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Rich O'Donnell seems like a complicated man. Over the past fifty years, O'Donnell has headed the non-profit New Music Circle, held the principal percussionist chair in the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, invented countless percussion instruments and synthesizers, and curated before-their-time local performances by international avant-garde heroes such as John Zorn, Kronos Quartet and Philip Glass. Yet when O'Donnell and his wife, Anna Lum, parted ways with the New Music Circle last year and formed the HEARding Cats Collective, his reasons were relatively simple.
"They just said, 'We're running out of time in this point in our careers to deal with board conflicts. We just want to produce shows and support artists,'" says the collective's press liaison, Ryan Harris. "So they walked away from all the money they had raised over the years and started a new organization. Now we can just do things the way we want to."
The four-piece HEARding Cats Collective (which also includes fellow ex-New Music Circle member Mike Murphy) is a unique organization bred from a mutual love for forward-thinking music. In fact, the fascination Harris has for the art is matched only by his respect for O'Donnell and Lum. "We're a nonprofit, so Rich and Anna are funding most of this out of their pockets," he says, "which shows their dedication and belief in the importance of artists who invent and redefine music and get people to think about music in new ways."
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The group has found such a musician in Ravish Momin, a percussionist and composer who melds Western improvisational jazz concepts and experimental electronic manipulations with the complex rhythmic and harmonic motifs of Middle Eastern music with his Trio Tarana. HEARding Cats will sponsor the Trio's upcoming performance at Kranzberg Arts Center. Harris makes his enthusiasm for Momin obvious — "There's really not anybody in the world doing this kind of music" — but he understands the inherent financial limitations involved with promoting such an artist.
"There isn't a market for this sort of music. It's not something a lot of people have the headspace for or even care about," he says right before dropping our interview's most unexpected name. "Ravish recently did some recording with Shakira. I don't know much about her, but to be able to play highly disciplined, abstract music but also be valuable enough for a commercial producer to take interest says a lot about him."
HEARding Cats may not expect fans of Latin American pop divas to flock to Ravish Momin's Trio Tarana show, but the intellectual and emotional impact of his music has potential to cross familiar boundaries.