Trading 88 keys for two pedals

Musician George Maurer ’88 to honor deceased friend with bike ride across USA

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June 11, 2014

By Mike Killeen

George Maurer '88

Photo: Bill Jones

There are 88 keys and three foot pedals on any piano, all of which George Maurer knows quite well.

But in a few weeks, he'll trade that for 30 speeds and two foot pedals for a cross country bike trip to raise funds to honor a friend who passed away from cancer.

Maurer, a 1988 graduate of Saint John's University and one of Minnesota's top pianists, composers and producers, begins a Seattle to Boston, 3,600-mile bike ride on July 3. It duplicates a trip Carolyn Held, a long-time friend of Maurer's who was married to SJU graduate Pat Held '73, made in 1988. Carolyn Held passed away in October 2012.

"When I get to Boston, I'm personally pushing another 150 miles out to the tip of Cape Cod, to Provincetown, Massachusetts, and dipping my front tire in the Atlantic Ocean. The back tire of the bike is going to start in Puget Sound," Maurer said.

See a video Maurer produced about Carolyn Held's trip, and his upcoming journey.

Award to help fund trip

Maurer recently received a McKnight Artist Fellowship for Composers from the American Composers Forum. Part of the $25,000 in unrestricted funds he received will support his food and shelter on the trip.

"I was going to ask people to help with that portion, but now I don't have to ask," Maurer said. "I can just have them give 100 percent to the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center, and Central Minnesota TEC (Together Encountering Christ), which is a church retreat that Pat and Carolyn and I met on when I was 19. It was something that Carolyn was passionate about, and we wanted to have a memorial in her name for people who knew her from that angle."

Carolyn Held completed her bike ride in 48 days, and finished on her 48th birthday on July 31, 1988. In 2008, on the 20th anniversary of the trip, she wrote a book, "Pedal Pushing Passion," about her trip.

"I'm 48 (years old), and I'm going to set it for 48 days," Maurer said.

July 31 is another significant date this year. It should be the halfway point of Maurer's journey, and he will perform his 25th annual Heldstock concert at the Held home on Lake Shamineau, Minnesota, on what would have been Carolyn's 74th birthday.

Maurer will be plenty busy with his professional life before that. He arranged and scored music for a full symphony orchestra for the nationally touring 1960s's review, "The Midtown Men," which has been performed since 2012. Maurer performs with the Minnesota Orchestra and the Midtown Men on June 20 in Minneapolis, followed by the National Symphony Orchestra on June 27-28 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

"Three days later, I'm on the bike," said Maurer, who will be wearing an SJU bike jersey on his trip.

Getting his start at SJU

It's safe to say that Maurer's musical career began at Saint John's.

"I'd be playing piano late at night up in the practice rooms at Saint John's, and I'd walk out of the studio and there would be students lined up doing homework in the hallway listening to the music because it was quiet and reflective."

That led to Maurer recording his first solo album, "Behind the Pine Curtain," and being touted as a New Age pianist — not entirely to Maurer's liking.

"I was set up at the Edina (Minnesota) Arts Festival, and I had really long hair at that point. This little kid was walking by with his dad, and he stopped his dad and said, 'Hey dad, look, Yanni.' And the dad said, 'No son, not Yanni.' The kid's like, 'Not Yanni?' His dad says no. The kid is like, 'Let's go.'

"I didn't want to be pegged as Yanni. It was a motivator for me to get my jazz chops going."

Looking for a "tribal experience" on stage, he formed the George Maurer Jazz Group. He also leads the George Maurer Trio. He has performed with Eric Clapton, Bobby Vee and the original lead cast of the Tony and Grammy awarded Broadway show, "Jersey Boys."

"You had to use your jazz chops and abilities in your ear, your listening ear, to adapt your playing to different musical styles, if you wanted to be a part of them," Maurer said.

"The variety (musically) has been there because of the ear, the ability to listen," Maurer said. "If you want to tie it back to, 'Listen with the ear of your heart' from Benedict, I think that's not too large a leap to say that you learn how to listen as a musician," Maurer said.

"I feel like I've never really left Saint John's," Maurer said. "I've gone back and given back at every opportunity I can."