Friday, July 25, 2003

Andrew Violette: Composer, Pianist, Monk, Leather Top

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #213, July 25, 2003)

Put three CDs in the changer. Dim the lights. Sit back, relax and, as you listen to his Piano Sonata 7, let composer/pianist Andrew Violette musically top you in an amazing three-hour scene.

Violette’s Piano Sonatas 1 & 7 have been recently released as a 3-CD set by St. Paul-based innova Recordings (innova #587, available at

Violette was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. and attended New York’s High School of Music and Art. He studied at The Juilliard School under such composers as Roger Sessions, Elliott Carter, and Pierre Boulez. He became a freelance musician and then a contemplative Benedictine monk. And somewhere along the way, he became a leather top, as the CD’s photography and graphics clearly show.

Today he is “an unsung maverick among New York composers,” according to The New Yorker. He’s also a virtuoso pianist with stunning technical prowess, amazing endurance and a daring performance style which fellow composer Louise Talma described as “brutalizing the piano.”

When a leather top who has also been a monk writes music, what does it sound like? Philip Blackburn, Senior Program Director at the American Composers’ Forum in St. Paul, describes Violette’s music as “part of a ‘New Mysticism’ school of composition. The music is a spiritual experience to play or to hear. Especially considering the scope and length of Sonata 7, one could say it’s almost more like a ritual than a concert piece.” Blackburn also noted that “If you go to hear Andrew perform Piano Sonata 7 in person, you’re basically submitting to his will for 3 hours”—and, like any good BDSM scene, “it’s ultimately a very rewarding experience.”

At the other end of the spectrum, a friend who overheard part of Piano Sonata 7 as I was listening to it asked the question: “Is that supposed to be music or is he tuning the piano?”

I had the chance to get Violette’s response to that criticism (“Yes, it’s supposed to be music. But I don’t understand why tuning the piano can’t be music too”) and to ask him some other questions as well. When I asked how his background as a monk and as a leather top affects the music he composes and performs, he answered that the monastic life, the SM life, and the life of a composer are all grounded in tradition, discipline, and the paradox of both obedience and seduction. Violette also noted that all three aspects of his life “are countercultural. BDSM is definitely a fringe lifestyle. Being an artist in the United States, particularly a composer who is not an academic, is about as fringe as one can get. Being a monk in this secular society is definitely off the wall.”

One criticism of much of the “serious” (as opposed to “popular”) music composed today is that many people don’t find it “accessible” or “approachable” enough. I asked Violette how “mere mortals,” meaning people who don’t have degrees in music composition, can approach his music. He answered, “Mere mortals must approach this music. We either live or die, we either approach new things or we die of despair. Three hours is not too much to listen to. It’s shorter than Die Gotterdammerung. It’s really about the length of The Godfather or the length of a baseball game. On the other hand, everyone is free to not approach the music or any other piece of art.”

I asked Violette if he thought his music required the listener to really pay attention in order to appreciate it. He didn’t seem to think so—in fact, he seemed not to mind the idea of his music being “background” at all: “I see no reason why Piano Sonata 7 can’t accompany a sumptuous dinner. I see no reason why Piano Sonata 7 can’t be the background meditation for a flogging. But of course any art, from popular art to Etruscan vases, merits an extended look.”

When I asked Violette how one responds constructively to unfavorable comments like the “piano tuning” question—or was it better to ignore them?—Violette’s response was, “I think the question is: Are artistic criteria possible? My answer is that they are not possible in one’s time because one is too close to the process. One cannot separate oneself and one’s prejudicial thinking, hidden agendas—whatever—from one’s times.” He continued by saying that he, his friends, critics, musicians and listeners approach the music in different ways, and each finds their own meaning in it.

But, in the end, Violette feels that “All this counts for nothing. No matter how many grants and awards and commissions an artist gets, it counts for nothing. Even the judgment of the artist himself counts for nothing. That’s the danger of not being a maverick. That’s the danger of being in an artistic system—everyone tells you what a good boy you are, but how do they know? I say nobody can know what a piece means—whether a piece has any value. For all I know I could be writing garbage.

“The only reason to write is to serve God. Whether one’s work is of any value after one is dead has no meaning to the true artist. The true artist writes to exist. The true artist writes because he must. If he didn’t write he would go crazy. He must write even if he’s writing garbage or a masterpiece.”

(For more information or to hear excerpts from Piano Sonata 7 visit <>.)

PHOTO: Andrew Violette

PHOTO CREDIT: Barbara Nitke

Calling All Making Porn Cast Members

Cast members of The Making of Making Porn are requested to contact Chris Zaglifa for an invitation to a private screening on Sunday, July 27 at 6 PM.

Making Porn,” says Zaglifa, director and producer, “was a local affair showing Minneapolis’ uninhibited men enjoying themselves in BDSM and kink play.” The world premiere of The Making of Making Porn is scheduled late this summer, at which time the whole leather and kink community will be able to view and enjoy it.

Friday, July 11, 2003

New Social Outlets: MN Storm and MAsT

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #212, July 11, 2003)

Say hello to two additions to Twin Cities leather life: a new pansexual leather club, Minnesota Storm Patrol (MN Storm for short) and a new local chapter of a national organization, Masters And slaves Together (MAsT).

Minnesota Storm Patrol

According to MN Storm spokesman Jim Randall, the Twin Cities now has “a leather club for the 21st century.” The club had its first meeting on April 5 of this year and became a Minnesota non-profit organization on June 12. The club plans to pursue affiliation with MACC (Midwest Area Council of Clubs) at the Fall MACC meeting in St. Louis.

MN Storm started life with twelve founding troopers (full members) and has already added their first guard (associate member). The club is pansexual, with no gender or sexual-orientation requirements for membership.

Club spokesman Randall describes MN Storm as “New Guard, but still respecting Old Guard principles and ideals.” The club’s values statement is expressed in the acronym LDRSHIP, which stands for Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless-Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage.

Minnesota Storm has already established connections with other regional leather groups including The KC Pioneers of Kansas City and The Corn Haulers, a leather/levi club based in Des Moines, Iowa. The Corn Haulers recently hosted members of Minnesota Storm at an event held at the Blazing Saddles bar in downtown Des Moines. (That event went so well that The Corn Haulers are planning to invite all midwestern leather clubs to the first-ever Midwest Leather Pride celebration, to be held in Des Moines August 2; you’ll find more details at

The club has also established ties with the Minneapolis Eagle and plans to hold fundraising beer busts at the Eagle the second Saturday of each month, from 5 to 8 PM, starting in August. The club plans to raise funds for AIDS-related charities.

The club’s full name, Minnesota Storm Patrol, has already raised some eyebrows, as has the fact that the club’s membership nomenclature describes full members as “troopers.” Randall is quick to point out that “There is no German connection to the club’s name. We go toward the image of law enforcement—like a SWAT team—as opposed to Nazi. We’re definitely not a hate organization.”

For more information, especially if you might be interested in being a recruit (MN Storm’s name for a pledge), e-mail or write to Minnesota Storm Patrol, Minneapolis MN. (A website is under construction at

MAsT (Masters And slaves Together)

Founded in 1988, Masters And slaves Together (MAsT) is a national organization that exists as a support group for individuals involved in, or interested in, the Master/slave or Dominant/submissive lifestyle. According to their website, “It is an opportunity and forum for like-minded individuals to come together for discussion of issues that concern Masters and slaves, to share ideas and gain/share knowledge of the Master/slave lifestyle.”

MAsT currently has 15 local chapters across the country—and if Bud Peehl has anything to say about it, Minneapolis/St. Paul will be one of the next chapters added to the list. Peehl is heading up the drive to get a MAsT chapter established in the Twin Cities. A first organizational meeting of the Twin Cities local chapter has already been held, and seven prospective members are already involved. (According to Peehl, “None of the local chapters are real large—Chicago’s local chapter has about 25 members.”) A second organizational meeting will be held July 22 at 7pm (e-mail for meeting location or more information). After the organizational meetings, the plan is to apply to the national organization and become a local chapter.

The national MAsT organization is pansexual, but local chapters vary; to cite some examples, the chapters in Phoenix and Philadelphia define themselves as pansexual, while Chicago and Boston are open to gay males and San Francisco’s chapter is “mostly Gay & Lesbian.” The Twin Cities chapter is being organized as a chapter for gay and bi men—not to be exclusionary, but because the Twin Cities already has pansexual resources (through local BDSM group TIES) for those into the Master/slave or Dominant/submissive scenes. The Twin Cities chapter of MAsT is therefore not competing with the TIES subgroups, but is rather filling a niche that up to now has not been filled.

Meetings provide opportunities for topics of interest to be presented and discussed, and also provide time for making introductions and announcements, conducting business and socializing. During meetings all members are equal—the Dominant/submissive protocol is suspended so slaves can speak their mind freely. Meeting participants agree to hold confidential anything discussed during general or group sessions, and Dominants are not allowed to order any submissive, including their own, to discuss or divulge information or content of a submissive group session.

These meeting rules are reflective of one of the group’s philosophies: in Peehl’s words, “Dominance with caring. It’s not about the Master taking and the slave only giving. It’s a 50/50 relationship where each person, Master and slave, is satisfied and fulfilled. Same coin, opposite sides.”

For more information about the national Masters And slaves Together organization and the current local chapters, visit