Because I love music, a lot of musicians end up in my novels. In MARIACHI MURDER, Andy Veracruz is a band leader in Southern California… until he really gets into trouble!

Posts tagged ‘tucson symphony orchestra’

Savoring the Unexpected with Michael Cavanaugh

I’m busy. I have a day job, a night job (writing), and various music jobs. I have a house and cats to take care of, etc., etc. Thus there are many times when I buy tickets for something way in advance. Instead of savoring the experience by anticipating it, I usually show up at the theatre five minutes before the production is supposed to start. Usually by that time I’ve forgotten the name of the play I’m seeing or the name of any performers who are guest artists.

Thus last January when Cookie and I headed out for the evening, I couldn’t tell her anything about the tickets we had for the Tucson Symphony Orchestra. “Why did we want to come to this concert?” she asked a couple of times. “I don’t remember,” I told her. “It’s some guy. I think he sings Billy Joel songs.”

That was all I remembered. We had an enjoyable dinner together, but since I had no information, we didn’t discuss the concert we were about to see.

The TSO has a series of concerts they do with pop artists. This makes for a pleasant combination of pop culture and classically trained musicians. The year before I’d gone to a performance that included dancers from Dancing with the Stars, for example. The orchestra has been proactive in offering audiences the best of both worlds. Yet most of the groups they’d performed with were groups I had never heard of. I hadn’t heard of the evening’s singer; I’d simply focused on the words in the promo that included “Billy Joel.”

I don’t know a lot about American music. I grew up listening to Beethoven and Mahler, but in college I discovered Billy Joel when a friend dragged me to a concert and I was wowed by the piano solos in “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.” I’d been a fan ever since. Even though my record collection only included some twenty titles, I faithfully purchased each new Billy Joel album. I’d listened to The Stranger and 52nd Street so many times that after one song ended, I already knew which song would come next.

Imagine my delight, then, when TSO started in with a medley of Billy Joel songs. When the invited artist popped onto the stage, he sat down and started hammering away at the piano Billy Joel style. The performer was mesmerizing. He was thrilling. He was Michael Cavanaugh.


Within moments he’d captivated the whole audience. By the second song, I was tapping my feet. By the second half I was wishing the concert would never, ever end.

The question is this: did I enjoy the performance more because I hadn’t anticipated it? Because I didn’t realize I’d seen Cavanaugh perform Movin’ Out on Broadway a few years earlier until he started explaining about some of his musical experiences?


My friends have accused me of being too busy. They are undoubtedly right. But there are a series of things I’m going to keep right on doing: buying tickets ahead of time to performances I think I might like, showing up for them without knowing much if anything about them, and preparing to be delighted by something unexpected and wonderful.

That’s what life is all about, isn’t it?

To read about my musical murder mysteries (Mariachi Murder, Island Casualty), please see


Why I Love Mariachi #2 Classical Differences

I love mariachi music because it’s immediate. When you’re playing for an audience, you’re usually right there next to them. Once in a while you might be on stage, but at any rate, you’re still close by. That makes the music more vibrant, more exciting, more alive. As a performer it’s wonderful because you constantly make eye contact with your audience either to let them know you empathize or that you’re joking or that you’re simply checking in to make their experience the best one possible.

This is in complete contrast to classical music. Last month I had a chance to hear the Tucson Symphony Orchestra concert. Steven Moeckel played John Corigliano’s concerto “The Red Violin,” and because he’s Steven Moeckel, he played it really, really well.


I could see him perfectly because I was sitting in the third row. I couldn’t see the oboes or the trumpets, but I didn’t care. As a violin player, I’m biased. During an orchestra concert, I want to keep my eyes on the violins.

I watched in awe as Steven played harmonics and double stops. He played sustained notes with graceful vibrato and crunched through passages played for effect. Because I happened to be sitting close to him, I could see his expressions and feel his triumph as he crashed through difficult passages that were high and fast and loud.

But as he performed, most of the audience was completely removed from him. (He and the conductor did give a half-hour talk before the performance, however.) The regular concert-goer wouldn’t have left the theatre with any sense of Steven the man behind the violin.

This is a shame. The reason I wanted to hear this concert was not merely because I knew the violin playing would be top-notch or that the symphony members would do a wonderful job with Mahler #5. I wanted to hear Steven in concert because a few years ago when I started back up with the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra, Steven performed with us. I got to meet him and talk to him in person. And that’s how I found out he’s a tremendously nice guy. Never mind that he’s played concerts all over Europe, never mind that he’s been concertmaster of both TSO and the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra. He’s there for all of us.
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As I heard him perform tonight, I was well aware of that. I felt bad for the audience members who only knew about him through the biography in the program and hearing the notes he played on stage. He’s much more than that, but in classical music, the audience is almost always a distant concept. They’re specks of dust on the horizon or drops of rain in a storm. They’re far away.

What I’d really like to see is Steven Moeckel playing up close and personal in a mariachi band. Now that would be worth seeing every night of the week.

For more on mariachi and my new novel MARIACHI MURDER, please visit