By Barbara Allen
While the concept of the House Concert may be one that, for some, is trendy and new, Bolton residents and singer-songwriters Dan and Faith Senie point out that it is actually a very old idea, dating back to the Middle Ages, when traveling troubadours would take their instruments and their voices “on the road.” Traveling from home to home, these early performers quite literally “sang for their supper.”
The Senies have been hosting a House Concert series, Still River Concerts, at their home since 2008. The performers, especially if they are not local, often stay with Dan and Faith: modern-day troubadours who not only are invited to supper, but offered lodging for one or two nights and breakfast the following morning. Some musicians even prolong their stay, using the time to escape their busy schedules to relax and create in the serenity of the Senies’ home.
When the Senies originally began the House Concert series, they offered between six and seven shows per year, but their own touring schedule has now forced them to reduce the number to three. The concert season runs from fall through May, except for the weeks from mid-November until the end of December, when potential audiences might be distracted by the holidays.
The House Concerts, which are held in the Senies’ long, sunlit livingroom, can accommodate about 25 people. Dan does the booking; reaching out to singers and songwriters they know well, or others whose music they have heard and feel would be a good fit for the acoustic venue. With a wealth of musician friends, mentors and teachers among their music contacts, they have a roster of what Faith and Dan refer to as “amazingly talented people,” upon whom they can rely to provide the type of music they want to share with others.
Initially, it was this core of talented musicians which the Senies thought would be a large part of those who would be in attendance and ensure a regular following at the House Concerts. But the couple laughingly admits that they forgot one thing: gigs. Most musicians had pre-scheduled musical engagements on many of the House Concert dates which often prevented them from attending.
The House Concert, Dan explains, is a volunteer operation on the part of the hosts; 100 percent of the proceeds from the cost of admission are given to the performer. The Senies supply the performance space, as well as a potluck dessert or snack, hot tea, and warm cider (during cold months), which are served during intermission. Once tickets for a show have been purchased through the Still River Concerts website ( www.stillriverconcerts.com), Dan sends out an email to those planning to attend with what he wryly refers to as “the rules,” which include where to park (which can vary, Dan says, with the weather), and that drugs, alcohol and smoking are not allowed. While it may be a performance space for the length of the concert, it is still their home.
Setting up the space, putting up the musician guests and cleaning up after the concerts sounds like a lot of work, but Faith shrugs it off with a smile.
“Folk audiences are pretty mellow audiences,” she says, adding that the most she ever really has to clean up might be some spilled cider.
The size of attendance varies from concert to concert, some with as few as five or six people, others so large Dan and Faith feared they’d have to turn people away. The Senies are content with either-sized gathering.
“The smallest, most intimate [gatherings] are where the magic happens,” remarks Faith.
“It is a delight as a performer to sing to listening people,” Dan points out. He and Faith open for the featured musician with a 15-minute set of their own songs. “And this is a true listening audience.”
It is a sharp contrast to playing in a noisy bar, the couple adds, where sometimes, Dan admits, one has to sacrifice dynamics for volume in order to be heard by the audience. But playing for a listening audience can be intimidating, too. Make a mistake in a clamorous bar, and the faux pas is not likely to be noticed.
“Mess up in front of listening people,” smiles Faith, “and they all hear it.”
“We love the music; we love songs that tell stories. To have songs of that sort, you need to hear the lyrics and be able to connect with the performers,” adds Dan. “[House Concerts provide] music that is live, acoustic and unedited.”
Both Dan and Faith would like to see more interest in the House Concerts from local folks.
“It is just a joy to have these amazing musicians in our living room, sharing in such an intimate way,” says Faith.
The couple will welcome Lorraine and Bennett Hammond, two such musicians, at the Still River House Concert this coming Sunday, March 29, at 2 p.m.Lorraine Hammond is internationally known for her skill with the dulcimer as well as Celtic harp, banjo and mandolin.
“She pushes the [dulcimer] in different directions,” says Faith. “When she is done, the instrument is almost smoking.” Hammond has been referred to as the “Jimi Hendrix of the Appalachian Dulcimer;” and was influenced by the music of mountain dulcimer musician, Jean Ritchie.
Dan calls Lorraine’s husband, Bennett Hammond, a “guitar wizard,” and remarks on the incredibly full sound his ability with the guitar can produce. He also has his own unique style of playing the banjo.
A jam session will follow the concert for any who wish to participate.
To find out more about Still River Concerts, upcoming shows or to purchase tickets, visit www.stillriverconcerts.com or email the Senies at [email protected].