"Play It Like It's Music" by Trevor Exter
Play It Like It's Music
"Music is the first language that made sense to me"

"Music is the first language that made sense to me"

076: Eugene Friesen

Good morning! This is Play It Like It’s Music. I’m Trevor, thanks for listening.

In concert at St. John the Divine in NYC. Photo by Matthew Muise.

On Wednesday, February 24 of 2021 music is not content. It’s connection.

I had a crazy performance anxiety dream the other night. In the dream I’m famous enough to get invited to do crazy random things on stage, and they offer me a gig to play Romeo at an outdoor Shakespeare production of Romeo And Juliet.

Of course I take it, even though I have no business doing something like that.

Meanwhile, also in the dream I’m in the process of buying an old apartment building. So the bulk of the dream is spent visiting the site and going over minutiae like how old the wooden bannisters are and what kind of plumbing needs to be ripped out and what does the landmark commission have to say…

I don’t do a single rehearsal for the play.

Gig day rolls around and we’re still checking out the property with different real estate agents and managers. I’m riding around in the back of the car - the folks I’m with are completely oblivious to my having taken on a monumental role and they’re just talking about it like I’m going to play songs at a bar or something. Like “that’s so cool that you’re doing this thing tonight”.

Meanwhile it dawns on me that I don’t even know a single one of my lines, haven’t even met the cast or the director.

They drop me off in front, like half an hour before curtain and I realize that I have to find a sub. No matter what, even though it’s my name on the marquee. I am not gonna be that guy who got dropped right into a Shakespeare play with zero prep. I start looking around and see Willem Dafoe on his way in. We’re not friends in my dream either but he recognizes me and treats me like a friend because it’s like “my big night”.

Yeah right.

I tell him the situation and offer him the chance to play Romeo at a moments notice. He says thanks, probably not but he might know somebody and starts calling around. I see the real estate agents walking in, start to lose my shit and…

that’s the moment I woke up.


What a fun one! Some ego, some anxiety, a bunch of hubris and the walls all closing in. Maybe it ended well, I don’t know. We’d all like to get bailed out by a superstar at some point in our lives.

I’m just so glad it wasn’t real because I do not belong anywhere near a Shakespeare stage.

Meanwhile, today on the show:

Photo by Maureen Edwards

Four-time Grammy Award-winner Eugene Friesen is active internationally as a concert and recording artist, composer, conductor and teacher. Eugene has worked and recorded with such diverse artists as Dave Brubeck, Martin Sexton, Toots Thielemans, Betty Buckley, Dar Williams, Will Ackerman, and Dream Theater.  

Eugene's passion for improvised music has been featured in concerts all over the world with the Paul Winter Consort and with Trio Globo (which is Eugene, Howard Levy and Glen Velez). He appeared on "A Prairie Home Companion" playing with superstar soprano Renée Fleming and has performed as a soloist at the International Cello Festival in Manchester, England; the World Cello Congress in Baltimore, Maryland; and the Rio International Cello Encounter in Rio de Janeiro.  

He’s a world renowned teacher of new cello techniques and improvisation in the United States, Asia, Europe, Egypt, and South America. Recording credits include five albums of original music, more than 30 CDs with the Paul Winter Consort, and hundreds of tracks featuring his rapturous cello playing on instrumental albums, films, and television scores. 

Eugene is an artist-in-residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, and on the faculty of the Berklee College of Music in Boston. 

“Outstanding in his field” Photo by Maureen Edwards

It’s an honor to have him on the show.

Eugene was one of the very first cellists I ever saw on stage when I was a kid, someone who liberated us from the idea that we had to stay in line and only play the notes on a page with pre-prescribed intent and a general lack of flavor or modern relevance. He took his classical education and helped the cello grow into the modern musical landscape. None of us would be anywhere without people like him.

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Now let’s talk to Eugene!

[Featured tracks: “Shadowplay” and “First Ride” from The Essential Collection]

Press PLAY above to hear my conversation with Eugene Friesen.

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Thanks so much for listening to Play It Like It’s Music. Thanks so much to Maestro Eugene for spending some very generous time with us. You can find him at Eugene Friesen Music dot com and follow him on the gram @eugene.friesen.

I can’t believe we’ve gotten to 76 shows! If you believe this show deserves a wider audience in 2021, please tell a friend:

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Follow me on twitter @trevorexter and talk to me on there if you have thoughts about the show.

We're all contending with a mutating professional landscape, jacked revenue streams, a catastrophic global pandemic and plenty of other noise out here.

But you gotta keep playing.

We don't draw any lines here between scenes or styles.

As always, thank you for listening and remember to play it like its music.

You can check out my NEW instrumental record on bandcamp, and I hope you will. Volume 2 is coming out next week.

Sign the mailing list on substack to get this show sent right to you the very moment it comes out.

Music is a beautiful thing and it makes the world go round.

Big love to your ears.


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"Play It Like It's Music" by Trevor Exter
Play It Like It's Music
Purists may whine that the best days of music are behind us, that capital “M” music has seen its peak and is no longer relevant. But here at Play It Like It's Music we believe the opposite: not only is the act of musicmaking an essential life skill with a lineage stretching back to the beginnings of human history, but the vocation of the professional musician is more vital today than it ever has been. Once a month, join musician, songwriter and producer Trevor Exter as he drops in on working musicians from every genre.