Philadelphia classical music events, discussion, and directory
Classical music in a coffee shop? This time, it's not piped in music, but the real deal. Attempts to shed the stuffy image of classical music have experienced varying degrees of success and this group seemed to have the right idea. Founded in 2006 in San Francisco, Classical Revolution states it's goal is "bringing live chamber music to our neighborhoods, making it an open, accessible, and fun musical experience for the community." The local chapter, which organizes its events through their Facebook group, typically holds its informal jam sessions in coffee houses in Northern Liberties one Sunday afternoon per month.
I attended the session on Sunday 12/18 and found the musicians tucked into a library upstairs in the cozy One Shot Coffee house. Free parking was easy to find, and the vibe was casual yet respectful of the musicians. Having a space far from the busy coffee counter meant interruptions were minimal and the noise levels were low enough to hear and enjoy the music. Musicians took turns as they switched up the ensembles that were mostly comprised of stringed instruments, but also included flute. The electric keyboard, frowned upon in most classical music circles, was pressed into service during an improv session. Making due is part of the charm, and these musicians took it all in stride.
A nice variety of music was played and the musicians occasionally gave brief comments. The long layout of the rooms made it difficult to hear the comments. Another venue might pull the audience in a bit more and allow for brief conversations between coffee house customers and the musicians. It appeared that I was not the only one who would have appreciated that exchange, as other customers were engaged and visibly interested in the session.
At one point a trio comprised of violin, cello, and voice started performing without music. The singer had what appeared to be a book, but I figured it was probably a collection of music. Well it turned out that it actually was a book that he had recently pulled from one of the shelves in the library and the piece was totally made up on the spot! After revealing this trait, the singer pulled another book from the shelves and off they went, improvising another piece. The violinist even switched between violin and the keyboard as the song progressed. Improvisation is rarely seen in modern classical music, but that was not always the case. Ancient music was almost fully improvisational. There's a certain thrill of realizing that the song could go anywhere, and it's the first, and probably last time it will be played. Then there's the skill, quick wit, and sensitivity needed by all players to instantly form phrases and harmonies that work well together. It surely takes guts and a willingness to be exposed, to perform without a notated score and I admired their adventurous spirit.