The Working Waterfront

Music is community… again

The joy of playing with others is a welcome return

Courtney Naliboff
Posted 2018-08-30
Last Modified 2018-08-30

The dilemma of the music teacher is that sometimes there aren’t enough hours in the day for the music teacher to also play music.

Of course, it’s what we love to do. Music teachers began as music students, playing in recitals and sighing our way through Hanon exercises and scales in every key. But at some point we hear the call (or receive the literal call on our cell phones during a recording session) and become teachers, and nurture the next generation of musicians to play in recitals and sigh at their Hanons.

That just makes it all the more special when we do have time to play music. And somehow, despite the overall hectic pace of the end of the school year and the transition into summer, I’ve found time to do just that.

This winter, when I found out that a flutist new to the island was a klezmer enthusiast and had played with the Casco Bay Tummlers, I was inspired to start a folk music meet-up group. Every few weeks a group of interested musicians, pianist, fiddlers, saw players and more, showed up to my living room and learned some traditional music from a variety of cultures, from Ireland to Eastern Europe (and a Philip Glass piece that snuck in there!). We’ve performed at two open mic nights and a St. Patrick’s Day party, but the real joy comes from sitting around with friends, sight reading music, talking through arrangements, and reveling in our shared creation.

The same flutist invited me to accompany her on a program of French impressionist music a few months ago, and though it had been years since I performed any concert repertoire on the piano, I said yes.

It’s been a far cry from the rock ’n roll/musical theater/middle school choir repertoire I usually hack my way through, and it’s been a welcome excuse to sit down for a half hour a day and really practice the piano. The recital is tomorrow as I’m writing, so those reading in the future may know how it goes. I’ll admit to being fairly nervous, but it’s a good feeling to be reminded of as I encourage my students to push out of their comfort zones.

In addition to a few pieces of musical miscellany—a hymn at the Blessing of the Working Fleet, the Vinalhaven Town Band’s Fourth of July concert—I started a band with a few friends. Once I started playing the piano and recorder and trumpet again, I realized I missed playing the bass just as much. And using songwriting as an emotional outlet. So Bait Bag was formed, a riot grrrl power trio with songs about horses and institutionalized misogyny. We’ve only practiced twice, but that feeling of pure joy is there for us as well as we share ideas and trust each other to really listen and help shape our common vision.

Music can be a uniquely social activity, something I always try to convince my lightly skeptical students of. My musical cohorts and I are not only doing the same activity, we’re contributing to it all at the same time. The closest analog is probably playing a team sport, but even then only one person at a time can have the ball. When my friends and I lift our voices or instruments together in song, we’re reiterating the promises we make to each other as members of the community of North Haven.

Courtney Naliboff teaches music and theater and writes on North Haven.