Flying Home for Funerals

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Here’s what no one told us when we moved to a far-away land clutching a bag full of youthful dreams for our future: One day, members of our original tribe—our oldest friends and family members—would begin to die, and we would be brought to our aging, creaking knees by the guilt we feel for living so far away and the distance we must travel to get back home.

Little Scraps of Paper

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Kids and drunks have a lot in common. They’re brutally honest, totally unpredictable, and anxious to be noticed, even if it means jumping up and down on a red velvet seat and pouring the remains of a beverage down the collar of any guy who happens to be in fun’s way. With this in mind, it’s not such a stretch for me to go from lounge pianist to musical director of a touring Sesame Street show.

The Boy Who Chased Butterflies

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As a child, my brother, Curtis Rawsthorne, liked to chase insects, moths, and butterflies. I have an image of him on a random ridge of state park, sporting a blue swimsuit and giant sneakers, and carrying a large net on a long stick. Pre-pubescent, scrawny-chested, tow-headed, jutting elbows and knees, he stalked his prey—sneaking up on unsuspecting Monarchs, Painted Ladies, and Zebra Longwings. He looked like an insect himself during those years—a nine-year old human, net-toting version of a Praying Mantis, graceful in his awkwardness, laser-focused on his winged victim. During his butterfly years, he mounted a few of them and displayed them on the wall of his tiny bedroom, but most of the time he set them free.

King of Kings

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Lovely to see so many members of the press corps here today. I know how busy you are covering Omicron, Ghislaine, and Harry and Meghan’s Christmas plans. Allow me to introduce myself: I am the great Plinka Kochovitch, award-winning director of such spectacles as Fauci: The Musical and the current Metropolitan production of the woodland animal opera Thistles and Whistles. As director of this year’s Nativity Scene on the White House Lawn I’ve faced my greatest casting challenge to date.

When I’m Sixty-Four

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Another song lyric comes true. I shouldn’t be surprised that sixty-four sneaked up on me, but since I’ve spent most of the last three decades assuming I’m still thirty-two, the idea that I’m a year away from taking my musician union pension seems a little extreme. In honor of this milestone, I’ve composed a list of thoughts on growing older:

Running on Empty

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I stopped drinking a year ago. Those of you familiar with my tales of debauchery and hijinks from the piano lounge might find it hard to believe that I could soldier through a five-hour solo piano gig without a glass of Sancerre on the little marble table next to the Steinway. But here we are—Piano Girl 2.0, steady and secure in my newfound sobriety. Hold the sauvignon blanc. Pass the lemongrass-infused green tea, please. Shoot me now.

Swamp Rats and Other Thoughts

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I do so love a good costume drama. Did you watch Bridgerton? I did, and I am bothered by the heaving bosoms, not because I find them unsanitary, sexist, or offensive, but because, after watching a few episodes, I made a serious attempt to make my own bosom heave and failed miserably. Even if I crank my breasts up to my chin, I can’t get the heaving thing happening. I think there’s something wrong with me.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas 2020

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When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
With Trump on the loose I expected a scene ,
I hadn’t slept soundly since 2016.

Thanksgiving: Keep the Cat off the Pie

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My mother made excellent Thanksgiving pies. Stripey the cat thought so, too. No store-bought piecrusts for mom, but homemade masterpieces that involved chilled butter, shortening, Grandma Rawsthorne’s secret-weapon multi-generational aluminum pie pans, and a big dusty mess in the kitchen. One year, Stripey leapt to the counter and, as cats do, walked across a pumpkin pie, an hour before guests were due to arrive. Without missing a beat, mom grabbed a spray can of whipped cream, covered the incriminating paw prints with an inch of white fluff, and swore me to secrecy. In her defense, the catwalk happened decades before the discovery of toxoplasmosis, so her cover-up was hardly a bioterrorism act on the level of the Pilgrim smallpox blankets, but still. She could have offed the entire family, which may have been exactly what Stripey had in mind.

Too Close for Comfort

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Saying a proper hello has always been weird, but in 2020, it has gotten ever so much worse. . .

Sea to Shining Sea

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1972. As a teenager, I was keen on seeing the world outside the confines of Pittsburgh, PA—a fine city in the seventies for football (go Steelers), hockey (go Penguins) and Baseball (go Pirates). We had a symphony orchestra (go Mahler), a handful of respected universities, and a rich cultural heritage that rode on the flashy black and gold coattails of steel and oil barons, the savory scent of pierogi, and a peculiar Pittsburgh-ese dialect that caused most of us to sound like second-rate hillbillies crossed with Scottish nobility.

Air

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this hopeful breath may be our last,aghast, inhale the asphalt sky,we breathe the ashes of our past. we seek for now an outstretched fist,persist, resist, we reason why,this hopeful breath may be our last. as concrete burns through thickened skin,the din of silence will not lie,we breathe the ashes of our past. to suffer now and curse the […]

We Are the Musicians

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We are the crooners, the head-bangers, concert stage artists, beer hall grinders, swinging jazz trios, choir accompanists, big band soldiers, hotel ambient players, Broadway pit veterans. We are the buskers, boppers, and bewildered career performers currently pivoting on the precipice of a new era.

Now Boarding

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Earlier today, I attended my mother-in-law’s funeral. Right now, I’m sitting in a Louisville airport lounge waiting to board my Delta flight to Atlanta, connecting to Charleston. Bloody Mary or ginger-ale? I’ve got a concert to play in Charleston in a few days, and jet lag has slapped me silly. I feel slightly stoned (jet lag is one of the only chemical-free highs), a little lonely, and relieved that I’ve made it this far on three hours of sleep. I get foot cramps when I fly, and often wake out of a deep slumber and dance the midnight tango to make them go away. Last night was such a night.

Married to the Bass

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Okay, Ladies, listen up. Bass players make great husbands. There is no scientific data to support my claim. But having worked my way through the rhythm section, the technicians, and a handful of brass, reed, and string players, I’m a qualified judge.

Sliding Into Home

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Mother-son road trip. It’s mid-summer and I’m on a jam-packed Condor Airlines flight, headed to Pittsburgh (my hometown) with my twenty-six-year old son. Just when I thought my days of traveling with kids had come to a grinding halt, here I am, in Economy Premium—the poor woman’s business class—sipping champagne from a paper cup (sneaked […]

Love You Forever

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It’s September 20th, 2014. I have two big events today, neither of which I anticipate with glee. This morning, I’m driving our twenty-year-old son, who has been educated here in Germany, to the Düsseldorf airport. He’s headed to California for a senior-year university exchange semester at UC Riverside. After I drop him off and drive back home, I must shift gears, turn around and drive two hours to play a concert in a chapel at a funeral home. Not a memorial service, but an actual concert. Who plays a concert at a funeral home?

Waltz of the Asparagus People

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New York City, 1986: One evening, on a break from my cocktail-piano job at the Grand Hyatt in Manhattan—a hotel that hosts Major League baseball teams, B-list celebrities, and an annual transvestite event called Night of a Thousand Queens—I notice an odd display in a glass showcase in the lobby. Inside the large window, built into a marble wall, is a handmade village of Asparagus People. Over 200 of them inhabit the village, each skinny green stalk hand-painted, shellacked, and dressed in a little outfit.

Play Something You Know

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“Did you leave anything at home?” Dad says as he heaves the first of my five suitcases into the big green taxi. “Or did you bring it all with you?”

 The distance from Pittsburgh to Nantucket is 633 miles. It is the summer of 1976—the bicentennial summer. I’ve just arrived on Nantucket Island with an ancient Schwinn bicycle, two frazzled parents, a lot of music banging around in my head, and a vast amount of self confidence. Having just completed my freshman year of college, I’m looking forward to the beach, an army of Ivy League boys, and a waitressing job at a little Italian place called “Vincent’s Italian Family Restaurant.” I’m going to be a real woman and a superb waitress—sexy and sophisticated—conquering the world, one meatball at a time. On my days off I’ll frolic on the beaches of Nantucket wearing a white bikini and no sunscreen. I’ll gain my independence, make some money, have a string of boyfriends, and get a tan. This is my plan.

Yeah, Man

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“What key is this in?” Bob Rawsthorne (my dad), mallets hovering his vibes, asked Johnny Costa, musical director of Mister Rogers Neighborhood as they prepared to record improvised music with complicated changes, live on tape. Playing with Costa was harrowing, inspirational, and full of surprises. Bob called the band the Kamikaze Trio. He and bassist Carl McVicker never knew what Costa would do next—he had a habit of switching keys at the last minute, causing low-level panic for his experienced sidemen. In the shoe-string budget world of public television, the trio was usually not offered more than one chance to get it right. Sink or swim.