Last night I was invited to play a few of my art songs for the opening concert in a World Peace Conference in Pittsburgh. I was nervous at first as I only knew the organizer, Emily Pinkerton and her husband Patrick. And technically I know them through a friend, so I'm more like a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend. But I was put at ease by the warm applause from the audience. I played a few art songs which normally don't have much of a venue- they're text settings of poems (usually short) and some are pretty melancholic. I also played my recomposition of Fleetwood Mac's 'Don't Stop' and ended with an appropriate Jane Tyson Clement art song. Later at the reception, a man told me that he met Jane Clement 30 years ago! His son now lives at the community where Clement lived. It can be a very small world.
The opening songs were by the folk orchestra from the UU Church in Shadyside, where Emily directs the group in their monthly concert. Highlights included a real live autoharp player, and a guy blowing into a jug. He was really serious about it, so it was effective. Especially in a folk orchestra.
After my set, I had the pleasure of hearing Heather Kropf. She's a singer-songwriter and I listened to her latest album, which is phenomenal! There are a couple stand-out soul and jazz tracks with muted trumpet, which can compete with any major-label artist today. The quality of that recording blows me away. Her piano style is simple yet effective, with hints of jazz and Kate Bush, and she mentioned the Joni Mitchell streak through her poetic lyrics. She even asked me if she could learn two of my songs! How could I say no? Also, how can I get better at writing songs with lyrics that don't blow.
Emily concluded the evening with a few solo nylon-strung guitar songs in Spanish, and a folk music set of banjo, guitar, and bass, all songs she composed. The banjo was so mellow and warm, though, and not the plinkety-plunk banjo I'm used to hearing in bluegrass (which I love in its own right, of course). It smoothed out the songs, which perfectly incorporated Emily's light, Alison-Krauss-y voice into one solid instrument. The pieces in Spanish were a particular highlight for me; I never get to hear nylon-strung guitars, which are incredibly beautiful, and Emily's songs for them brought out her South American influences (and Ph.D. in ethnomusicology) while still keeping her own voice, which sings about 'landscapes as metaphor for human emotion'.
I think that this concert was one of the most memorable things I've heard in Pittsburgh, and I've heard quite a bit so far. Hearing folk music live reminds me that while I'm usually in classical music world all day, there's a huge world out there, full of talent and genuine appreciation for music in all its genres. There are classical musicians who love to get down with their fiddles. Pop musicians who are smart enough to sing about Hestia, the goddess of the hearth. I don't know what I do. Take words and textures and melodies and give them a new life? And how can I not thank an appreciative audience? Perhaps that appreciation for all kinds of musical expression is a small particle of help for world peace. I'm thankful to be a part of that.