Music with Minnesotans: David Simmer

by Alison Young, Minnesota Public Radio
December 21, 2011

St. Paul, Minn. — What a gorgeous voice David Simmer has - he could push me aside and take over the microphone for sure, but maybe the real reason would be because of the beautiful way he describes music.

David's work life is as a visual designer and web developer and he says this work allows him to explore the intersection of the creative and the technical.

My favorite composers are those who loved both form and emotion. It's what I attempt to rise to in my design work - attention to structure, but not without a wink and providing some heartfelt pleasure in the details of the finished product.
- David Simmer

And it seems fitting that his first choice in his playlist is a less-than-perfect performance by Martha Argerich. It was live and in the moment and so filled with energy - a "wild ride" as David puts it.

So the fact that she hits a completely open and bald wrong note in the cadenza and then just leaves it on this commercial recording is a testament to what great art is - not always perfect, but something more.

David was homeschooled from second grade through the end of high school, and right from the start listened to classical music. One of his favorite things was a collection of twenty or so cassette tapes, each one composed of music by one composer, spanning the Baroque up to the early modern era. This gave his early listening context and a broad sweep.

His favorite composers are Brahms and Rachmaninov, two who loved both form and emotion, pulling together both the emotional and the rhapsodic. These are composers who work within fairly strict forms and still push the bounds of expression.

As a tri-athlete, David tells me that sometimes getting in the zone he'll hear music that is orchestral, expansive and solemn and maybe even filled with nostalgia. I guess one would expect to get up for that kind of grueling race we'd need the fast, frenetic beat of grunge rock. But many of us are moved by different things and in one race David heard "Nimrod" from Elgar's Enigma Variations, a piece so filled with a calm majesty he says he'd hope that this sort of music would be played at his funeral.

David's not just a listener. He plays piano as well, but pretty much totally from ear. He's slowly been learning to read music, beginning with Yanni and working his way to Beethoven. Now I never expected to put those two musicians in one sentence together! But he is now frequently playing from chord charts and improvises with other musicians, and continues adding to his classical repertoire.

I feel inspired talking to David Simmer who has a "bucket list" of activities he wants to try and he really follows through. This year it's taking up ski jumping, which he says has some similarity to the flying feeling he feels when listening to music.


David Simmer's playlist:

Segei Rachmaninov, Piano Concerto No. 3 - Martha Argerich/Bavarian Radio Orchestra/Chailly

Johannes Brahms, German Requiem: How Lovely is they Dwelling Place - Berlin/Rattle

Edward Elgar, Enigma Variations: Nimrod - Montreal/Dutoit

Maurice Ravel, A Boat on the Ocean - Minoru Nojima

J.S. Bach, Passacaglia and fugue in C Minor - E. Power Biggs


Sam Hiti (pronounced "hee-tee") is my guest next time. He's a cartoonist and creates graphic novels. His playlist tells a musical narrative of winter.

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