Porch Concerts Fulfill Community and Musician Needs for Live Music
By Dr. Larkin Sanders | [email protected]
Kansas City, Missouri | 18 July 2020
Today is Saturday, the most exciting day of my weeks since Kansas City, Missouri received shelter-in-place orders from our local government. Saturday is the day that the newly-minted Porch Music KC gives their weekly concerts from our 100-year-old house’s porch to our neighbors in person and to our friends and family online. Porch Music KC has redefined my personal concept of music performance, ensemble management, and community engagement in a way that will influence my performances and decisions forever.
Like so many other musicians, I lost a lot of performances to COVID-19. As a chamber music specialist, I missed the intimacy of my rehearsals and performances in addition to interactions with my chamber music colleagues. 2020 was so promising until suddenly it wasn’t.
Coincidentally, my neighbors living in houses adjacent to mine are also professional musicians. When one asked if would be willing to read duets from my porch, it sparked the inspiration to create a new al fresco music experience. We assembled a trio of bassoon, clarinet, and violin to give our first porch concert on April 3, 2020.
We invited our neighbors to attend via the NextDoor social media platform. We were transparent about our performance saying “We’ll be reading this music for the first time, so it may be wonderful, weird, or weirdly wonderful. There’s only one way to find out.” About 30 neighbors lined the sidewalks around our house to hear our weirdly wonderful little concert.
Since the first concert, we have strived to perform once per week for our neighbors, and we stream all of our performances on Facebook and Instagram (@PorchMusicKC). Our ensemble grew from a trio to a septet (1st violin, 2nd violin/viola, cello, bass, clarinet, horn, and bassoon) during the 2 weeks of the Taneycomo Festival Orchestra, with whom we collaborated for digital performances in June. Even though we’re playing in the muggy heat of Missouri evenings, performing Beethoven’s and Bruch’s Septets have been extraordinarily fulfilling for both our audience and our musicians.
We’ve recently started taking gigs on other porches and outdoor concert series around the City. We’ve established rates and policies that are amenable to our community and allow us to make a little extra cash during this strange time (you can learn more about this at PorchMusicKC.com). We have also collaborated with several local charities including the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project and Starlight Children’s Foundation, and we have plans to do more charitable events in the future. When we perform on our “home” porch, we provide a tipping bucket for our neighbors who contribute what they can. Some give a few dollars, some give $100. One neighbor works for a local brewery and leaves us cases of beer.
We also take many precautions when we perform. We don’t allow our audience members to sit in our lawn or close to the porch, and we remind them to maintain social distancing guidelines when visiting our street for a concert. We space the musicians with 6 feet between them (a particular challenge for chamber music, but not impossible) and encourage string players to wear masks. Musicians provide their own music stands, and I keep a set of folding chairs on the porch that receive direct sunlight (i.e., UV ray cleaning) each day. I admit that we are taking risks with our wind players (bassoon, horn, and clarinet), but we intend to incorporate PPE to our wind players when we have the tools to do so.
I believe that Porch Music KC will be my only live-performance outlet until 2021, so I am making plans and constantly researching repertoire that we can use. As the manager/librarian of the group, I have thought creatively about repertoire and spent hours scouring IMSLP for music that will work for us. I’m also an arranger/composer and have been making arrangements and new music on my own. In preparation for colder weather, I purchased a new LeBlanc Vito plastic clarinet and am encouraging the other musicians to prepare their gear. Porch Music KC concerts will continue to give concerts as long as they’re needed by our musicians and audience members.
For more information about Porch Music KC, please visit PorchMusicKC.com or visit our Instagram and Facebook pages @PorchMusicKC.