When I am not working at the art college where I am employed, or reading and riffing about books, I can usually be found playing music or listening to music. I want to mention a wonderful tradition to all of you, for I have learned many people are unaware of it: house concerts.
Many have been so media saturated by the big commercial musicians and artists that you may not be aware of a musical world much more rewarding, democratic, personal and human. House concerts are a part of that musical world. All around the United States, and I am told in many other countries, too, people open their homes to host audiences and an eclectic group of touring musicians. Some of these musicians are famous in the commercial world of music, and simply enjoy the more intimate setting of a house concert from time to time. Some are solo, or duo, or small groups troubadors who spend their lives traveling the country in Chevies and minivans – not big tour busses – sharing their music from the countrified south to the freeway linked west. A few house concert musicians just stick to their own backyards, playing regionally in people’s homes and in small clubs and other venues.
These musicians don’t earn zillions. They often have other “day jobs,” or simply make do with what they earn from the $15 dollar door charge and the $15 CDs they pack with them for sale after they play (why all audience members should reach in their pockets at the end of a concert and find their way to sharing another $15 to support these wonderful talented people who bring so much to our lives and world).
Last night I had the pleasure of seeing and hearing John York at such a house concert. John is probably most known for his playing with the band the Byrds in the late 1960s, but no one should look for him on the house concert circuit for that reason alone. His stories, his own music (and intricate lyrics), and his skill with a twelve string guitar are what should draw you to his music and performances. Last night as I sat listening to him, I was suddenly struck by the impression of a solo musician enacting an entire rock and roll band with his dual strings, the harmonics they emitted in the small room, his musical leg work (I don’t think John is really much conscious of his musical “dance moves”!) and the powerful voice that could just as easily be filling a stadium as someone’s furniture-empty dining room.
It is not surprising that John is a huge fan of the lyrics of Bob Dylan and Tom Wait. His own lyrics stand up handily beside them as he plays a set list that traverses their music as well as his own. What I found most fascinating about his music was the combination of rock and roll flavor with a traditional troubadour’s folk sentiment, style and message.
And his endings. How many music listeners pay all that much attention to endings? You should listen to John’s. There was something very special about them. As if he had spent more time on them than on any other part of the song. They were structured, not haphazard, and he took risks with his vocals at the end that were well worth the effort. Which is how I will wrap this post of mine around to a book context! How many times do we enjoy reading a book, and throw ourselves emotionally into it for hundreds of pages only to be completely disappointed in the end? As if we have been tricked by trusting the author to give us something of substance, something complete, only to have the rug pulled out from under us when we hit that last page or chapter. I’d never thought of it in terms of music before. That the end of music can be just as important as the beginning or the body of it. That care should be taken with the end to insure that it wraps up properly the piece of art one has just shared with an audience. Care to insure that it leaves us feeling sated and complete, not left hanging or sloughed off. And doesn’t a musician owe that to the song, too?