Transforming living rooms into concert halls

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Thursday, December 12th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

Long ago, some musicians and composers worked exclusively for the courts of wealthy European nobles. Their homes served as venues for private concerts. Those performances eventually left the home for public concert halls. The element of aristocracy followed them.

EICHER: But the home concert has never gone out of vogue. The performances invite neighbor, stranger, and musician to pull up a chair and share a music-filled evening.

WORLD correspondent Bonnie Pritchett attended one such concert just outside Houston, Texas.

BONNIE PRITCHETT, REPORTER: After the musicians take their final bow, concert goers collect their programs, coats and purses and begin sidling their way along the row of seats to the aisle. The patrons politely merge and make a bee line, not for the exit, but for the dining room table. There, concert hosts Kathy and Charlie Parks have laid a spread of simple desserts, cheeses, and fruit.

Warmed by hot cider and pleasant conversation, the gathering strikes the perfect chord to close off an early November house concert in a Cypress, Texas neighborhood.

KATHY PARKS: When we had the first concert, the sound was so amazing. It was like an experience I’ve never had. And I’ve been to hundreds of concerts…

That’s Kathy Parks. And since that first concert she and her husband have hosted three more. Tonight’s concert features a trio called “Aurora.” The professional Houston-area musicians include flutist Allison Vitek, cellist Katie Beth Farrell, and harpist Susanna Campbell.

A wall of white shuttered windows serves as the stage backdrop. The living room sofas and three rows of folding chairs accommodate almost 40 audience members. Some are the musicians’ friends or family. Others are strangers. But Kathy Parks is delighted to share an evening of music with them all.

And as Kathy Parks likes to say, there are no bad seats at a house concert.

PARKS: Whenever I tell somebody that I’m having a concert here, they’re totally shocked. And I like that. Because I think, guess what, you can do this…

House concerts have gained popularity in the last 20 years or so and cost homeowners little to nothing. Websites facilitate the pairing of host and musician. Invitations arrive by social media or word of mouth. Admission is usually by donation or a small ticket price. The hosts give the money directly to the musicians.

Often refreshments or a pot-luck meal encourage guests to linger after the concert.

Being part of a centuries-old practice intrigues Farrell, the cellist.

FARRELL: House concerts are actually a very old tradition. They’ve been going on since the 1500s that we know of. The modern concert hall, that’s actually a more novel concept as in its only about 200 years old.

Farrell is grateful for the wealthy patronage that financed the work of Bach and Haydn. But she believes there is a false perception that only the well-to-do attend concert hall performances. And she worries this could keep some people from enjoying a variety of live music.

FARRELL: It’s a little intimidating. You have to go buy a ticket. You have to dress up. You have to go to Jones Hall… Whereas, if you’re just showing up to a house concert…your next-door neighbor could be there. It could also be one of the wealthiest people from Houston…”

Another venue where the trio has frequently performed is the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, surrounded by great masterpieces. But the group says that performing in someone’s home–surrounded by family photos and the living room furniture—adds a “warmth” to the experience unlike any other venue.

High ceilings in the Parks’ home provide wonderful acoustics for the music – as did the palaces of sixteenth-century aristocrats. But no castle or vaulted ceilings are required in order to share good music with friends and strangers.

Kathy Parks gladly takes any opportunity to bring music into her home. Guests attending the first concert she hosted appreciated the fact that she did.

PARKS: You know, nobody wanted to leave after it was over. But people wanted to get to know, talk to the musicians and to get to know them and talk to their friends. So, we had these people from different walks of life from here in Cypress just meeting all together and getting to know each other on this common ground which I thought was kind of neat.

For the musicians there is a practicality to performing in a home. Renting concert space is expensive. Advertising the event—and hoping people will attend—adds an element of stress. And concert hall engagements often require the musicians forgo introducing their audiences to more than the works of great composers.

FARRELL: Most people have not seen a harp up close before. Ever. [Remove abrupt chuckle] And some people have never seen the three instruments together. They’ve never seen flute, cello, harp together. So, a lot of people are definitely very fascinated by that…

Farrell calls the concert hall stage and lights “elements of separation.” Strip those away, place the musicians and audience in someone’s living room and the evening becomes about more than a mutual appreciation of music.

FARRELL: I always enjoy watching people perform who really love what they do. And so, I think, usually, my focus is, I want people to know that I enjoy playing and to be inspired by that. And I try to remind myself: I am doing what I love doing. Maybe I’ve had a long day. Maybe certain things have not gone the way I wanted them to but at the end of the day I have to remember, you know, that this is a gift that I have and I don’t want to take that for granted.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Bonnie Pritchett reporting from a living room in Cypress, Texas.

(Photo/Bonnie Pritchett)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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One comment on “Transforming living rooms into concert halls

  1. Dan Beaty says:

    What a terrific story !!! Thanks Bonnie!!

    I absolutely LOVE live music, both performing myself and listening to others . . . yet I’d never heard of or thought of the idea of a backyard or ‘house’ concert like this! I checked for something like that happening here in Huntsville, AL but I’ve come up empty so far – but I’m not discouraged; I’ll find something or help to create something like that here. I’m THAT excited about the possibilities! Because, while I enjoy concerts, the last one I attended just left me feeling . . . worn out and tired from the process of getting the tickets (which cost WAAAAY more than it should have for what was, essentially, a VERY good cover band), getting to the venue, paying for parking, finding seats (and feeling very confined within them), virtually no interaction with anyone around us, then weeding our way out of the venue through a winepress of humanity and then ‘rinse and repeat’ to get out of the parking garage . . . and then . . .finally . . . home!

    But what a wonderful way to enjoy music in a small, intimate venue. Kudos to you Bonnie, for re-discovering this terrific ‘old’ way to enjoy new music!!

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