Making music on the porch

  • SawZaphonic. Gus Hollingsworth, Violet Walker and Larry LaBlanc. Contributed image

  • Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz

  • Violet Walker plays the saw in her band SawZaphonic. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz

  • Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ—Paul Franz

  • Violet Walker’s musical saw. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Violet Walker plays the saw in her band SawZaphonic. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 8/27/2020 9:24:44 AM

In a year marked by the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing racial tension, finding commonality and connection feels more important than ever. A global initiative local musicians are hoping will take root in Franklin County seeks to foster that connection through music.

Every year since 2013, bands and solo artists world-round have tuned their instruments, poured a glass of water and settled in on the porch for a community concert. Play Music On The Porch Day started with musicians from a few participating countries and now has representation from more than 70 nations. 

Violet Walker, of Greenfield, who plays the musical saw in the group SawZaphonic, wants to see many Franklin County bands participate this year. So far, Walker, who has never participated before, says SawZaphonic is among the only local bands that have signed up.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if the whole world stopped and on that day — on that international day — you stroll around your town and everybody is jamming?” Walker said. “I don't know if there's anyone else in Greenfield (participating) — my thoughts are there are not, but there should be.”

SawZaphonic, which is comprised of accordionist Gus Hollingsworth, guitarist Larry LaBlanc, who also plays the mandolin, and Walker, playing the nose flute, the fiddle and musical saw. Hollingsworth started playing the accordion when he was 9 years old. LeBlanc is a multi-instrumentalist and singer who can also play the dobro, banjo and button accordion.

Occasionally, other musicians will sit in for a set or two.

“The band has that kind of name because there aren’t that many saws around anymore. It’s a regular old carpenter saw, but you make music on it,” said Walker, who picked up the instrument about 20 years ago. “Many people call it a ‘singing saw’ — it’s very clear — usually a soprano register. My saw is a little bit longer, so consequently, it’s more of an alto.”

To play the musical saw, Walker says it’s held between the musician’s knees. Sustained notes are produced by bending the saw’s metal blade and drawing a bow across its edge. Walker uses a cello bow and has performed across the northeast and beyond with orchestras and a variety of bands and ensembles.

It’s a challenging instrument to play because it doesn’t have frets or keys.

“You have to have a really good musical ear because if you don’t, you produce awful sounds and everyone will hold their ears,” Walker said, noting, “Better quality steel creates an extremely musical sound.”

Walker’s group, which formed around two years ago, will perform on her Silver Street porch from 1:30 to 3 p.m. The show will also be streamed on the official Play Music On The Porch Day’s website along with hundreds of other global acts. They’ll play blues, world and mellow music — anything that’s requested.

“Whoever knows the melody takes it,” she said. “The guitar will start out or the accordion will start out and we look at each other and just jam.”

In this time of social distancing, the day’s website notes that musicians must follow all local guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Masks are required and no large gatherings are allowed. Live streams by performers who aren’t following best practices will be cut off.

To participate, a statement by Play Music On The Porch notes, “Just go outside and play music. Participate alone or invite your friends to gather on the porch or your favorite place to play. Share a video on your social media platform and add #playmusicontheporchday.”

Notably, Walker said she doesn’t want a lot of people to show up at her porch on Saturday. She’s hoping it will be a local crowd, with other musicians providing community music in their respective neighborhoods.

“They can register to play their own porch music. And it doesn’t have to be a professional band, it can be a kid tap dancing or the church choir spaced out on a porch,” she said.

While the event was founded as a way to promote world peace and unity, the ongoing pandemic has given it a different kind of meaning. A while back, Walker, who is retired now after a career as a children’s performer, says she held laughter workshops.

“I know that, even if you just smile for three minutes into the mirror, for three minutes, something happens in your brain and endorphins pop into action,” she said. Similarly, music has a way of jump-starting chemicals that produce happiness.

“Something happens to your brain. You feel good. Why? Because you’re smiling — your brain thinks you’re happier,” she said. “Music makes you feel good.”

How to connect

Play Music On The Porch is always held the last Saturday of August from 10 a.m. to 10 p,m, in whatever time zone the performers happen to be. As of Aug. 21, hundreds of musicians had registered to play from 67 different countries in 1,030 cities. 

For more information, to view a map that shows where live music will happen (locally, as of Wednesday there were performances slated on Forest Avenue in Greenfield and on North Cross Road in Gill in addition to Walker’s porch at 170 Silver St.) and to sign up to play on Saturday, visit playmusicontheporchday.com. Musicians can sign up to play up to 24 hours in advance.

Due to COVID-19, attendance will be limited so as to adhere to Massachusets’ health protocol, which means no more than 50 people. Wearing a mask and social distancing is required. A statement notes attendees can stand or bring a blanket to sit on the lawn and enjoy the music. Those who feel ill or have been in close contact with anyone currently in quarantine with the coronavirus are asked not to attend. Onsite restrooms aren’t available.

Andy Castillo can be reached at acastillo@recorder.com.




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