Wednesday, August 22, 2012

If Music Be The Food of Life, Play On

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, August 8, 2012 by Sara Mattinson.

In the early 1980’s, my sister and I belonged to a cottage band. 
Someone had given us an old drum set so, along with our two best friends, we created a band called “The Goldenrods” and wrote one song. Our only, captive audience was our four parents, who graciously and uncomplainingly listened to our one and only concert, performed in a cottage with no ceiling, just open rafters. Imagine the acoustics. 
We were 10 years old and we were bad but thirty years later, my sister still knows the lyrics to that song. That’s what music – the homegrown, kitchen party kind – is meant to do: Leave a lasting impression. 
That’s why the various open mic/jam sessions/kitchen parties that are offered on a regular basis around this county need to be supported.
Because you won’t believe the talent that’s out there. As my husband would say, “Bar none, that was the best night of music we’ve ever heard.” And he’d be right in saying that every Friday night. The talent that shows up at our preferred venue in Pugwash – but there are regular nights like this in Oxford, Wallace and Tidnish Bridge as well – actually takes our breath away, and not just from singing along. 
These homegrown performers don’t make any money; they come out simply for the love of playing, for the thrill of getting up in front of  both friends and strangers and doing something they enjoy doing, something they are really good at. The crowd – especially those of us with no musical talent –  is always appreciative.
One evening, two brothers, high school students, came to sing, accompanying themselves on guitars, and the younger had a tough time hitting a note up in the range. He got embarrassed, hesitated, but the crowd wouldn’t let him off easy; we egged him on to try again and when he nailed that note on the second try, we clapped and cheered. In front of a crowd, once the first song is done and the rush of nerves passes, you can see these young performers expand, grow more confident, mature. Last week, a 17-year-old visiting from Cape Breton wowed the small audience with his guitar and vocal skills. Afterwards, a seasoned veteran of performing told him, “Keep at it.” That’s all that teenager needs to hear.
How many generations of families have passed their evenings singing and playing instruments in their own home, music and laughter the soundtrack of most Saturday nights? How many young people, when handed a harmonica or fiddle or guitar, learned how to play on the spot? Now that ear buds and smart phones distract and consume attention, we might be in danger of losing this unique musical experience. Nothing compares to live music done in a small venue like a kitchen or café. Could we be raising a generation that doesn’t know the thrill of a spontaneous jam session that breaks out at the end of the night when no one wants to stop and go home, when three guitars, a banjo, bongos and two harmonicas play their hearts out while a young woman sings? These moments are a testament to the quality of talent, the joy of the audience.
Kudos to everyone who hosts an open mic event, who provides a venue for performers young and old to share what they love with friends and strangers, who send people home to bed with a song in their heart and the promise to keep at it.

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