at James Madison University’s Contemporary Music Festival), performed for our peers at the burgeoning New Music Gathering, and became the Ensemble-in-Residence at University of Illinois-Chicago. Adding this educational component, having the chance to work with student composers, is especially gratifying. This winter, I get to talk about our experience commissioning various composers at the Aries Composers Festival at Colorado State University. Insane. The second half of our second season is still full of secrets and promise…more soon!

The week before I head into the snow for that festival, I’ll be in sunny Miami for two solo recitals. Are you kidding me? These performances are the result of a collaboration with Crossing Borders Music and professor/musicologist/divo/all-around musical renaissance man Dr. Robert Grenier last spring. Back in May and June of this year, I presented two solo recitals in Chicago of Haitian classical works for solo piano. One recital was broadcast on WFMT, and was later featured as a blog post on the same station, including some of my thoughts about the music. The other recital, really meant as a preview performance, somehow came to be shared almost 100 times on Facebook among the Haitian community. It became clear that this repertoire really resonates with folks. And so, I was invited to perform more Haitian solo rep at the Belen Jesuit Preparatory School in Miami, Florida this February. I’ll play once for the students, and again for the general community. I am so excited…and not just for the gown shopping.

I’ve also been collaborating with my dear friend, flutist/writer/yogi Emma Koi. Last spring, we collaborated with the imitable Katherine Duncan of Katherine Anne Confections to present an evening of music and chocolate pairings. It was really fun, and you may keep your eye open for an encore… Emma and I continue to explore all kinds of flute and piano music around Chicago and Milwaukee. Also taking place in the Chicago/Milwaukee realm is the Jason Seed Stringtet. I first joined this group (comprised of composer/guitarist/arranger Jason Seed, and a killer string quartet made up of players from the Chicago and Milwaukee symphonies) a little over a year ago. This music is remarkably inventive and challenging and fun, and it feels like I’m finally in a “band.” Ifeelsocool.



Where was I? Oh! The teaching realm, I’ll be transitioning in December from the New Music School, where I’ve been on faculty for the past 6 years(!), to the Music Institute of Chicago. MIC is nationally recognized for the quality of their programs, and I’m delighted to join their faculty. I’ve grown significantly as a teacher and a person at the New Music School, and am grateful to have had that experience.

I hope this post doesn’t come across as a #blessed-fest – but as an artist, I’m inclined to always be self-critical, and don’t often enough take the opportunity to reflect on growth over time. It’s important, I think.

Here’s hoping you also take a little time to reflect on your growth over the last year or two. I assure you, you have grown!

HOW COULD I FORGET? I’ve also been graced with another year with my canine soul-mate, Bruiser (promised photo above). We just enrolled him in an intro-level Nose Work class. After just one class, he has declared himself a Nose Genius, and tries to sniff out secrets like Sherlock Holmes on every walk, and will drag us toward Nose School (luckily, 3 blocks away from home) at every opportunity. What a goo-boy.

Meditation and Passion: Uncovering Piano Masterworks of Haiti

Happy spring! Actually, I suppose at this point, we are unofficially in summer. To be sure, I’ve been wearing white with no regard to what season it is all year. When have I ever been too attuned to traditional conventions? To those who are, worry not; I really only have about two white shirts, and one is off-white.

Speaking of tradition – let’s talk about classical music (or, more clearly defined: Western Art Music). I’m talking about the tradition of written music spanning the last thousand years or so stemming from western Europe, which forms the basis of what we know as “classical music” today. The keyboard music of J.S. Bach, the operas of Mozart, the string quartets of Beethoven, the sprawling symphonies of Mahler – you get the idea. We are widely and deeply familiar with a repertoire created by white, European men. And an undeniably beautiful, inspiring, sometimes mysterious repertoire it is.

But did you know there is a rich body of classical music from black composers (both male and female) from Haiti? It is too intricate for me to summarize accurately for you, but I will tell you just a little about my recent experience with some solo piano pieces by Haitian composers (and invite you to hear them live!).

My friend, Tom Clowes, runs a fantastic organization called Crossing Borders Music. His passion for the people and music of Haiti inspired him to start this outreach, whose mission is to showcase music from under-represented cultures. Although Haiti remains his primary passion, CBM presents an array of concerts throughout the year with music from Iran, Egypt, India, Colombia, Uganda, and more. At one recent concert, in Chicago’s beautiful Cultural Center, and featuring music from Syrian composers, there were over 400 people in attendance. CMB is clearly fulfilling a cultural need in the Chicago area and beyond.

Tom eventually came in touch with an astoundingly accomplished vocalist and music scholar, Dr. Robert Grenier, a native of Ontario who now resides in South Carolina, teaching at South Carolina State University. Through a series of remarkable events, Dr. Grenier found himself needing to learn about Haitian classical music. He soon found that he would need to write the information he was looking for. Fast forward several years, and Dr. Grenier has committed himself to researching and editing a body of about 400 works for solo piano, all from Haitian classical composers. These are composers who were trained in the Western classical music tradition, and carry French, Spanish, and West African influences. In many of the works, you’ll find elements of Haitian dance (merengue being the most widely used, at least in the music I’ve gotten to know so far) and of Haitian Vodou woven into a framework of Romantic form/tonality/sentiment. You’ll also hear a work that expands the use of strict tonality, and wanders into some daring harmonies. You’ll even hear a set of variations based on two Haitian pop tunes. But you’ll always hear a melody, and there will always be an underlying rhythmic pulse.

Back to Dr. Grenier: as he was approaching the end of this huge project, he reached out to Tom in hopes of connecting with a pianist who would be willing to bring some of this music to light. That’s where I come in!

This past Sunday, I gave the first of two concerts featuring music from four prominent Haitian composers – Edmond Saintonge, Emile Desamours, Carmen Brouard, and, the most well-known among them, Ludovic Lamothe. Dr. Grenier was in attendance, and gave thought-provoking and enriching commentary before each piece. He remarked that hearing these pieces in recital is akin to sending your child off to college. He has a deep affection for these works, and has put in countless hours bringing them to light. Although the audience was rather small, it was clear that these pieces stirred those in attendance. Several people came up to me afterward to remark on how strong their emotional reactions were to each piece. NEAT FACT: my personal favorite piece on the concert, a set of three “Pages Intimes” by Edmund Saintonge – was heard for the first time since the composer’s death over 100 years ago on Sunday! By me! It’s just exquisite, and I’m grateful I’m able to know it.

Tomorrow, I will give one more performance of these works. It will be at noon at Pianoforte Studios (1335 S. Michigan). It will also be broadcast live on WFMT and I hope you get to listen one way or another, and I look forward to hearing what you think!

18699854_1902227596685970_799465170588750178_nAfter May 28th performance. From left to right: Joel Cohen, me, Robert Grenier, Lt. Gvr. Evelyn Sanguinetti
IMG_3676And finally…Bruiser being sassy in Humboldt Park



Indulgence: a chocolate + music pairing


Happy International Women’s Day! Even though the very first observed IWD took place in New York, we haven’t really celebrated it in the US with much voracity. I wonder if the ubiquity of social media is the reason it has had more visibility here the last few years. This post is dedicated to the numerous women in my life who continuously demonstrate that there are no limits to what we can accomplish (say, for instance, my own mother – who…you know…became a pilot and earned an advanced degree in aviation after having raised my brother and me. As one does.).

I want to take this opportunity to personally invite you to a special event – one planned and executed solely by women – coming up on March 18th. Along with flutist Emma Koi and famed chocolatier Katherine Duncan, I am presenting Indulgence: a chocolate + music pairingIt will take place at 7:30pm at Narloch Piano Studio (thank you for this generous venue, Chris Narloch!). We are asking for a donation of $20/$15 students at the door, to be sure the cost of these decadent truffles is covered. More on those below…

First, I’d like to illuminate how the idea of pairing music and chocolate came about. It seems like it came out of thin air, since one day I decided to write both Katherine and Emma about it on a whim, but if I am honest, it’s been inspired by a number of events.

At the top of that list is the changing current happening right now in the world of classical/art/composed (choose your favorite term) music. Many of you are aware that composers and performers are in a situation today in which we don’t have a secure, “built-in” audience. There are so many wonderful and creative things happening in the music world, but the infrastructure simply hasn’t caught up yet, and so we often find ourselves needing to expand our creativity to the realm of audience-seeking. As a result, extra-musical collaborations are becoming more popular, notably in the vibrant Chicago music sphere. One superb example is of my friends, Bow & Hammer, who have made their signature performance event a monthly collaboration with different local restaurants, dubbed “Industry Night.” In fact, they have one coming up next Tuesday…you should check it out!

Once the idea of pairing some sort of gustatory experience with an auditory one had taken root, I didn’t have far to go to come to the conclusion that chocolate should be the taste of choice. It’s a life-long obsession of mine. If you know me even slightly – which most all of you do – you know that chocolate is the way to my heart, my soul, my bank account, my deepest secrets…it’s the master key to everything Marianne.

I first became aware of Katherine Anne Confections around 2010, shortly after their confiserie opened in Logan Square. One taste of their semi-sweet drinking chocolate will have you coming back again and again. And again. Not long after that, I found myself entering a neighborhood chocolate-centered baking contest. As I entered the venue with my 96 samples of chocolate stout cake, the nicest person helped hold the door open – it was Katherine Duncan! Admittedly, I was a fair bit star struck. This is THE person who creates the drinking chocolate I pine after. She was a judge for the contest!


Neither here nor there…but I won that contest. 🙂

A few years down the road, my husband and I decided to feature our favorite chocolatier at our own wedding. It was a blast going to the shop to taste a plateful of truffles and caramels to decide what our flavors of choice would be. Needless to say, they were a hit.

I was delighted when Katherine agreed to team up with us for this event. Both she and her husband played piano in their youth, so music is far from a foreign concept to them. Katherine studied the three flute/piano pieces Emma and I programmed, and developed truffles inspired by the unique characteristics of each. It’s the equivalent of an artist creating a painting based on live music…only her paint is ganache, and she needs a bit of lead time.

On our theme of Indulgence: both Emma and I are passionate about promoting the work of living, breathing composers. With that in mind, we decided to curate our program based on emotions and actions associated with indulgence. Chicago’s own Marc Mellits’ work will be featured, as well as that of British composer-flautist Ian Clarke. To round out the tasting portion of the night will be Schumann’s Drei Romanzen – and not just because chocolate = romance (even though it does!).

Another thing Emma and I are both passionate about is baking. When we were both in the Civic Orchestra, we bonded over a very intense experience that we shared. No, not performing Thomas Ades’ Asyla…something even more intense than that: we made marshmallows from scratch! Here’s the nice, neat finished product…but we would be lying if we said we weren’t scraping marshmallow residue from our hair for the next week:


I will bookend the truffle tasting with two solo works, by Mason Bates (previous composer-in-residence for the Chicago Symphony) and dutch composer Jacob TV.

I’ll hold off going into depth about the program…come on the 18th to see how it all fits together!

RSVP here today!

And as promised, here is a photo of Bruiser (probably begging for chocolate) to close the post:


Have a great day!