In the language of working musicians and hustling songwriters, “listening room” means something special – something that has little to do with physical venues per se. Certainly the words evoke a woody warmth, vaulted ceilings and the funky, high-character particulars of repurposed performance spaces in churches, shopfronts, galleries, museums, functional halls, old homes and their out buildings: small, intimate and, we hope, acoustically flattering, the Victorian plumbing and HVAC notwithstanding.
But for players, none of that is what makes “listening room” shows so desirable and often prestigious despite their grassroots, potluck modesty. The words are code, actually. They translate to: an audience, a reliable, proven audience of a known character and composition. The artists come to see the audience. They come to experience a culture of close, ritualized attention to performance. They come to carve their names into a legacy of heightened evenings in cool spaces. But – make no mistake – the crowds are the show. It is their relationships, rituals and communal intentions on display. The musicians are the help.
Music isn’t the wallpaper; the wallpaper (curling, yellowed, but William Morris) is the wallpaper. Music is the thing. Money isn’t the thing, but listening-room communities – radical patrons in their own way – dig a little deeper when hats are passed. Thus, the shows often have one final pleasant surprise in store for performers, as if it you weren’t already humbled enough by a crowd that ripples with laughter at the passing puns in your lyrics.
Listening rooms thrive in the Hudson Valley. With the Howland in Beacon, the Phoenicia Railway Museum, the Anvil Gallery at Tech Smiths in Kingston, the Tin Roof Sessions in New Paltz, the original Falcon in Tony Falco’s barn loft, every suitable art space in Woodstock and of course Pauline Oliveros’ Deep Listening branded empire, it can be said of us that we value the devalued art of listening. And we understand that attendance is activism. Go, us!
It is a truth universally acknowledged that young bands enjoy the enormous advantage of the spontaneous, easily mobilized fanbase. This is true in the bars and rec halls; but in the listening-room culture, an older crowd shows the kids the finer points of how this music sent/music received thing really works.
HVSS – we’ll call it that because Hudson Valley Sudbury School Music Night is a mouthful – has established itself as one of the choicest cherries among listening-room shows in the region. This private-school benefit series has been running on the last Friday of each month for four years now. Its setting is the spacious, tiered living room of local artist and baker Mor Pipman in her house at the Old Glenford Church, a few miles past Woodstock on Route 28. It’s a venue larger than many small music clubs, and in every way more curious. Pipman’s themed and seasonal meals, cooked and served in her kitchen, are the stuff of legend and an essential part of the HVSS allure.
Singer Carmen Senski books and manages the music end of HVSS Music Night. Senski, who performs in Doug Yoel’s cosmic country collective Sin City, will often sit in with the HVSS acts. The two acts per event typically lean toward singer/songwriter, folk and the music of them thar hills, but it’s a subtle preponderance. HVSS is actually one of the more adventurous and eclectic series around. Decibelity is less an issue than you might expect. Bands tend to bring their drummers. The greatest single HVSS night that I attended featured the remarkable and unique Duke McVinnie Band, an electric chamber-rock outfit that routinely cycles between whispery atmospherics and fits and spells of avant-garde cacophony. This crowd has heard it all before.
HVSS Music Night celebrates its fourth anniversary on Friday, February 28. On the bill are the exploratory instrumental trio TN3 – featuring A-list local players in guitarist Todd Nelson, bassist Kyle Esposito and ubiqui-drummer Manuel Quintana – and the Trapps, a New Paltz roots/rock institution and the shapeshifting vehicle of singer/songwriter Sean Schenker.
The $5 suggested donation at the door benefits the Hudson Valley Sudbury School. The doors and kitchen open at 6 p.m., and the music runs from 7 until 9. All ages are welcome. Full dinner is available at an affordable price. Vegan and vegetarian options are always included, as well as desserts, hot coffee, teas and homebrewed iced teas. Bring your own bottle if you prefer other drinks with dinner.
HVSS Music Night takes place at the Old Glenford Church at 210 Old Route 28 in Glenford. For additional information, call (203) 592-0537 or e-mail Carmen Senski at firstname.lastname@example.org.