Encores & Curtain Calls: Music, stories, fellowship
“Music is everybody’s possession. It’s only publishers who think that people own it.”
— John Lennon
There’s a lot to be said for the way music made its way through the world before its professional handlers got a hold of it — that is to say, through simple sharing, from human being to human being to more human beings. For one thing it was free and, for another, it was natural and unhierarchical, enabling personal bonding to take place which — let’s face it — rarely occurs when we pay for a seat at Carnegie Hall or the Iron Horse and make our solitary ways back home.
We rarely return to those homes with any more friends, contacts or comrades than we left with and, for some, such narrowly choreographed cultural forays simply fail to fulfill the age-old yearning for fellowship that characterizes a large part of human endeavor.
Yes, of course, they’re wonderful, the James Taylors, Yo Yo Mas and Renee Flemings of Music Land. But, unless you, as one day I did, have the good fortune to stumble across James Taylor on the Tanglewood lawn and have a welcome conversation with him, or have a memorable but fleeting exchange with the amiable Mr. Ma, most of these personages are beings who remain largely out of reach by ordinary mortals, even those who may adore their artistic sensibilities and work.
This is why I remain so enduringly grateful to both my impulsive mother and my fearless brother, Gene, both of whom had no compunction about turning to the kid next to them — who was myself — and, with barely hushed excitement, asking him if he’d like to go back and meet person, the icon, he’d just seen do amazing and wonderful things on the stage.
The answer was always ‘Yes!’ and away we’d go, slithering through the retreating throngs of homeward-bound. Through the aisles, out the exit to the backstage or the dressing rooms we’d hasten, there to encounter a similar throng of devotees, their enthusiasm still unquenched, waiting to feel the warm clasp of the hand that had just negotiated such fiendishly virtuosic miracles as the Bach Chaconne, or hear the voice that had just so movingly climaxed ‘My Fair Lady’ speak your name. Perhaps a few sacred moments and then, adrenalin still flowing and exhilaration at high tide, out into the bone-cold New York night, to bundle up against a wind that one hardly felt because one was having the equivalent of an out-of-the-body experience, making one virtually invulnerable to such things as sub-zero temperatures, late subway trains or wee hour arrivals home.
I still do these unseemly things today, more than half a century later, not leaving the poor performer in peace until he or she has felt, up front and close, my unction, my ardor, my wonder, my thanks. Why not? After all, this is what I would most want. Even if the serendipity of fame and fortune overcame me and I was obliged to tour a dozen or two dozen cities over the course of a season; I would want everyone to make their hesitant way to where I stood, to share the content of their hearts.
Which is also why I so admire both the spirit and the aesthetic of the Pioneer Valley Folklore Society’s Song and Story Swap, an evening of shared narratives and music hosted by Paul Kaplan on the first Saturday of each month at the Nacul Center in Amherst, with the exception of July and August.
In this literally circular venue, all are created equal, all have something to share and something to learn, if they so wish. The easygoing Kaplan is quick to point out that no one is put upon to perform or contribute but that, equally, all are welcome to be part of the experience. This month’s theme is “Boom or Bust,” chosen by the upcoming guest, Doug Schmolze, a skilled tenor and guitarist who is equally at home in the classical and popular worlds.
There will be an initial go-round in which all present may tell tales or sing songs related (or, if they wish, unrelated) to the theme. Following that, there will be a 45-minute musicale by the guest of the evening. In this case, Schmolze’s choice is to render his own on versions of classic works from the great composers of the American Songbook — Irving Berlin, Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Leonard Bernstein and others — in such thematically related works as “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” and “West Side Story’s” “Officer Krupke,” which is also a song about being down-and-out. Perhaps a classical instrumental or two will also be heard.
Then, there will be some refreshments and fellowship and, best and really nicest of all, the absolutely normal, natural opportunity to rub shoulders with the Guest of the Evening, dialogue with him or her, and, if wished, to glean the secrets, techniques, tricks of the trade, sheet music, email or even phone numbers for possible future interaction. All this for the price of admission, which, while nominally free, would ideally be through a donation of some amount.
This is what the ancient troubadours, the Johnny Appleseeds of song, did so very long ago.
And nothing but our own free will prevents us from re-entering this hallowed tradition now, these many centuries later. I say, go for it!
The Nacul Center is located at 592 Main St., Amherst, 11/2 blocks east of the railroad tracks.
For booking inquiries and further information, contact Kaplan at 413-687-5002, or Jeff Lee at 413-256-0433.
An author and composer, columnist Joseph Marcello of Northfield focuses on music and theater. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.