Month: June 2010 (page 1 of 2)

Musical Musings: The Facets of Music

I see live music as having intertwining yet distinct facets:  Music as Performance, Music as Personal Expression, and Music as Communication, and Music as Community. People who are drawn to open musical spaces are often pursuing one of these experiences. These are not categories that are meant to divide or discriminate – one event or piece of music could be one or all of these.  It is a wonderful musical phenomenon to achieve them all.

Music as performance

If it takes 10,000 hours to master a given skill, then the performer demonstrates this mastery.  The technical proficiency and confidence are something to admire and appreciate – a result of talent and dedication to their art.  We’ve experienced it: the orchestra that sounds like one living entity, the unbelievable guitar solo, the perfect vocal harmonies – these performers keep you in their thrall until the last note.  This is the artist, the person as fluent in the language of music as the poet is with words.  Musicians often use an open stage opportunity to test their mettle as a performer.  Given the diversity represented at these events, listeners never know when they might be treated to a musical gem.

Music as personal expression

From a simple song to a complex orchestral composition, music has long been used to convey emotion, tell stories, capture historical events and cultural imperatives.  The urge to express heartache or joy finds its way again and again into song – think of blues or gospel.

Personally, I have found song writing to be a cathartic experience.  An idea or event that has me preoccupied will find its way into a song.  For a while I feel the need to sing it a lot, giving it life, venting the emotion.  After a while it loses its “heat” – I still love the melody, the words still resonate with me but I don’t have to relive the passion that gave rise to the song everyone time I sing it (so I can sing it without crying!).

One of the beautiful things about live music events that feature original songwriting is how personal each song is.  Each person has a story to tell and the lyrics might make us cry or chuckle or give us pause to think but they all add a dimension to the tapestry that describes our lives.

Music as communication

Watching the communication between musicians is one of the pleasures of live music.  Playing together requires listening while performing, a simultaneous give and take, merge and contrast, harmony and counterpoint – a real life example of the whole being more than the sum of the parts.

And of course there is the communication with an audience.  If this was a dispensable part of the process we’d just stay home and play music in the living room.  For some, it’s the challenge of really nailing a song at one go, or the boost we get from our listeners’ appreciation and feedback.  Or it can be a way to share our ideas (political, ideological songs) or enthusiasm for a certain artist (favourite covers).

Music as community

Music builds community in the very basic way of people coming together to share a common interest.  People who play music together form a sort of micro-culture where boundaries are set and rules are accepted: acoustic or amplified, how long each person can play, what kind of music is played, whether encouragement or honest feedback is expected.  Open musical spaces are unique communities where anyone is welcome to play regardless of background.  They provide a place to transcend our day-to-day routines, a place to support each others’ creative endeavours, a place to find and nurture friendship.

If you visit enough open music sessions (open stage or song circle or jam) you will likely experience many facets of music: the magical performance, the window into someone’s personal experience, the exchange of ideas, and the feeling of community that comes from a shared music experience.

Riverfolk, Fergus ON

I didn’t get to visit a new open stage this week – creative energy was being directed to RIVERFOLK in Fergus.  Riverfolk is a showcase of local musical talent which has been held for the second year running along with Fergus’s Artwalk.  The rain moved many events inside or under tents but the creative spirit still shone.  I was lucky enough to participate in a set that celebrated the Fergus Tuesday night jam at Delainey’s:  Originals, traditionals and some songs just for the fun of it.  Hope that this live music festival gathers momentum in its third year next summer!

Delainey's musicians at RiverFolk

Venue: The Groundswell Coffee House, Alliston

This week, Peter (fellow intrepid music explorer) and I traveled to the town of Alliston to visit the Thursday night open mic at the Groundswell Coffeehouse.   This is the first open mic I’ve been to that has been overwhelmingly youth oriented.  Performers and listeners were largely from the under-25 demographic (although there were a few of us representing other generations).   Owner, Janette VanderZaag, says that this has varied from year to year since they started the open stage in 2005.  And this youth has talent: phenomenal piano and guitar; jazz, folk, pop, original compositions.  The music was fun and soulful and definitely had a sense of humour.  I wonder where else you might hear Michael Jackson and Metallica blended seamlessly in one song.  Dave Head was the congenial host of the evening, calling performers up from the sign up list.  Some of the highlights for me: Taylor Whittaker, “3/4 of the band Pistachio”, Tom Somerville, and Grant Boyer.

And I really should mention the snacks: delicious coffee, desserts from Dufflet Bakery and a great local beer from Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery.

Thanks to Janette & Dave for providing the venue for these musicians to shine.  And thanks to everyone who shared their music.

[Groundswell Coffeehouse, 96 Victoria St. W, Alliston; every Thursday 8 pm – sign up starts at 7]

Venue: Irene’s Pub, Ottawa

First Open Stage Adventure road trip – song writing workshop at the Ottawa Folklore Centre followed by a visit to Irene’s Pub where I met up with my daughter.  Genny and I were tickled by the friendly reception and positive feedback on the songs we sang.  We had spotted a young man from our little village (before he spotted us) and I got a chuckle from how fast his head whipped around to face the stage when I mentioned where we were from – I thought he might have a case of whiplash!  Small world.  There were invitations to return, suggestions for other open stages to visit and shared perspectives on why people come to Irene’s.  “If you want to get into playing music this is a place you can test it” said Ryszard.  “Everyone is so appreciative, so forgiving – they love the live music” said Lesle-Ann.  It is a place to leave behind your work week, collaborate with other musicians, relax with friends – and you never know when someone new might show up!

This Saturday afternoon open stage started out in 2000 and had different people running the show over the first few years.  The current host, Geoff Johnson, who has been at the helm for the past 7-8 years, doubles as sound man and also contributes his own dynamic voice and energetic guitar several times throughout the afternoon.

The session is miked and is quite flexible about how many songs each person/ensemble plays (anywhere from 2-6).  The event used to run from 3:00 to 6:00 but now has been extended by an hour (starting at 2:00) to accommodate the increasing number of people who want to participate.  Musicians and listeners drifted in and out of the room which never seemed to fill up – probably because it was such a nice day and there is an adjoining outdoor courtyard.

Host Geoff & friends

To all the folks at Irene’s Pub in Ottawa, thanks for the warm welcome – we had a blast!

[Irene’s Pub, 88 Bank Street, Ottawa, every Saturday 2:00-6:00 pm]

Venue: Elora Acoustic Café

A relative newcomer to the local music scene, the Elora Acoustic Café had its debut on March 5, 2010.  The Elora Centre for the Arts provides a lovely locale with art on the walls, candlelight and a grand piano.  The Centre was once a public school which was saved from demolition (after a modern, larger Elora Public School was built) by a group of local citizens with a vision.  The historic building is now home to dance and photography studios, a youth arts group, regular gallery installations, and many community events, including the Elora Acoustic Café.

Musicians sign up as they arrive and the host, Steve Royall, calls people up to the mic for 2-3 songs.  Part way through the evening there is a half hour feature set by an invited musician and then the open mic continues afterwards.   The feature sets so far have included: Steve Royall & friends, Rich Burnett, and Errol Blackwood.  This week (June 4th)  Peter Mandic was the guest performer.

Peter Mandic

The atmosphere is welcoming and relaxed and the audience is attentive and appreciative.  The first night had such a good turnout organizers had to move some furniture out to make more room for chairs.  In addition to solo performers listeners are often treated to musical collaborations, both planned and spontaneous.  A $5 cover goes to cover costs and includes a tea or coffee. (See the Gallery for more photos)

[Elora Acoustic Café, 75 Melville Street, Elora, 1st Friday each month, 7:30 – 11:00]

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