What’s The Como-tion? A Delve Into Musical Escapades of Robert Como
March 23, 2023
You get to construct a good amount of your life, there’s an awful lot of things you have to do and obligations, but you get to choose the worlds you get into and the games you play.”
— Robert Como
When I was wrapping up my interview with Mr. Como, he told me he wanted to leave off on a message; He told me he wanted to inspire the readers, especially Morton’s student populous, to understand the control they have over their lives, and inspire them to take advantage of it. By listening to his story, I believe I have come to a deeper understanding of this message. For many things, it is simply enough to be told why something is or isn’t beneficial, (e.g. don’t put your hand on a hot stove, breathe air, etc.) however, for some things, examples are required to truly understand the extent of the advice. While I do not intend to make Mr. Como out to be a herculean hero, in fact, he is quite modest about his genuinely impressive dedication, I do think an illustrative example of a life spent to its fullest, that being simply making the most out of every day life, is important to everyone- not just students. Although this story is split into three separate sections, feel free to use the menu bar on the top right to freely peruse the story as you please. Without further ado, here is Robert Como.
Who is Robert Como?
Robert Como, otherwise known to the student populous as “Mr. Como,” is, to no one’s surprise, a teacher at Morton West. He was born in Addison, and was raised in Oak Park. He currently teaches American History, formerly teaching its AP counterpart, AP US Government and Politics, and AP Microeconomics. Initially coming to Morton to pursue an administration role, his motivation behind teaching is simply enjoying it. By taking a class of his, it is very clear he is interested in the topics he teaches and wishes to spread this appreciation and understanding of them to others.
In his free time, Como is an avid reader. Although he reads an exceptionally general swath of literature, he has noted that he seems to flip flop between reading fiction and non-fiction for large periods of time. His non-fiction reading list typically consists of economic, philosophic, and historical books. Inversely, fiction also holds a huge place in his heart; when he was younger, he had a spell where he would mainly read Shakespeare’s works. He emphasizes that reading is a skill, but not a burden. When the topic of reading is excited, he tends to hearken back to the words of one of his college professors: “You can read the first 40 pages of a book and stop reading. At that point, the main themes and concepts have been introduced, and you can decide to drop it.” With this mindset, he encourages others (and himself) to go back and reread books you’ve read before.
After initially going to college to pursue his dream of becoming a professional musician, he realized that he was, “good but not great,” leading him to pursue other career paths. Upon graduation, he began pursuing a political science degree, and then attended law school. He worked at a trial firm for two years before deciding he didn’t enjoy it, and promptly quit. Due to his unique circumstances, IIT gave Como every aptitude test they had. One of his highest scores, or his greatest matches, was being a teacher. He initially took the job with the intention of transitioning to administrative work, but has continued to teach due to his passion for the job. When asked for his motivation and how long he wished to continue, he stated that he wishes to teach, “as long as it’s interesting.”
During our interview, Mr Como noted that his favorite band in high school was Deep Purple, an English rock band that initially formed as a psychedelic rock band and grew to be recognized as one of the three main bands responsible for heavy metal, alongside Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Furthermore, he enjoys classic rock and the more experimental fusion-jazz inspired rock of the early to mid 70s which incorporated brass instruments. On that note, when asked for his favorite musician currently, the closest answer he felt appropriate was Chick Corea, a jazz pianist who was influential in jazz-fusion’s birth. He is an extremely influential jazz artist, winning 27 Grammy Awards, creating many songs considered jazz standards, and appearing alongside other influential artists on landmark albums, such as Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, considered one of the best jazz albums ever released and partly responsible for the aforementioned genre of jazz rock. While his work isn’t exclusively jazz fusion, the influence of the genre, such as explicitly incorporating elements of the genre and its progenitors in his compositions, it is undeniable that it has greatly influenced said work.
When he was eight, Como moved into Oak Park. When he walked through the front door and into the dining room, he noticed a large piano. His interest in it lead him to beg his parents for piano lessons, which eventually worked. These lessons lead him on a path of interest in music, which he continued into his middle school and high school career, where he also learned how to play percussion instruments: namely drums. When he was in the eighth grade, Como was enrolled in an Champaign music camp, where he met Wayne Burghardt, who would grow to be one of his closest friends and bandmates. Burghardt, a self-proclaimed composer of classical symphonic music, and Como both write and compose their own music, alongside their friends and bandmates. Burghardt’s website, http://wburghardt.com, claims that the original Dead City Planners had written over 50 songs during their initial run. Over the years, these songs have been remastered, reinterpreted, and played under different monikers and related bands. Continue reading to see some of these bands.
Dead City Planners – Mid-80s
Formed in the mid-eighties, the original Dead City Planners formed with Robert Como, Wayne Burghardt, and John Budz at its core, supplemented by a rotating cast of bass players. Como and Burghardt wrote a majority of the 50 original songs written for the band, with Budz contributing a few songs of his own, mainly influencing and aiding in the composure and performance of Como and Burghardt’s music.
Texas Sessions 2000 – May 2000
In 1996, Burghardt and Budz (not to be confused with their joint musical act, “Burghardt & Budz”) formed a band called Texas Sessions during an extended camping trip in Austin, Texas. Joined by Steward Cundy, the band has written and performed their own original songs, specifically for the band. In May of 2000, the band got back together in Texas to make some new music, however, during the summer, Como was invited to play and actually wrote a song for the first time in ten years. He added drum tracks to the songs recorded in Texas, and additionally played the keyboard on the track, Forty. Burghardt edited and produced all the songs during these sessions using Cakewalk by Bandlab.
Texas Sessions 2001 – February 2001
The new Texas Sessions band, now fully integrating Como, began a project to record old Dead City Planners songs, owing their higher quality to better equipment and experience. On this album, unofficially dubbed (Raised From) The Dead City Planners, four of the eighteen songs are newer versions of some of Como’s older music, and eight of the eighteen are new songs composed by either Burghardt or Budz.
Polar Vortex – 2014
Although this band has existed since Como was in high school, it was only in 2014 that it was officially named. As the descriptions of songs on Como’s page state, such as this one, they were inspired by the discussion of the polar vortex which had descended onto Chicago at the time. If you want to hear his earliest band perform some of his oldest songs, they’re worth a listen.
Harvard Instruments of Peace – 2015
In 2015, Como wrote and composed songs for a church band entitled the Harvard Instruments of Peace, or simply as HIP. In the description of a video in which the band performs the four songs he created, he explains, “‘A Journey of Faith’ presents the pros and cons of religious thought. The first two songs, ‘A World Without God,’ are critical of religion and embrace hedonism. ‘I Want More’ reflects on a better life than merely pursuing pleasure. ‘Living Water’ and ‘Choose to Believe’ embrace Christianity and the religious life. I offer these songs as food for thought for anyone contemplating religion on their life journey.”
EX + 1 – 2017
Formed in 2017, Ex + 1 was Como’s most recent, dedicated band. It, of course, featured Burghardt, alongside Morton West’s Steve Sofferman and Jaime Woods. It was the most recent iteration of the project Burghardt and Como began in 2001 during the Texas Sessions. Although the band hasn’t fundamentally split or changed its vision, it has rebranded, solely because the name was difficult to remember.
Dead City Planners – 2021
In 2021, Como and Burghardt reclaimed the Dead City Planners moniker once more. After a short hiatus following their rebranding from Ex + 1 in 2019, the band remained dormant over 2020, until Burghardt got sick. This was the moment Como describes as pushing him to go, “let’s do this.” Sofferman remained in the band as a guitarist, but with the leave of Woods, the band introduced Tom Henniger and Morton’s Jim Wallace. Their first album was recorded and produced by the engineers at Berwyn Recording.
The End of the Empire (And Other Love Songs)
When asked about the band’s debut album, Como expresses great pride in the band’s work, “we couldn’t have made a better first album.” For him, the most important parts of making and performing music are the realization of his music, so he can finally finalize and realize ideas that he has had stewing in his mind for years, as well as an appreciation for composing and performing, especially as a collective with his fellow bandmates. “I am pleased that I have been able to get other people in the world to play my music,” he explains, “There’s not a lot of other people who do, but there are a few!”
Raised From the Dead City Planners
As stated earlier, during the run of the original Dead City Planners, Como and Burghardt themselves wrote almost 50 tracks, not to mention the songs they’ve written in the time since then, providing them with a large repertoire of material which to perform. Como speculates that the band has two to three albums of content ready in the backlog to polish. Utilizing the experience gained from creating The End of the Empire, Como expects to create a better album and is optimistic about the band’s future. Recording of the new album is set to begin recording in June and will feature Como on piano for two tracks.