School of Music > About > Alumni > Seth Pae & Kyle Dickson

Interviews: Seth Pae and Kyle Dickson

​​​​​​The following interview questions were sent to both Seth Pae (CER '17/MM'15) and Kyle Dickson (MM '16) after their participation in the July 11th Chicago Violin Vigil in honor of Elijah Mclain, a 23-year-old massage therapist and violinist who died last summer, days after he was placed in a choke-hold by police in Aurora, Colorado.

  1. How did you become involved with the Chicago Violin Vigil in honor of Elijah McClain?
    SP:​ A friend and colleague of mine texted me, asking if I could help organize. She figured that this kind of thing was right in my wheelhouse.

    Some colleagues of mine (Alexandra Neuman, Amanda Bailey, Caitlin Edwards) had been planning the vigil for some time before I was brought on board. They'd done so much work and the project had gotten so many responses from the community that before long it looked like they'd need a conductor.​​

  2. What was your initial reaction to the size of the community orchestra who participated? Were you surprised by the turnout?
    SP: Overwhelming. It was amazing to me how everything ran so smoothly. There was a good chance of rain that afternoon, which didn't materialize until afterward. There were little league games at the park that we thought we would have to compete with, but were on the opposite side of the park, luckily. We were denied a permit for a "memorial event" by the park district, due to the expected size of more than 50 people, so we were HEAVILY relying on our 1st amendment right to protest/assemble peacefully. We had no idea how many people would actually show up, or play, or listen, etc. Being inside that mass of people playing together (for the first time, too!) was amazing. Seeing the support of the 'crowd' was amazing too. With so many unknowns, our team had to "just roll with it," see what happened, and react. We couldn't have asked for a better result.

    KD: I was absolutely blown away by the size of the group. People from every corner of my professional career here in Chicago showed up to play. It was a humbling experience to be standing in front of this mass of sound.

  3. Can you provide insight into the repertoire selection? Why was it important to program works by William Grant Still and Florence Price for the vigil musicians?
    SP: The team of musicians and I  felt that it was important in a vigil for a black musician, that we include great work by important black composers. For decades, this music has existed, but been ignored. Black musicians in every genre have had their music, borrowed, sampled, appropriated, and flat out stolen for decades. We feel strongly about a need for change in the arts. These vigils are not only memorials, but calls to action. The call to action includes justice for Black Lives, police reform, but also from a musical standpoint, representation and recognition of black artists in classical music. Florence Price has ties to Chicago, and was the first black woman to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra. William Grant Still is often referred to as the "Dean of African American Composers." It's important to me, and to my colleagues, to make this music known. Great music by black composers exists, and any chance I get to feature this music, I will take it.

    KD: The music was central to our idea of remembering Elijah McClain and his life. This event was based on music, because Elijah was a gentle soul and a musician, and so all the music carried a message of reverence, hope, and resilience. Having works on the program by William Grant Still and Florence Price that were appropriate for Elijah's vigil speak to the communicative power of these pieces, and to the artistic contribution African-Americans have made to an artform Elijah clearly loved. Spirituals like Amazing Grace and symbolic music from the civil rights movement were important in representing Elijah's identity and circumstances.

  4. Did you need to modify your arrangements to make the musical selections accessible to all musicians?
    SP: My 'aesthetic' as an arranger is normally "write something that can be performed with 0-1 rehearsals, but still sounds good." Since the two selections that I arranged were originally for voice and piano, writing a string orchestra arrangement that was playable, but still kept the truth of the music was not difficult. I used the harmonies that Still and Price initially wrote. The text answered any questions that I could possibly have about voicing, dynamics, and articulation. In the end, because I expanded the "quartet" to an 8-part setup, the parts were easily readable, and (from what I heard in the videos) very effective in my opinion.
  5. What further action do you hope comes out of these community events in honor of victims of police violence?
    SP: First and foremost, Individually: I hope people LISTEN. It's so easy to make judgements about people that are different from you. It's easy to ignore a problem that one seeming is not directly affected by. I hope more people see us, hear us and listen to us. I hope more people take action. One person cannot do the work alone, but it takes a collective effort of reflection, activism, and VOTING. 
    Socially: I hope we do get police reform. We need to invest in education, and resources for the underserved communities, instead of expecting them to just sort of figure it out by themselves, and wondering why similar social issues keep appearing. We need to listen to, and advocate for the marginalized people in our city, and around the world. We need to VOTE.

    KD: We hope that this kind of visibility gives this narrative a unified front that sparks action. A massive show of support from the Chicago artistic community will move our institutions to reconsider their role in systemic racism. Community events like this amplify the voices and lives of those affected by bigotry and police brutality. It's easy to ignore the voices of a few, but not the voices of thousands across the country demanding real change- together. 

  6. Are there specific organizations or organizers that our Chicago community members can follow online or seek out for future action?
    SP: Absolutely! Rachel Barton Pine!! Follow her and her organization Music By Black Composers (MBC) Jenna Lyle, and her organizations, CAARPR and Chicago Resistencia. Alexandra Newman was one of the main organizers of the Oz Park vigil. Kyle Dickson is a prominent up and coming black conductor, activist and teacher. Caitlin Edwards, prominent black violinist, composer and activist. Follow her and her group, D-Composed Chicago. Adrian Dunn regularly hosts discussions about the music community. He's created a platform, "Black Music Matters." ( Kendrick Armstrong, black conductor and activist. Also Black Lives Matter Chicago, and the NAACP.

    KD: The overwhelming sense of family and unity at the event was so powerful that musicians and observers alike wanted to preserve that feeling and stay in the loop about similar events in the city. Our FB page "Chicago Violin Vigil in honor of Elijah McClain" still posts information about ways to donate to Elijah's family in addition to posting updates about new events.

  7. Can you tell me a little about yourself and your current musical projects?​
    SP: I have been composing and arranging quite a bit lately. Along with my arrangements for the vigils, I have been creating simple arrangements of pop songs for string quartets to perform at weddings. Composition-wise, I'm working on writing a musical about the Cleveland Browns, as well as attempting to write a blues album. I have a viola concerto sketched out which will be next on the docket. I have done a handful of virtual performing collaborations on viola including a project where I was paired with a composer, and will premier the work that they wrote for me. (The video is coming out soon!) I've been using this time at home to teach myself piano. My goal is to do dueling pianos soon. Finally, I've been working on a research project with Rachel Barton-Pine's MBC foundation, finding and cataloguing string quartets written by Black composers. Aside from music, I've been running and doing yoga. 

    KD: Currently, I'm working on my MM in Orchestral Conducting at Northwestern University and am the Music Director of the South Loop Symphony! My string quartet, D-Composed, just released a collaboration with visual artists from across the country that pair images and footage of the protests with our ensemble performing an arrangement of Joel Thompson's "Change Is Gonna Come". I'm also on the violin/chamber music faculty of New Music School and am working closely with the South Side Chicago Youth Symphony!