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Maple Kabocha-Potato Gratin


This recipe is one of Michelin starred chef Bruce Sherman‘s favorite Thanksgiving side dishes to make for his own family: a maple kabocha-potato gratin.

Sherman, owner of North Pond restaurant, has joined WFMT to bring you good food and good music during Thanksgiving week 2015. He’s sharing five of his favorite Thanksgiving recipes and pairing them each with five of his favorite pieces of music.

He paired this gratin recipe with Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, “From the New World.” Why? Both feature ingredients “from the new world.”

Maple Kabocha-Potato Gratin

Yield: 10” x 14” gratin
Prep time: 15 mins, plus 60 mins baking and up to 30 mins cooling


3 cloves fresh garlic, crushed

2 tablespoons softened butter

2 cups heavy cream

½ cup Maple syrup

2 tablespoons salt

½ cup fresh chives, minced

1 green Kabocha Squash (6lbs), peeled and seeded

2.5 lbs garnet yams, peeled

2.5  lbs russet potato, peeled

6 oz. Uplands or Gruyere-style cheese, grated



1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Rub garlic all over gratin dish interior, releasing oils on surface. Discard. Rub butter over dish.

2. Mix cream, syrup, salt and chives in large bowl and set aside.

3. Slice squash and potatoes 1/8” and place in cream mix; stir in cheese.

4. Evenly place squash-potato mix into gratin dish, assuring the pieces lay flat. Pour excess liquid over and press down to compress and coat. Place in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Rotate and cook another 30 minutes, or until lightly browned and an inserted skewer finds no resistance. Let cool for 15 – 30 minutes before serving.


Meet Chef Bruce Sherman, WFMT’s Classical Kitchen Guest Host


Chef-Owner Bruce Sherman of North Pond – Chicago, IL

Michelin starred chef Bruce Sherman, owner of North Pond restaurant, has joined WFMT to bring you good and good music during Thanksgiving week 2015. He’s shared five of his favorite Thanksgiving recipes, including a new dessert he’s created just for WFMT listeners. And, he’s paired them each with five of his favorite pieces of music.

Chef-Owner Bruce Sherman of North Pond – Chicago, IL

Chef-Owner Bruce Sherman of North Pond – Chicago, IL

A native Chicagoan, Bruce Sherman traveled the world developing his culinary knowledge before returning home to the delight of Chicago’s dining community. As Chef and Partner at Lincoln Park’s acclaimed North Pond, Sherman utilizes influences he picked up in Paris, Southeast Asia and London to produce his contemporary French-American seasonal cuisine.

Growing up a banker’s son, Sherman thought he would follow his lead and work in a traditional office environment. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with an Economics degree, he then studied at the London School of Economics; while there, Sherman had a life-altering realization, recognizing that he was able to choose any career desired. Over the years, he had always enjoyed watching his Mom cook, as she comfortably experimented with new flavors and cuisines, and he decided to pursue a career in the restaurant field. Returning to the States and settling in Boston, he embarked upon a career in restaurant management but found running the floor did not satisfy his creative urge. He soon transitioned to the back of house, working as a cook and absorbing all facets of kitchen life. His next move was to Washington D.C., where he combined his business acumen with his broadening foodservice knowledge and launched a catering company. In 1993, Sherman’s wife had an opportunity to work in India, so he sold the business and they moved abroad.

In New Delhi Sherman immersed himself for nearly four years in the local culture, particularly the cuisine of India. His daily trips to the corner vegetable “wallah” (vendor) forced him to cook only with what was available that day, what was fresh and in season. While there, Sherman acted as consultant for the Palace Hotels, teaching the local Rajasthani cooks how to prepare Western food for visiting tourists. He also completed personal studies to develop a greater understanding and appreciation of the indigenous spices of the Malabar Coast. His experience in India profoundly influenced his cooking style – the notion of seasonality he developed while living in India was as great an influence as the understanding of the flavors and usage of the diverse regional spices. In 1996, they moved to Paris and he enrolled at the Ecole Superieure de Cuisine Francaise where over the year, he furthered his culinary knowledge both throughout his studies and by working in area restaurants. While in France, Sherman refined his already advanced culinary skills, developing his personal style, one that is clearly grounded in French technique and speaks as clearly to the season. The following year, he returned to Chicago, working under some of the top toques in town and in 1999, Sherman accepted the position as Chef/Partner at North Pond.

After renovating the restaurant, elevating the former café both in style and substance, critics and consumers alike took notice. Sherman was honored by Food & Wine as one of America’s “Best New Chefs” of 2003 and in 2012 was named “Best Chef” in the Great Lakes region by the esteemed James Beard Foundation, an award for which he was nominated five consecutive years prior to winning. In 2008, Share Our Strength named him “Most Sustainable Chef” at the Chicago Taste of the Nation event and later that year he accepted the position as National Board Chair of Chefs Collaborative; he is also a founding board member of Green City Market, Chicago’s only year-round sustainable market. In May 2010, Sherman spoke on a panel discussing sustainability at the EPA to celebrate their 40th anniversary. North Pond was honored with a Michelin star in 2014 and 2015.

Sherman and his wife Joan live in Evanston with their daughters Emma and Kate. Says Sherman, it’s the “instant satisfaction and spontaneous feedback” of cooking that he enjoys most.

Vote: What’s Your Favorite Piano Concerto?


High Kicks and High Notes in Lyric’s “Merry Widow”


Susan Stroman’s “The Merry Widow” comes to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production originally created for the Metropolitan Opera. (photo; Andrew Cioffi)

This weekend, The Merry Widow waltzes onto the stage of the Civic Opera House. The production has a star-studded cast that includes soprano Renée Fleming and baritone Thomas Hampson.

But one of the most exciting aspects of The Merry Widow is the opportunity to marry grand singing with grand spectacle, particularly through dance.

Choreographer and director Susan Stroman’s production comes to Lyric Opera of Chicago from the Metropolitan Opera, where it premiered during the 2014-15 season.

Though dance has been an important part of opera production since the genre was born in the late 16th century, dance is not incorporated into modern opera productions as often, perhaps, as it could be or should be.

In 2013, the Metropolitan Opera disbanded its ballet corps as a “cost-saving measure,” according to Peter Gelb. Now, the company hires dancers on a per-production basis.

Not surprisingly, there aren’t many artists who possess the diverse skills to serve both a stage director and a choreographer for an opera production.

Stroman said, “The director-choreographer is a rare bird in the opera world. Scheduling is the hardest, sometimes I find my name scheduled at the same time in two different rooms!”

Jerome Robbins is one of the director/choreographers she admires most. She commented that “he created some of theater’s most beloved shows: West Side Story, On the Town, Fiddler on the Roof, Gypsy, etc. His characters became iconic because of their motivated movement.

“Having a movement language is very helpful to actors and singers. Most characters are strengthened by understanding how they move. When I am creating blocking and choreography, I have to become these characters.”

Soprano Heidi Stober (center) as Valencienne in “The Merry Widow” at Lyric Opera of Chicago (photo; Todd Rosenberg)

Soprano Heidi Stober said that the character she portrays in The Merry Widow, Valencienne, uses dance “as a form of flirtation.”

“There’s quite an age difference between her and her husband, Zeta,” Stober said. “They have a good relationship – it’s not hostile or unfriendly, but there’s probably nothing going on in the bedroom. So, Camille, this Frenchman, comes into the picture, and Valencienne is feeling things that maybe she’s never felt before.”

She explained, “There’s a kind of cat and mouse game with her and Camille. First she lures him in, then the tables turn, and he says, using physical action, ‘I’m gonna let you get away from me!’ There’s sort of a Fred and Ginger thing going on.”

In the final act, “Valencienne decides to go wild one night. She talks about it being her last night with Camille before he supposedly is going to marry another woman, Hannah. She totally lets loose and becomes a painted lady for just one night, and decides to throw herself fully into a world that she’s never been a part of and never even seen before. That scene is a lot of fun!”

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Valencienne joins a group of dancing girls, the Grisettes, called so because of the grey (“gris” in French) dresses they often wore. In this scene, Stober and the Grisettes are required to execute both high kicks and high notes.

Alison Mixon, who portrays Dodo, one of the Grisettes, said, “The biggest challenge of singing and dancing at the same time is that when I want to breathe for dancing I need to sing and when I want to breathe for singing I need to dance. It is the ultimate test of physical and mental multi-tasking.

“The dance itself is very aerobic and energetic, like running on a treadmill. I always have to remind myself to calm and slow down my breathing so I have enough breath and abdominal support to sing properly.”

Ariane Dolan, who portrays Grisette Lolo, added, “The choreography is tricky in places, and requires core control, so making sure you have enough breath to sing well, and still hold your core to be able to jump, split, or balance on one leg is a challenge.”

While singing and dancing is one challenge, doing it in costume is quite another. To ensure that the dancers can learn the choreography, elements of their costumes are incorporated into rehearsals throughout the production process.

“We always rehearse in long rehearsal skirts, which is very helpful. It is part of the choreography to pick up, grab, and shake the skirt, so you definitely need to practice with an actual skirt,” Mixon said. “We also rehearse in the same can-can boots that we wear in the show, which gives us the chance to break them in so they are comfortable on stage.”

The Grisettes in “The Merry Widow” at Lyric Opera of Chicago (photo; Todd Rosenberg)

“Despite all of our efforts to replicate the costume in rehearsal, nothing compares to wearing the actual costume on stage,” Mixon confessed.

Dolan exclaimed, “Dress rehearsal was a whole new world! Not only were the skirts a different texture, but add gloves, a corset, and a hat, it was like a new number. Also the corset meant figuring out the breath control thing all over again as well.

“All that said, the first dress rehearsal is the best! Working out all the little things that a costume demands is one of my favorite parts of the process. By opening it will all be under control.”

Stroman said that, “The sets, costumes and rhythms of the dialogue are all inspired by the dance in The Merry Widow. I set the vision of the show, but it’s in great collaboration with my designers – and I have amazing designers for The Merry Widow. Set designer Julian Crouch and costumer designer William Ivey Long have outdone themselves. They helped capture the true essence of the show – romance.”

Mixon added, “William Ivey Long’s costumes are simply stunning and a lot of fun to dance in! As soon as I step into my costume, I’m immediately transported into the time period and atmosphere of Maxim’s, which makes it easier for me to embody the role of Dodo.”


“The Merry Widow” at Lyric Opera of Chicago (photo; Todd Rosenberg)

Stober, whose repertoire ranges from Handel to Humperdinck, Rameau to Rossini, said that dancing in The Merry Widow helps inform her work in more traditional opera productions as well.

“Any of the dance that I do in The Merry Widow definitely informs me, as an actor and a singer, about my body,” she said. “It really helps me progress with other roles, whether I am portraying women or young boys, like Oscar in Verdi’s The Masked Ball. I just keep honing my acting skills.

“In this show, there are lots of throws, and flips, and lifts. I cartwheel into one guy’s legs. When I did Show Boat in San Francisco, I had to do some lifts and flips, but nothing like this!”

Though there is an incredible amount of movement in the production, Stober said that “the challenges with works like The Merry Widow or Show Boat are not with the dancing, but with the dialogue. There’s a different kind of dialogue than when I do Pamina in The Magic Flute.

“There’s much more dialogue, and there’s certain acting skills that have to be used and that you have to work on to do this kind of show. Your acting beats are much more music driven in more the ‘traditional’ repertoire that I do.”

Though dance inflects many aspects of this production of The Merry Widow, Stroman insists, “in the end, the singing is the most important. I have to make sure each singer is comfortable when and where they are singing and that each lyric is motivated by an acting choice.”

To learn more about Lyric Opera of Chicago’s The Merry Widow, visit the company’s website.

Meet the Man Who Pioneered Live-Streaming Performances Online



Earl Wild was among other things a composer, a conductor and a very funny raconteur, but above all, he was an extraordinary pianist. Although he was one of the earliest American born performers to make an international impact, his life and career were highly unconventional.

Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on November 26, 1915, he above all loved playing the piano, starting at the tender age of four, and performing in public until the ripe old age of ninety-two, astonishingly with virtually no diminishment in capacity. By the time he was fourteen years of age, he was already the pianist of the Pittsburgh Symphony under Otto Klemperer, and from 1937-42, he was the pianist of the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini, as well as a staff pianist at NBC.

He was the first musician to give a piano recital on television, and the first to give one on the Internet as well. He played recitals for six consecutive sitting United States presidents, from Herbert Hoover through Lyndon Johnson. As his career took off, he became especially renowned for playing virtuoso Romantic era showpieces, yet his artistry was far greater and much more wide-ranging than that.

He was perhaps the last of the great Romantic pianists, for whom the written score provided only the basis for a performance and not its totality, combining spectacular technique with deep musical insight. Fortunately for posterity, he made many recordings for numerous record labels.

On this centenary of his birth, the award winning record producers Jon M. Samuels and Joe Patrych examine and reminisce about his life and career in a two-hour program that you can stream below. Click to enjoy many musical examples interspersed with commentary by Mr. Wild himself.

– Jon Samuels

Itzhak Perlman’s 5 Most Memorable Moments at 70 Years Old



Violinist Itzhak Perlman is one of the most famous names in classical music. The Israeli-American, now 70 years old, has collaborated with some of the greatest musicians of our time in his long and illustrious career. He has won over a dozen Grammy awards (including a 2008 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award), several Emmy awards, the National Medal of Arts, and countless other honors. Here, he reflects on five of the most memorable moments in his career.

Despite the exciting times Perlman has had in his many decades as a professional musician, he said, “Family is the most important thing. We as a family, we try to get together whenever we can to celebrate. We celebrate holidays and birthdays – especially birthdays.

“On birthdays there’s lots of food, and really kind of nice wine. I’m a little bit of a wine lunatic. So it’s nice to have a taste of something you’re saving for the birthday and then you savor it. That’s a lot of fun.

“Everybody gets together, and I say, ‘I’m so lucky to have so many people around me,’ because our family is big. This is what life is about: family, getting together, and sharing happy moments.”


  1. Playing for Obama’s 2009 Inauguration
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    Playing in the group for the inauguration of Obama – that’s a no brainer, that’s a highlight of my career. It was cold. It was cold. It was cold. It was very cold. I would say that was probably the coldest experience as far as my having to play. It was very cold. But it was very exciting.

    When you think about the number of people there, and of course the event itself, all of the celebration… it was very memorable.

  2. Playing with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in the Soviet Union
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    Another highlight was playing in the Soviet Union when it was still the Soviet Union, with the Israel Philharmonic in Moscow. That was very exciting. Actually playing with the Israel Philharmonic as a young man, I first was beginning to have my performing career.  I dreamt that I wanted to play with that orchestra when I was a child. For me, that was an interesting event.

    The fact that an Israeli orchestra was to play in a country would be indicative of that country’s relationship with Israel. The relationship of the Soviet Union with Israel was not always a natural relationship. It was always a little strained and sometimes there was no relationship. So the fact that the orchestra was invited to play in the Soviet Union was an immediate indication of a warming up.

    I remember there was a time that I was supposed to play with them and I was at the airport, and as I was checking in, the tour was cancelled. Something happened diplomatically, and they immediately cancelled the tour. A year later, things warmed up again and I think that’s when I played there. That’s why it was so exciting, because you knew you were playing for people who were incredibly enthusiastic about music.

    Music is an international language. Whatever country I go to, I always feel that there’s a common denominator among audiences. You go into the concert hall, and you play a Mozart sonata or a concerto, and people react in the same ways. The Russian people are very warm. It was interesting that the relationship of two countries almost had nothing to do with reality.

    You have all those strained relationships – diplomatically he doesn’t talk to him, and he doesn’t talk to her and so on. But then when you come to the country, and I remember playing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, that audience had absolutely nothing to do with politics. They loved music. They were warm. They were enthusiastic. I always find it fascinating that the politics of these situations has very little to do with how the citizens feel.

  3. Playing for Presidents of All Political Parties at the White House
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    Playing at the White House is always an exciting event, whatever President is there. I am very happy that I have been performing at the White House for different Presidents and different parties for many years. I am always glad people invite a classical musician, basically, to represent art. That’s what we’re doing.Art supersedes politics. If someone says it doesn’t, I disagree. When it comes to politics, the more music we got, the better it is.

    When you’re invited to the White House or to any event, whatever it is, I feel happy that people think of me enough as a representative of classical music or music in general to perform as such events. It’s extremely good that there are events where the President, or the First Lady, or anyone in politics needs to express themselves in music. It’s absolutely great.

  4. Playing with Mehta, du Pré, Zukerman, Barenboim
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    Playing with friends is very exciting. In the movie The Trout, I was playing with Zubin Mehta on the bass, and Jackie du Pré, Pinchas Zukerman, and Daniel Barneboim – that was a very exciting event that I remember, and it was put on film. It was a period when it was the middle of a festival, called the South Bank Festival in London. We were all sort of young, and everyone was participating in the festival. All the people I mentioned were there and then of course Vladimir Ashkenazy. Those were exciting times. For the recording of The Trout, I had a terrible cold, and in spite of that it came out pretty good. This great film director, Christopher Nupen, had the idea of doing this.

    Everybody was playing chamber music and making music together. Du Pré was a phenomenon, she was probably one of the most natural musicians and performers I’ve ever played with. She felt the music, and she did not even actually think about what she was doing. She just did it because it came from the inside. When we played together, it was contagious: the way she approached music in a total unabashed, passionate way. I don’t want to say that she was not thinking, but it was so spontaneous. As a chamber musician, she pulled you into what she was doing. Her ability to color the music and the way she phrased was so natural for her. Whether you agreed with it or not she was able to convince you of what she was doing, and that is really very important. It did not sound planned at all. And she was so convinced, herself, of where she was going that she pulled the audience along with her too.

  5. Teaching the Next Generation
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    It’s always great, as a teacher, when a student comes in and you play something or say something and then they see the light. All of a sudden, things are working so well, and it’s so exciting that sometimes you cry. I suppose those kind of moments are very private, but you say, “Oh my God, it’s wonderful that I’m able to teach and see how a student develops.”

    I love to play chamber music with students, and you hear somebody that you’ve been teaching, and all of a sudden they play a phrase and you say, “Oh, this is quite amazing, this is really touching me.” These moments, we as musicians are lucky to have and experience. It’s very important.

    There’s a program that my wife started, the Perlman Music Program, it’s about 21 years old already. Every time I play with kids, and read some of the chamber music repertoire, I’m always fascinated to listen to my pupil or a colleague’s pupil and they do something artistically that allows me to see their development. It gives me such pleasure and such satisfaction.


For more information about Itzhak Perlman, visit his website.

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8 U.S. Presidents You Didn’t Know Were Musicians

Gov. Bill Clinton, sitting with the band, turns out an impressive version of "Heatrbreak Hotel" as Arsenio Hall gestures approvingly in the musical opening of "The Arsenio Hall Show" taping at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, June 3, 1992.  (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

The United States is the land of the free and the home of a lot of diverse musicians! Did you know that some of our nation’s leaders past and present could hold their own at a conductor’s podium? Regardless of their political party, many presidents from Jefferson to Nixon to Obama might all agree on one thing: music is important in our lives.

  • Thomas Jefferson

    jefferson violin

    3rd President (March 4, 1801 – March 4, 1809)

    When Thomas Jefferson wasn’t busy writing the Declaration of Independence, he was often practicing music. According to firsthand accounts, he was “always singing when ridin’ or walkin'” around his estate, Monticello. Also an accomplished amateur violinist, he owned at least three different violins during his lifetime, one of which was rumored to be the handiwork of master luthier Nicolò Amati. Though Jefferson’s repertoire encompassed concertos by Vivaldi, Handel, and Boccherini, our third president found he was in lonely company as a classically-inclined American musician. As he lamented, “[Music] is the favorite passion of my soul, [but] fortune has cast my lot in a country where it is in a state of deplorable barbarism.”

  • John Quincy Adams


    6th President (March 4, 1825 – March 4, 1829)
    8th President (September 22, 1817 – March 4, 1825)

    The younger President Adams played the flute, a skill he honed while a student at Harvard and an attorney apprentice in Newburyport. Though he was known to partake in drunken, late-night jam sessions with friends, there is evidence that Adams studied the instrument quite seriously. He wrote to his mother, Abigail, about receiving lessons while a student at Harvard, and some handwritten manuscripts of flute music from this period survive that are signed in Adams’ hand. However, Adams had similar things to say as Thomas Jefferson regarding the state of music in the U.S.: “I am extremely fond of music, and by dint of great pains have learnt to blow very badly the flute . . . I console myself with the idea of being an American, and therefore not susceptible of great musical powers.” Though apparently no virtuoso, Adams oversaw the beginning of a major musical tradition: Under his presidency, “Hail to the Chief” was played for the first time.


    Music for solo flute owned by John Quincy Adams.

  • John Tyler


    10th President (April 4, 1841 – March 4, 1845)|

    Though poor John Tyler has gone down in history as one of our most forgettable presidents, there’s more to our tenth president than meets the eye. For example, as a young man, he was accomplished enough to consider becoming a concert violinist. However, he was pushed to study law with his father. Tyler’s talent came in handy later in life, when he would entertain guests by playing duets with his wife, Julia, a guitarist. In retirement, Tyler was able to re-devote himself to his first love in earnest, and spent most of his twilight years playing the violin and fiddle. Tyler’s violin was even immortalized as part of the president’s bronze likeness in Rapid City, SD—a testament to his lifelong love for music.

  • Warren G. Harding


    29th President (March 4, 1921 – August 2, 1923)

    With a legacy marred by scandals, Warren G. Harding wasn’t exactly a lovable guy. But he did know to carry a tune—and on just about every instrument, too. He once boasted that he “played every instrument but the slide trombone and the E-flat cornet,” and used his musical knowledge to organize the Citizen’s Cornet Band, which played at both the Democratic and Republican Party’s rallies. As a gimmick, he even played the tuba at the 1920 Democratic convention to celebrate his nomination.

  • Harry Truman
    FILE - In this Feb. 10, 1945 file photo, Vice President Harry S. Truman plays the piano as new movie star Lauren Bacall lies on top of it during her appearance at the National Press Club canteen in Washington. Through the years, commanders-in-chief have turned musicians-in-chief, with varying results. (AP Photo)

    FILE – In this Feb. 10, 1945 file photo, Vice President Harry S. Truman plays the piano as new movie star Lauren Bacall lies on top of it during her appearance at the National Press Club canteen in Washington. Through the years, commanders-in-chief have turned musicians-in-chief, with varying results. (AP Photo)

    33rd President (April 12, 1945 – January 20, 1953)

    Fifty years before Bill Clinton played saxophone on the Arsenio Hall Show, Harry Truman became the first presidents to have his musicianship associated with his public persona, thanks to this historic photo op with Lauren Bacall. But, as always, there’s more to the story. From an early age, Truman was a serious about the piano, waking up as early as 5 in the morning to squeeze in some practice before school. He seemed to be on track to becoming a concert pianist, but he suddenly stopped taking lessons at 15, believing he wasn’t good enough. As he quipped later on, “My choice early in life was either to be a piano-player in a whorehouse, or a politician. And to tell the truth, there’s hardly any difference.” However, his love of the piano sustained him for the rest of his life, with some of his favorite compositions being Chopin’s A-Flat Waltz, Opus 42, Mozart’s Piano Sonata in A-Major, Beethoven’s Piano Concert No. 4 in G, and Johann Strauss’s Blue Danube Waltz. He also was also fond of Debussy and Gershwin.

  • Richard Nixon

    nixon violin

    37th President (January 20, 1969 – August 9, 1974)

    Richard Nixon was another notable presidential pianist. Nixon picked up many musical instruments over the years; besides piano, he also played saxophone, clarinet, violin, and accordion. His musical inclinations were noticed by his mother, who sent him 200 miles away to live and study music with his conservatory-trained aunt when he was 12. He only lived with her for six months, but it nurtured a love of music that stayed with him for life. Though Nixon allegedly didn’t know how to read music, he picked up complex pieces by ear and was a talented improviser, as evidenced by his famous appearance on Jack Paar’s Tonight Show playing his “Piano Concerto No. 1.”

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  • Bill Clinton
    Gov. Bill Clinton, sitting with the band, turns out an impressive version of "Heatrbreak Hotel" as Arsenio Hall gestures approvingly in the musical opening of "The Arsenio Hall Show" taping at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, June 3, 1992. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

    Gov. Bill Clinton, sitting with the band, turns out an impressive version of “Heatrbreak Hotel” as Arsenio Hall gestures approvingly in the musical opening of “The Arsenio Hall Show” taping at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, June 3, 1992. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

    42nd President (January 20, 1993 – January 20, 2001)

    Like others on this list, Bill Clinton considered a career in music before he considered a career in politics. As a student, he sang in the school choir and practiced the saxophone as many as four hours a day, winning first chair in Arkansas’ All-State Band. But, echoing Harry Truman, he stopped short of a professional career, later explaining, “I loved music and thought I could be very good, but I knew I would never be John Coltrane or Stan Getz.” But Clinton’s musical talents are more than just fun bits of presidential trivia. In the case of his appearance playing saxophone on the Arsenio Hall Show, his talents might have proved politically advantageous, with pundits claiming that his 1992 performance helped him gain traction among young and minority voters.

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  • Barack Obama


    44th President (January 20, 2009 – Present)

    Finally, what would this list be without be without our very own, very musical Commander-in-Chief? Regardless of political affiliation, Americans can agree that Barack Obama has quite the set of pipes. He’s been known to sing in public, crooning lines from Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” and joining BB King in a rendition of “Sweet Home Chicago.” Most recently, he brought down the house singing “Amazing Grace” at the memorial service of Rev. Clementa Pickney, who was tragically killed in July’s church shooting in Charleston. Earlier this year, POTUS even shared his summer Spotify playlist, which includes selections by John Coltrane, Nina Simone, the Rolling Stones, and Beyoncé.

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The Many Colors of American Indian Music



(The Warrior sculpture at Chickasaw Nation Headquarters)

What do you hear in your mind’s ear when you hear the phrase “American Indian Music”? Your ideas about American Indian music might be rooted in general stereotypes many people have about American Indians.

Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate, a Chickasaw composer, said, “American Indians have been involved in the fine arts for a long time, in every genre from literature to dance to film. But for some reason, people are surprised to learn that American Indians compose ‘classical’ music. There is a very large body of very educated American Indians, not just in the arts, but in all subjects.”

Tate has been involved with a number of projects to combat stereotypes people might have about American Indian music, or even just to let them know that American Indians compose in the first place.

Recently, Tate collaborated with NBC for their reboot of Peter Pan. The original musical portrayed American Indians rather generically. Perhaps the most egregiously offensive portrayal of native peoples is the song “Ugg-a-Wugg.”

Tate worked with NBC to tone down aspects of the musical that could be considered offensive to modern audiences, though admitted in an interview for that “musical theater thrives on stereotypes. It just does. It always has. So, that being said, there are still ways you can improve it a little bit to where it has a little more integrity.”

One of Tate’s other recent projects to share American Indian music is a new four-part radio series called Taloa, which means “song” in Chickasaw. WFMT airs Taloa Fridays at 8:00 throughout November to celebrate Native American Heritage Month.


“Both American Indians and Māori composers have a substantial body of work now,” Tate said. “We may not have been able to do this 10 years ago. But now is a great time to harvest the recordings that exist.”

One of the difficulties creating Taloa, in fact, is that there’s perhaps too much to include in a single, four-part series.

“There are 350 federally recognized tribes in the lower 48 states,” Tate said. “But we share a common bond – our tribes all live within the United States.”

The diversity of American Indian people means there is an incredible amount of diversity within the music of American Indian composers.

However, Tate and his colleagues are not hoping to offer, he said, “a kind of college survey on this music. Hopefully it’s a good introduction that will leave people curious to learn and hear more.

One thing that listeners will learn is that American Indian composers don’t operate entirely differently than canonical composers they know and love.

“Bartók was literally transcribing his own folk music and abstracting those elements for resources for his own music and to bring all music forward,” Tate said.

“American Indians use orchestras and classical instruments, and that doesn’t sound very ‘Indian’ to most people. We use Western instruments to create abstracted version of our own experiences. But that’s what any fine arts practitioner does. We just abstract cultural symbols.”

Tate explained that classical music is similar to other practices that native peoples have adopted from other cultures to make their own.

“Just like horse riding or bead making, those things didn’t come from the Americas, but now American Indians are masters at riding horses and bead making.”

In addition to exploring music by American Indians, Taloa also explores the music of the Māori people of New Zealand.

“One main difference between Native Indians and Māori is that the Māori are more culturally homogenous by comparison,” Tate said. “There’s a small body of music and instruments. They speak the same language and know the same songs. There’s a little more commonality between some of the composers, though everyone has their individual styles.”

By contrast, American Indian composers tend to use a diverse range of language and “sonic symbols,” as he called them, which are specific to nations from which they come. (Unless, of course, a commission demands otherwise.)

To learn more about American Indian music and composers, tune in to Taloa on WFMT throughout the month of November, Fridays at 8 pm CDT. Or, meet Tate in person at the Field Museum of Natural History this Sunday, November 8 at 3pm CDT.

For more information about this event, which includes live music, excerpts from the radio series, and discussion with Tate and producer David Schulman, visit the Field Museum’s website.