with a wave of his hand…

When I was a kid, our family spent a majority of the summer weekends camping in the foothills outside of a little hole-in-the-wall called Grizzly Flat.  My dad would rig up our fly rods at the crack of dawn every morning.  We’d be out on the forest stream with the mosquitoes, pointing our rods ahead to lead the way through the prickly brush, poised to catch our limit of trout.  Daddy was proud of his girls and bragged that Margaret and I could out-fish any guy on that stream.

“What you catch, you clean” he’d say, and we’d both be bending down with our little-girl hands in that freezing, mountain water, gutting our rainbow trout, and feeding the slimy eggs that came out of our catch to the other ravenous fish.


In the hot afternoons, Mar and I would hike down the back side of Mr. McGee’s Christmas Tree Farm to get to “the falls,” the favorite swimming hole.  The boulders were tilted at just the right angle that we could slide down the rushing waterfalls and into the pool below without killing ourselves.  Mom would let us swim until our lips were blue, then we’d have to get out and warm up in the sun.


“Town” consisted of one long building—a relic from the gold mining days—that had been turned into a cafe-by-day-bar-at-night and a little market.  The bar, “Peart’s Place” was the land mark for giving directions or meeting up.  The interior of  Peart’s was lined in fuzzy, old, dark wood with rusted gold-mining gear on the walls.  The square tables had a sketched portrait of a local painted on each corner. At one end of the musky room was a wall-to-wall carved wooden bar, and at the other was a honky-tonk-ish piano with Jack Peart’s drum set in the corner.


Most nights Peart’s was packed with locals coming out of the hills for a bite, a beer, and some down-home music.  Musicians came in from all over to play with Jack and he’d always give them a grand welcome, waving his hand like he was ushering in royalty from another country.  “Weeeeell, we’ve got Brownie and his fiddle here tonight…. Come oooon down, Brownie!” he’d shout over the bar clamor.

Peart's Little Place...

During that time in my life, my dad would pay me a quarter for every one of his requests that I learned. “Somewhere My Love” and “Sentimental Journey” were like dessert after my usual fare of Bach, Beethoven, and Schmitt exercises.

I’d go into Peart’s during the day and practice my pocket-full of standards on that out-of-tune piano while Jack was visiting with the rough and tumble locals.

Bar Piano

One hot night—I was about 11—the smoky bar was fulled to capacity as usual, with locals, musicians and lots of happy music.  Mar and I were sitting in the dark, back corner listening with Daddy—kids weren’t really supposed to be in there at night, but Jack turned a blind eye.  Brownie was on the fiddle, Jack on drums, some old local with a beard that hung down clear to his over-sized belt buckle was on the wash-tub bass making it sound like he’d just arrived from a club in New Orleans.  Jack had empty moonshine jugs on the tables and the listeners were “playing along”, blowing into the jugs in rhythm, contributing their part of the evening’s experience.  Daddy, as always—with that big grin on his face—was playing the heck out of the spoons.  That man could make those spoons sing!

Jack Peart

That evening, like he did with each of those musicians that walked into his place, Jack hollered over to me in the corner and, with a wave of his hand said, “Weeeell, we have young Miss Janine here with us tonight… come oooon up honey, and tinkle those keys!!”

My eyes were like saucers at that moment, and I looked at Daddy, not knowing really what to say (a rare moment I suppose).  He said, “well, get on up there!!”… and so I did.

I started to play the pocket-full of standards that I’d memorized.  Brownie stood next to me and coached me a bit… “now play it again an octave higher…” “now again, and lay off the melody so I can take it”.  And so it went.  My first paid gig.  25 cents.

That evening, old man Jack Peart gave me an invitation to join him in the magic-making. He lead me from the world of the peripheral spectator to the world of an engaged co-creator.  The difference between the two was like night and day.

I imagine that, in those evenings at Peart’s Place, some seed was planted in me.  I’m not sure what, really.  Was it that making music is relational?  Or that the experience of the people participating together created a more powerful moment for everyone?  Was it that co-creating leads to transformation: of individuals and communities, even if that community is a small group of musicians playing late into the night somewhere in a dark bar in the mountains?

Somehow I think old man Jack Peart instinctively knew these things.  Thank you, Mr. Peart, for sharing with me….


burst tomato galette with corn and zucchini

Smittenkitchen. Check it out.  A symphony of flavor and visual art in the same moment.


shakin’ it up (part 2): participartory arts

Getting In On The Act:  How Arts Groups are Creating Opportunities for Active Participation” is a study commissioned in 2011 by the James Irvine Foundation.  It addresses 21st century questions:

“How can arts institutions adapt to this new environment?”
“Is participatory practice contradictory to, or complementary to, a business model that relies on professional production and consumption?”
“How can arts organizations enter this new territory without compromising their values or artistic ideals?”

Included in this immensely interesting article is an enlightening graphic: “The Audience Involvement Spectrum”, a diagram on the “receptive arts” vs the “participatory arts” and commentary on the vast difference in effectiveness between the two (did I mention that this is immensely interesting…..well worth the read…my 46 page bible on strategic programming and presentation design??)  Take a look:

How does this apply to the performance of choral music while maintaining authentic performance practices of the rich choral canon we know and love?  Good question.

The step from “spectating” to “enhanced engagement” is fairly common in choral circles:  choirs often change position, add instruments for color and use choralography in the concert design.  These additions are visually stimulating and help convey the story of the text and music, but remain on the “receptive” side of the spectrum.

The next step—“crowd sourcing”— takes us over the line into the “participatory” arts. The examples listed are “an opera libretto comprised of Tweets” and  “virtual choruses”.  Another idea easily implemented would be a concert programmed by the audience with life stories from those audience members—live and on video—behind the choice of each piece.  The color-coding shows us that the participant’s level of creative control is moved from merely spectator to curatorial.

One step deeper into the pool is “Co-Creation”. Collaborative concerts centered on choral music—where other artists and art forms illuminate the text and the music—create visual interest, and often build audience. Other art forms often draw an audience that wouldn’t normally attend a choral concert.  Another form of collaborative concert is where the audience has several contributing parts.  This is not difficult in the choral world, and it produces a total experience for the audience member that is above and beyond the traditional concert event.  In the co-creation experience the participant’s level of creative control becomes interpretive.

Last on the spectrum is “Audience-As-Artist”,  shifting from “the product to the process of creation.”  In the choral world, could this be reconfigured sing-a-long Messiah concerts in a venue where seating could be mixed (rather than the traditional divide between audience and musicians),  that included carefully chosen audience members in the orchestra?  Or could this be a BIG SING, where the audience choses the music ahead of time, choral singers and audience are mixed, and perhaps the audience even comes in period costume representing their piece?  What are your ideas to fully integrate the audience in the process, and take the participant’s level of creative control to inventive?

As the arts sector continues to shift in the 21st century, let’s put our heads together and share ideas to contribute to keeping choral music vibrant, relevant and accessible to all.  And while we are at it, let’s build a community to support each other in the process.

(Part 1:  Choirs Lead the Way to World Peace—July)