Today was a perfect day for strolling tree lined streets listening to live music and the Grand Porch Party was the place to do it! How it works:Residents of the neighbourhood just west of Waterloo Square are recruited to volunteer their porches as temporary musical venues. Then performers are matched with porches and – voilá! – an afternoon of music for all to enjoy.
I don’t know what the estimated attendance was but there were significantly more people congregating in the streets than there were at the inaugural event in 2011. Another change for the better was that there was an attempt to stagger performances that were close to each other. This helped avoid the unfortunate occurrence of one act competing with the sound of another.
The performers were diverse: from the young rock ‘n’ rollers of Adrian Jones Music School to the more mature players of the Grand River New Horizons Music, from solo performers like Ian Reid and Maleidoscope to ensembles like the Ever Lovin’ Jug Band, the music was diverse and intriguing. In addition to the themes of local music and community building, there is an environmental thread to the Grand Porch Party. The event is held on Canadian Rivers Day and each year there is an “eco-partner” (this year: Community Car Share).
The concept of making a residential neighbourhood into a public music space is an appealing one. In fact, another KW community launched a similar event in May (Hohner Avenue Porch Party & Picnic). Wouldn’t it be great to see these initiatives springing up everywhere? Until that happens, I hope to be back for the 2014 rendition of the Grand Porch Party.
The last time I took a songwriting workshop I told myself I wasn’t going to do any more courses on how to write songs. It isn’t that I don’t learn things, but the biggest lesson I always take home is that I just need to spend more time with my music. There are no tricks for making songs fall out of the sky or sprout from the ground, no shortcuts to a song I would really love to sing.
But then I came across a course offered by the Berklee College of Music through an on-line educational initiative called Coursera. Coursera partners with universities from around the world to make personal and professional development accessible to more people. An incredible range of courses is available – from agriculture to politics to science to songwriting – and they’re all free.
Pat Pattison, author of How to Write Better Lyrics, is the teacher. He is featured in a series of short lectures that focus on one detail of a song. There are simple quizzes embedded into these lectures to help you pay attention. Longer quizzes use the work of established artists (Bonnie Raitt, Paul Simon, among others) to illustrate song structure and technique.
Pattison acknowledges that when songs just come to us out of the blue, flashes of inspiration, bursts of spontaneous creativity, it is a wonderful thing. But that isn’t the only way to craft a song. Each section has an assignment designed to let us try out a particular technique, developing tools for song composition. Pattison claims at the end of one of his lessons: “And that is the cure for writer’s block.”
One innovative element of the course which I like (but is getting mixed reviews from participants) is peer review. Once you have submitted an assignment, the next step is to critique (as constructively as possible) assignments from 5 or more virtual classmates. I like this strategy as it deepens the experience of the exercise by seeing how other people approached it. I also like that we are interacting with each other, not just with the course platform or even the instructor.
Another place where participants interact is the Forum page. Just in the introductions I counted a couple dozen countries (Australia, Spain, Nicaragua, Phillipines, Russia, Brazil just to name a few) and people ranging from 15-61 years of age. Although there are thousands of people registered in the course, forums help connect people in similar geographical regions, or with similar interests or desire for collaboration. A small Ontario contingent is going to meet for coffee next week.
The last two assignments ask us to write and revise a song using the tools introduced in the course, showing our steps along the way. So if you’ll excuse me I have some homework to do . . .
What a great way to foster a sense of community and bring music into the streets! The Grand Porch Party recruited more than 20 acts to play on porches over several blocks of uptown Waterloo.
The rain stayed away so listeners could comfortably stroll from one porch performance to another, the strains of one musician often just fading as sounds of another came into range. There were places for children to experiment with making music and homemade instruments. Volunteers staffed information tables for people to learn more about the Grand River watershed and the host organization of the whole event, Alternatives Journal. The Swim Drink Fish music club was also promoting a music approach to environmental awareness and networking.
In addition to the musical guests who were booked to perform there seemed to be some spontaneous participation, as well. I couldn’t get to nearly all the acts that afternoon but I know I walked by some porches with musical offerings that were not on the official Grand Porch Party map. I heard some volunteer harmonies that listeners added to a porch musician’s rendition of a Crosby, Stills & Nash song. This event is a perfect example of how music draws people to it: create a public space for song and spoken word and folks flock to it like they are hungry for it.
A huge thanks to Tenille for having the imagination and initiative to stage such an event, and to the oh-so-hospitable hosts who welcomed the players and turned their private property over to neighbours and strangers alike for a short while. I hope this is only the inaugural event of an annual tradition. Maybe next year the music could be spread over several hours so that it would be possible to enjoy more of it.
Braving rainy, slushy weather I set out with fellow adventurers Pete & Trish for a rural open stage experience at the Good Vibes Coffee House. Every Thursday, an old parish hall outside the hamlet of Hillsdale (about 20 minutes from Barrie) is home to an open stage with a country flavour. The first ten people signed up get 15 minutes each and then anyone after that has a two song set. Since our road trip was complicated by a few U-turns and an unplanned “scenic detour” we arrived with only one 15 minute slot still open – but we all managed to fit in some music before the end of the evening.
The personality of this open stage (running since April 2002) is very laid back with lots of 60s folk songs interspersed with some poetry and original compositions. I appreciated the stand up bass and harmonica additions to my song (thanks Pete & John). There was a lovely, well-behaved pup in attendance and I move that he be declared the official mascot.
Fair trade coffee and home-made treats were available although we had so many snacks en route I was kind of full.
One of the memorable moments of the evening (other than the George of the Jungle rehearsal piece) was a heartfelt testimonial shared by one gentleman about how coming out to this open stage had been a personal turning point for him. His friend’s invitation to the coffee house opened up a new social scene for him, a place of inspiration and acceptance. As they say on their Facebook page, Good Vibes is: “A warm, friendly, welcoming place for performers of all levels.”
The last song of the evening is always a group number where everyone comes to the front and joins in with voices and instruments – in keeping with the theme that Good Vibes embodies: music as fellowship and the open stage as community.
[Good Vibes Coffee House, Mount St. Louis Road & 4th Line of Oro-Medonte, Hillsdale; every Thursday 7-1o pm, or later]
This month I’d like you to think of someone who really makes a difference at a shared music event. It could be someone who works mostly behind the scenes making the gathering possible, or someone who always finds a way to support and encourage fellow musicians. Or it could be that person with the sense of humour you can always count on to crack everyone up. Here is your chance to celebrate someone without whom your song circle or open stage would just not be what it is.