Amy Wurtz and Alyson Berger

Recorded June 15, 2021 Archived June 15, 2021 38:51 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: chi003569


Musician friends, Amy Wurtz (45), and Alyson Berger (52), talk about their collaboration, the Wurtz-Berger Duo. They talk about their instruments (piano and cello) and discuss their careers as musicians as well as the music scene in Chicago.

Subject Log / Time Code

AW talks about her childhood career aspirations.
AB talks about her first cello.
AW talks about the last Ear Taxi Festival.
AW talks about her piano teachers.
They talk about negative experiences with neighbors over their practicing.
AB talks about improvising with AW.
AW talks about what she envisioned her career as a musician would be like.
They talk about how the Pandemic has affected musicians.


  • Amy Wurtz
  • Alyson Berger

Recording Location

Virtual Recording

Venue / Recording Kit

Partnership Type



StoryCorps uses Google Cloud Speech-to-Text and Natural Language API to provide machine-generated transcripts. Transcripts have not been checked for accuracy and may contain errors. Learn more about our FAQs through our Help Center or do not hesitate to get in touch with us if you have any questions.

00:10 My name is Allison. I'm 52 today is June, 15th. 2021. I'm in my friend Amy's house in Chicago, Illinois. My friend is a me that I'm talking today.

00:27 My name is Amy wurtz. I am 45 years old. It is also June 15th, Chicago in my living room and

00:42 My partner is Allison and we are colleagues musicians together and also had become friends throughout being comics.

00:54 We are both musicians and that's how we know each other. But I'm curious. Did you have any other?

01:05 Career Ambitions growing up or even now, do you have any other ideas for what you would do? If you weren't the fabulous, musician and teacher that you are a really good question. I wasn't I always wanted to be an astronaut growing up. I totally wanted. I like you don't have the books about the stars in the cosmos. And then cuz I was good at math and I think, you know, this can become astronauts. I think it picked up the other skills for it. And so I was at put, then around. When I was 16. I just heard a lot more music than I had heard before. It was like Chopin mostly in list. And then I just kind of got carried away. The music thing.

01:52 But now I feel like sometimes I feel like I would like to have a different career and let me know it's going to be easier. But I feel like I would be giving up if I were to switch careers and I do home that I want to just, you know, stay the course that's interesting.

02:19 No, I always wanted to be a musician and working music and I was always really into it from like being from when I first started when I was 7 news that that this is what I wanted to do and and use music as a way of making my way through life. And moving around, you from places. I wanted to and it's been a good choice. I think if I wasn't a musician, I, I don't know. I'd like to be something like a bartender or something. My career choices is like talking more to people. Like when you're performing musicians, you're just talking about what you're doing music and everything, and I'm not in my teaching life.

03:09 Talking to kids most of the day. So more adult interaction would be nice.

03:16 Did you have family members? Who were also musicians? That were a real mother for, you know, professional musicians. Have

03:32 Have mentors in their family and they're both especially classical musician. So, we're both classically trained musicians, but now we play an Amy. You're a composer to it. Like, how did you get into being a composer?

03:47 I don't know. I think it might be just something inside me. That thinks it composing is like the Pinnacle of what it means to be a musician, somehow. But also I was actually a writer I'm for a long time. All throughout high school, did creative writing and actually got a scholarship in college. So in my undergrad, I had I was required to do a double major in order to keep my scholarship play music scholarships and writing fellowships. And so, I think probably some of the, the creative writing energy went into the composing a little bit. And then I had three passions, composing and Performing and the creative writing and they were all battling inside me when I was in undergrad, like from the age of 18 to 22 or so. And then

04:34 I don't know how, but the music one out. And yeah, I kind of feel like

04:43 Maybe it's because it's written down. The composing, you feels a little bit more lasting to me and performance. If it's not recorded, it's gone. It's a little bit more ephemeral. So I think maybe the composing that's why I'm drawn to that something that I can document holding my hand and have its last.

05:03 Do you play any other instruments besides the piano as a Pianist? I did tell him as I had to tell her what and I love playing each other when I own a cello, a really crappy cello that it's probably not functional haven't gotten out in years and I'm a jealous right about 47 years. I've Play The Cello piano lessons as a child.

05:43 No, you didn't have you didn't have any money for nothing.

05:52 I thought we would need to get a piano and then lessons.

06:04 I guess that's in the western like a recurring theme throughout my life. Is that like, if I go somewhere I have to find a piano to play or practice on or something like that and it limits a lot of the things that I feel like I can do. So, when you show up to the gig, all you have to bring is your music.

06:24 Piano was like mine been in my heart. I would end my panelist and some tears because I couldn't do on my teachers piano. What I could do on my own piano. So, you know, you have your own instrument that you just get to keep true. How long have you had this fellow? Had it since it was made in 1996. December 19th. Wow, man. I got it. So it wasn't like a college instrument. I know, I was a full adult's when I got home cuz you have to be able to make the money to buy the cello expensive.

07:24 Time, teaching for two years and moved in, with my parents to save money so that I could buy the cellos. That's how much they cost. And did you pay cash? Or did you get a loan?

07:39 Partially little nosy, question.

07:48 I didn't bite my channels. I've only had it for like 4 years or something. I mean, I have to but my main piano my forever piano only had it for 4 years and I was also scrimping and saving to get in and I got a loan from my parents to get it. Yeah, so we've been putting on concerts together for like the past 4 years, almost five years. We've been doing recitals. How do you see this progressing in the future like finding music has been difficult for us to do and how do you see us? That was my developing is like what do you what do you? What are your goals for our Duo?

08:43 I'm going to retire in 8 years and then we're going to travel around Europe and the house is going to come with us cuz I don't think she'll be done with school yet. Yeah, that sounds perfect to me. I know you're up. I just

09:03 Sorry.

09:07 There's a dog here.

09:18 I forgot the dog, isn't there.

09:22 Okay. Well, I would love to go to Europe and travel around that would be okay. But somebody else miss the other day, you know, with my career goals. Like what are we after every after artistic satisfaction money? Same notoriety. What are your personal artistical? I think? Artistic satisfaction. We have to interpret ourselves and there's no recordings of it and we worked directly with composer sometimes and if so, it's intellectually challenging for me. And then the Performing aspect is also a challenge kiss.

10:14 Just performing in front of an audience for me. It's I get nervous if I feel unprepared and I really want to be super prepared and I want people to enjoy what we're doing to stop. This is not just my artistic satisfaction. I want people to enjoy what we're doing, but we're presenting to them.

10:34 I think I get I think I Echo all of those things but I also get a lot of satisfaction about doing a service for the composers that we play their music up. Because as a composer, it's not always guaranteed that you will ever in your lifetime, get a performance of some of the works that you play that you write. So, you know, just kind of like spreading their music I think is great. So like for example, we have a concert tonight and to the pieces on there are going to be World. Premiers. They've never been played before which is really important. But then some of the other composer on the program they have had their piece played by other Duos cello piano Duos, but I think those second third fourth performances of work are even more important than the first most interesting to see cuz we have a performance tonight and then we're going to repeat to the pieces out of performance in August.

11:31 So we'll see how we feel about that. There's a couple of pieces that we've played a gazillion times, but we never want to play again, but we know them really well and we could work them up pretty fast, but that actually, for me since College actually, even since before college and has been a huge part of music for me, is the repetition. I think it comes from like having certain albums as a high-schooler and listening to them over and over again, whether it was like Depeche Mode or Brahms piano concerto, I would just listen to them so much and might have them memorized in my mind and I think a lot of people do that people's normal way of understanding music is just to listen to it a million times. And so I actually had a friend in graduate school in Minneapolis that we had this dream to create a radio station, that was dedicated to contemporary music.

12:31 I'll let you know 1900 and on so that like you could hear.

12:38 Sandburg, Circle Antonov 10 times in the space of a month or something like that is really start to understand it cuz I feel like with probably more than a few exceptions, a piece of music that seems at the beginning. It's really hard to understand or hard to Listen to If you were to just simply listened to it like 10 or 15 times, of course, you anyway, that's like one of the things I enjoy about doing music and doing it over and over again or you realize something that you can play in. Correct? This whole time being the same piece.

13:27 And I'm

13:31 Since we are here because of a block of interviews being done for your taxi. I think I'm personally pretty proud that we all sin and I participated as a duo in the first year. Taxi Festival back in 2016, which show came like a really tumultuous time. I think for both of us in our lives. I was going through a divorce and experiencing being a single parent for the first time. And I'm going to be like that performance was actually either the first or the second weekend that I didn't have my kids with me since they were born. So that's a very like significant marker and my brain until now to be doing your text me again. Like 5 years later.

14:22 Is like it's a whole new whole different world as a whole new world, different world very different than they were and celebrates the Chicago music scene, but and Chicago musicians, but neither of us are actually from Chicago. So, where are you from? I'm from California, but I took back the long and winding road to get to Chicago lived in lots of other places I lived in

14:54 I grew up in the Bay Area. Went to school in Southern California. Then went to graduate school Minneapolis. Then I live for a year in Argentina. Then I moved from Argentina to Germany and was there for two and a half years and then finally came to Chicago like 12 years ago. In 2008.

15:14 Yeah, and you are from New York, that's not from Long Island, and I've also lived many places in my life. So I went to school Upstate New York, then. I'm back to Long Island. Then I went to the Exotic land of Wichita, Kansas.

15:38 Don't I don't think so. Sorry. And then I moved to Chicago the first time I moved to Chicago and 94 didn't know anybody, but I found a lot of musicians to play to play with. And then I moved back to New York for a little bit to teach and earn money for the cello. And then I'm back to Chicago and stayed in 97. And yeah, I found it. I could have stayed in New York, but I think it would be harder to be a musician and the teacher, cuz you can only do one of the others are so much bigger there.

16:19 Takes more time to travel around. I don't, Chicago is very condensed, but still a lot of creativity, a lot of creative folks and a lot of great musicians to work with. So I really, really glad that I wound up in Chicago at the Center for the Arts in the United States, but I feel like Chicago has all the same things going on, but more manageable.

16:50 I like it here. I also just being from the coast and living with the ocean, like the salt water and the Sharks and seaweed and stuff are being by the lake. It's so nice because you don't have any salt to deal with. You don't have any sharks to worry about there. Might be some plants in the water, but nothing like the seaweed. I love swimming in the ocean. Isle of all the creepy creatures.

17:25 The Atlantic. I don't think he's not in New York. But like the first time I ever swam in the Atlantic Ocean was in Argentina. So that's like south of the Equator different story, but I was like, I couldn't understand that. It was the ocean and it was also the one. Yeah, that's not

17:50 Now, you need to come out to our summer house.

17:55 Tell me what it was, like learning your instruments. I do remember I first Play The Cello and third grade. When I was seven and I learned in school and now I'm a teacher who teaches kids of the beginners. So I never meant to I remember exactly what it was like. So I do, I do the same sort of lessons that I had when I was growing up group lessons and then it just came kind of kind of naturally to me and then I got the private lessons and just join the orchestra has or seem like 7 different orchestras all the time and just was very social and I just get better and better the more time you put into it. So you remember

18:39 Spending a lot of time, practicing every single day, or does it just have him sit down when you were playing?

19:00 Yeah, that's funny. Cuz my daughter Elsa cake takes violin and she's like, I just sit down please. How about you do remember? Oh, yeah. I took lessons from this old lady who I kind of did it on the side, and my Burr. Her garage door was painted with an ocean scene. And then she said, we're like lining the her door and she was a terrible teacher. She didn't teach me how to write the notes, you know, I, that's why I remember like things about her house. Remember she had a dog, that was an Afghan. It was confusing. Cuz she also said, Afghans on her couch that she had crochet.

19:46 I remember I always tell my students, the story that when she showed me, what a fermata is and she's got to do is hold the note as long as you want. And I said, okay, so I'm going to hold it for 20 counts that all my goodness. I'm just going to go to the kitchen and get a glass of milk. I'll be back when you're done County 20-count.

20:05 I think it's funny story. But what I really remember was being frustrated that I couldn't read the notes and I quit and then I had

20:17 Time away from the piano. And then I started again in 4th grade with our school choir teacher who taught piano lessons on the side and she kind of whip me into shape. She said, you know, if you're going to do piano, you're going to have to backtrack learn the notes. This is 4th grade. You had to backtrack. Yeah, maybe third. And then I ate but then I did really well. And I kind of surpassed her. She said, okay, I can't teach you anymore, cuz I'm not really a Pianist choir teacher. So she passed me off to her friend who I got really good. And then that coincided with the time when I have my World opened up to, you know, series composers, and then I was kind of not, she was giving me an option. So I transferred finally to a good teacher, my senior year in high school, and he basically got me ready to audition.

21:15 And then, when I was in college, I had to re Edition cuz I was only accepted on probation that I Really Work Hard. The first semester.

21:25 What do you mean your World opened up?

21:30 Well, in a nutshell it was a boy. Who was it? Who I met that was a Pianist like really talented but kind of a wunderkind kind of boy, but we were kind of like, you know, we liked each other is, as you do when you're like 16 or 17. I don't know if you could even call it dating and he was he was really flashy and fabulous on the piano. I remember, he played will see one of your teachers other students know he was

22:03 The friend of my best friend's boyfriend. So, and he always played the Chopin Nocturne in F-sharp minor start unlocking it. No Polonaise in F-sharp minor. That was like his one piece that he just played the heck out of it. And I was like, you know, I looked at him with stars in my eyes and I started getting into Chopin also enlist and and then I just kind of took it and ran with it. It's actually really tragic. He was very troubled person and I believe we lost touch after a couple years and I believe he may have committed suicide because I did find our whole with his name. That was a Pianist who lived in that area.

22:49 And that's all the information, I know.

22:57 I don't know. I know you have dated musicians before and have you had a good experience, like being romantically involved with a fellow musician, know, they understand that you have to spend, you do a lot of time practicing so they don't mind when you're not available for 6 hours in the day neither that it works out. So I can relate to people who are musicians more than

23:32 I don't know, only ever dated one person who wasn't a musician. Dating life.

23:41 Better. This particular person.

23:46 Couldn't understand how much time between the appreciate it music, but they didn't understand like how much time it takes to really keep your skills going and learn the new music and how much rehearsal time there is. So it's just easier to talk to people. Who are you doing? I'm practicing it. Oh my gosh, you're so dedicated. Like they think it's something unusual cuz it for an unconditioned. It is unusual maybe to spend some time practicing, but if you are a musician and its course, you know,

24:25 Something for people who are not in that zone. It is kind of them or something hard to understand. I don't understand what you do with your time. I had more time for actually because I cuz I am either practicing or composing or organizing music events all the time. I don't have what type of I don't do well with the music in the background. Like, if I'm doing something active, like, running or cleaning the house, I listen to music, but if I'm trying to type or write an email to read a book, I can maybe have music going 24/7, but

25:24 Nope, actually, drives me crazy. When I go to my parents house. My mom has country music going 24/7. Have you ever lived anywhere where the neighbors would complain about your practicing? Now? I'm very lucky. I think just, I mean, I try not to practice early in the morning. But I mean, I have got enough to practice. Like when my daughter was really small, I would get up in practice at like 5 and then go to work and then I have to practice early but now I was I've been lucky with in Minneapolis when I was in graduate school, the girl underneath me just hated me. She was like,

26:20 She would to put signs on my door cuz I would I didn't even really practice at home all that much, but we had a couple students that would come here and there. Yeah, mostly practice the practice rooms, but she yeah, she did a real piano or keyboard obsolete company called fire brothers. And when I came time to sell it I sold it so easily as such a great piano and loved it. And then I had it in Minneapolis. I had a grand piano that I had inherited from my grandfather. And I really liked that. You know, I had it was like in the family but I couldn't sell it. Nobody wanted. It was a really bad piano piano. Yeah, finally did the technician tuner like took it off my hands for like, $300.

27:16 Or maybe I had to pay him three hundred movies around and do all this stuff. Like I feel like again having a mobile instrument is such a blessing traveling with a major pain in the butt. I hate it so much. I thought I'd never to do it again, but I might be a seat that has to be in the first row by the window. So is really only two places I can go on any plane and he said that the one time he was in the Braska, they like took the whole thing out there putting like cameras inside like I was smuggling drugs in it or something. I don't know why.

28:14 That was so strict in Nebraska. They have like a lot of drugs going through there under the plane, which I hate to do cuz they always it's you, it's so big and they would still they must have to go through some extra effort to put it on the luggage carrier, but I'm always like, bracing myself for it to come out on the the luggage carousel. And then when it does I freaked out and it's not pretty well. I don't know. I haven't had too many positive experiences with it came out. Broken like a snapped off my other. Oh my God. That was not fun.

29:09 If what year was that? I don't know.

29:15 I guess 94. So is this your Forever? Cello? We don't I guess I might get one of those carbon fiber ones break. So how about artistically what would you like us to do in the future? Like, how how would you like our Duo 2 development isikli?

29:38 Well, I like that we've been getting into improvising together which is unusual for a two classically-trained playing cello and piano and performance. But I really like how we started the improvising.

29:55 And I'd like to do more with that learn more about that. And I see the kind of music. I like, I think we have different tastes in music, which is good and bad cuz we have there is programs but there are you like

30:11 You like the more tonal music you make that serve. I like them or kind of Adventure is out there kind of.

30:22 Experimenting with sound kind of pieces. What do you think? I actually think that it's not so much the harmonies. It's the Rhythm. I am focused on that. So much, in my teaching. I felt like every damn. I just get the Rhythm. I don't care about the notes. Just get there. Let me know. And you know that I'm sure if I'm working with you, but it's something that I have found in in modern music is that I feel like if there's a rhythm that's like understandable or a beat, that's followable. I can get a lot more engaged in these pieces that are like a lot more free form where the temple is changing every to measure and stuff like that. It's harder for me to stay.

31:14 Connected, I guess.

31:18 As a listener, so I think it's really more than the rhythms that attract me then other ones. So but as far as I was concerned.

31:30 I mean, immediate goals. I would love to make another CD. I think we're have that in the works a little bit.

31:39 And touring would be wonderful. I think overall to be more invited to do things rather than like putting ourselves up and treating things for ourselves. Do, that would be nice to have other people managing.

31:57 Commotion. And

32:08 Make Mister window.

32:14 I also like if if some of the composer's that we've worked this weird till I come back and say, hey, we're going to write a piece for you. That would be really exciting.

32:34 When you were younger, what did you imagine? That your career would be, or how your career would be like, did your pictures off like this as a teacher and performer and Mom and everything that you're doing so much? So,

32:53 You're never done. I feel that way too. As a musician. You're never never done. You can't turn it off and just

33:01 And you have to call it. Time and some point during the day, but there's always something that's left to be done. But how did you envision your career?

33:14 Well, there was a time where like I wanted to be like Lang Lang or you know, something like that. You don't want to just because they're typing but that ship sailed in her when I was five and didn't take but it took me a long time to

33:37 In the cards.

33:40 So,

33:41 Then with the composing thing. Again, you know, there's this dream that somebody is going to say, okay. I'm going to pay you a living wage, you know, whatever that I'm not even to say a dollar amount but a living wage to write music. And then also it just doesn't happen. And so it's, I don't know about, I don't know if I had any Vision. I mean, that I think there are maybe composers who can do that, but they're very few in number compared to how many composers are are in the world. True working with the composer who he has an agent and we have to, we had a grant so that he can write a piece for us in the grand. I'm sure is like just

34:22 Nothing to do and he's an Asian. He's in Los Angeles music for TV shows and video games. I mean, would you would you write for that kind of style? Or would you rather write how you want to write? That's why I'm headed in that direction because I don't really want to write for extraneous. Things that aren't they don't speak to me. Don't speak to my sensibility or my emotions, or my intellect or something. I don't know. I mean, I have written for some before a couple things that you've played and before that as well.

35:04 And there's parts of it that I like in parts of it, that I don't, like, guys, out for me. I feel like we should highlight music for musician and a film takes the emphasis off the music so much because people get engaged visually primarily in the music, is there in the background and I like music to be in the foreground. So, what if it was your job? Like, if somebody offers you like jingle writing job. You do it. And then as a money-making thing and then do your artistic music for yourself on the side or do you write under a pseudonym?

35:52 Are you getting a fax? No, one of the kids had no idea.

36:03 And it doesn't matter. What about you? Would you like to join an orchestra? And like if you got a spot in the CSO would be up at this point. It's probably all the time. That's part of what I want to do. I love playing the orchestra. Would you give up teaching?

36:37 Teaching for you. Is it more of a money maker? Also I do unfortunately. Yes. My mom was not going to. Let me major in music unless I got a degree as well. So I had a double major and so it's realistic. You needs at the money making part in your artistic part and I always thought my career that way and I really enjoyed my teaching job is great. I love it. So,

37:04 Don't get me wrong that I don't like it. That I would quit in the second. You do realize I said it's it's hard and then it's hard work and it's not that I would like to be able to focus on one thing over another, that's all seem possible right now. Winning lottery would help but I don't even play the lottery.

37:41 This is fun to talk about things that we don't usually have time to sit down and talk about it. I know that I didn't know about you even though he's been intimately playing music in over 5 years. I also feel like I feel like we could talk a lot more after the concert tonight. We're going to get a drink actual bar cuz they're open. Now. You have to be masked up your distance and we can see each other smile. It's very nice to know that we survived.

38:26 It was really her either, as a musician, you know, teacher in the last year has been so demanding on all of us, you know, resting to new formats in every aspect of life.

38:45 I think we're done.