Small Gatherings for Music

This morning I got a message from someone who’s been reading my emails and blogs since 2000 when they started. He wondered why he hadn’t heard from me for a while. Was I well? Unwell? Happy? Too busy to write? I was glad to tell him I was happy, busy, not too busy to write, just too busy to have anything real to offer. His nudge, a note from my dad this morning, a conversation with my husband yesterday, and a concert I did Saturday night got me thinking about what’s worth writing about so here I am again.


The note from my dad was actually a newspaper clipping.  He and my mom read several newspapers every morning so I often get cutouts if they read something they think I’d be interested in. The title of this one from The New York Times was “Only the Strong Survive” by someone named Toure (with an accent on the ‘e’). Toure’s article talked about the state of the music business (Not good); the subtitle was “How the music industry has coped with the erosion of revenue caused by streaming” (Not well). Reading it – having just read a book Toure refers to in the article called The Song Machine by John Seabrook – I thought to myself, ah, I understand this because I’ve been making music during this period of collapse. Both authors write as journalists not as musicians so for them the news is new. Both say what everyone else is saying: if I can get songs for free why should I pay for them? I don’t think this particular ship is going to turn around any time soon. Why would you pay for songs if you can get them for free?

     The conversation with Brent stemmed from an article he’d read about Oliver Sacks, the famed neurologist who studied music’s impact on the brain as well as many other things. The article Brent shared with me had to do with the events that led to Sacks’s commitment to music as a field of inquiry. I’ll include the link at the end of this entry, but in a nutshell the man was stranded on the side of a fjord with a mangled leg and the threat of dying of hypothermia if he didn’t get himself out of the situation within a few hours. What saved him was his ingenuity, an umbrella, and the music in his head. He survived his descent by making a splint from the shaft of his umbrella then he crawled out butt to the ground. To keep his spirits up, he sang. The rhythm he found kept him going. He describes how his body became the music; that his muscles were made of music.

     Saturday night I did a concert here in our living room. We were expecting 40 or so people, but because we’d told everyone to bring whomever they’d like and to spread the word, 85 people showed up – pretty amazing in a small town like this one. We scrambled for chairs and pillows for people to sit on. Wine was shared as everyone settled in. I’d decided to do some things I hadn’t done for a while including inviting 5 other musicians to sit in with me on one or two songs each, then showing a slideshow of my friend Bill Gillette’s photographs while I played four piano pieces I’d written many years ago. I also read two stories from the book I’m writing. It was a hodgepodge of Bar stuff and it turned out to be a fine night. The concert was not too long, not too short. The feel in the room was warm, welcoming, and open. I felt as good as I ever have during and afterwards. Mostly what I felt was vitality in myself and in others by the end of the night.

     When I think about the business of music I feel lucky. I’ve been able to keep going. My family has supported me. You all have, my husbands have, and the ears nearby have always been willing to listen. Sometimes I get frustrated with how things have gotten, but I don’t think it’s true that only the strong survive as Toure has suggested. I don’t feel strong. What I feel is the truth of my calling. I want to make music and I want to share it. Saturday night proved to me yet again that others want and maybe even need to hear it. There’s a lot of good music happening that isn’t on the music biz radar. For me it’s the small events where a few people gather that are the most meaningful. More and more I’m seeing that the words ‘Music’ and ‘Business’ are oxymoronic. They don’t go together. I find wisdom in my potter friend Tony’s axiom: I sell just enough pots to keep me in clay.


Here’s the link to Oliver Sacks’s Story. Brain Pickings is something worth reading and subscribing to: