Music in Austin

music-notes1One of the wonderful things about living in Austin is the music. I’m a crazy blues fanatic, so this is THE place for blues. We actually have about 100 live music venues a night – a night! – so if you like blues (and other music and movies and dance and literary events and football and art and and and ) Austin is the place to be.

One of the wonderful things about Christmas time is our local Grammy-award winning choir group called Conspirare. Every Christmas they do a small concert at the Carillon, a small, intimate church, and they sing in the vesprey, with the echoes of their amazing voices ringing through the small setting. On the following Monday, they offer the same concert to a larger group of 2300. The tickets to the Carillon are sold out years in advance, but each year I manage to get to the large auditorium to hear – and feel – them.

Before tonight, I have only cried once from listening to live music. It was when Ritchie Havens blew through town (all great singers blow through this town of Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Rae Vaughn, Delbert McClinton, Shawn Colvin, the Flatlanders, the Austin Lounge Lizards, Jimmy Gilmore, Ruthie Foster, Carolyn Wonderland, etc etc etc) and sang the sweetest lullaby at another small venue (The One World Theater).

But tonight I cried again. Twice. The Conspirare Choir (or vocal ensemble, as they call themselves)- tonight in a configuration of 23, rather than their larger group of around 150 – sang a Christmas concert with songs from the words of Annie Lenox, Currier and Ives, Dolly Parton, and Emily Dickenson.

Here is a quote from our local paper, The Austin Chronicle, who can review them much better than I:

“The members of this choir and its leader, Craig Hella Johnson, are vocal alchemists who can transmute any scrap of music into aural gold.

“Now, don’t let the word “choir” throw you. If you’re imagining a horde of black-robed figures belting out endless runs of 16th notes and unintelligible German text that was dusty and tired when Bach was in knee pants, think again. No robes here, no sprechen auf Deutsch, and the oldest numbers are a spiritual, “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel,” and a folk song, “The Water Is Wide.” The rest of the songs come from the past century and from such obscure composers as Dolly Parton, Carly Simon, Annie Lennox, Eliza Gilkyson, and Ennio Morricone – which is to say, the music is eminently accessible. And if that summons fears of the stiff, stilted delivery of a glee club attempting pop songs, no worries. These vocalists have the chops and soulfulness to truly make pop pop, and the songs are arranged in such a way that you seem to be listening to not so much a band of singers doing stair-step harmonies as a river of voices that run through one another like currents – so fluid, so smooth, and so blended that they seem to be one thing.”

And they opened my heart and touched my soul. I sat in the joy of having sound wash over me and settle in that gentle place inside that offers love and forgiveness to all, including myself.

This is a wonderful season to open your heart, love, forgive, and experience joy. I wish you all the same possibility for the holiday season. And try listening to music as one way to be joyous. Tomorrow night I am going to hear the Messiah. I expect to cry again. Joy.


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