This isn’t the University Cafe or the TAC. If you’re looking for hipsters and ambience, you won’t find it here. In the Staller Recital Hall, you’re more likely to see empty seats, elderly couples and noses buried in program notes. The room is hushed, the stage lights stark. And the piano—a Steinway—is probably worth more than you pay for college tuition in four years. But tonight is different from other nights in the Staller Recital Hall. It’s Monday, March 26 and a small
band of songwriters has assembled for the first time to perform their songs.
Karl Hinze is the first of five songwriters for the night. He talks to the audience comfortably, as if we were sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in a friend’s apartment, not spread out in anonymous darkness. His 10-minute set showcases pieces from his in-progress musical, 210 Amlent Avenue. As Hinze accompanies each singer on the piano, scenes and backdrops unfold from his vivid lyrics and musical motives. For those who find musical theatre too bombastic, Hinze offers a more personal rhetoric. His songs are more self-aware than they are spectacle, and each song paints a clear portrait of a character who is well-rounded and easily relatable, despite time constraints.
Julien Touafek is next. Also well acquainted with writing for musical theatre, Touafek blends musical styles with striking art song sonorities. The combination of the two becomes a visceral song cycle. As Touafek’s powerful voice booms through the hall, he details a man’s deteriorating relationship with his long-term boyfriend. The song cycle draws from a huge palette of emotions; fear, sadness, rage and nostalgia all coalesce into a complex and telling musical work.
In the following set, a bright-red toy piano and a percussion wood seat accompany singer-songwriter Andrea Daly. While she is often likened to Sara Bareilles, her music’s exotic textures and clever lyrics create a striking mix of both indie and pop. Daly’s voice knows how to astound and comfort, somehow soulful and light, all at once. Giggles erupt here and there as Daly presents the whole package capably with a strong stage presence.
Andrew Conklin, standing unadorned behind a microphone and guitar, brings to mind an afternoon performance in a coffee shop. But belying the simplicity of his set-up, Conklin’s music is built on unique chord progressions and harmonies. The music of his set brings together sweetened folk melodies of bands like Fleet Foxes and Iron & Wine with penetrating vocals like The Shins’ James Mercer. And his clear sense of self-assurance puts the audience quietly at ease.
Closing out the night is Dan Weymouth, a long-time professor of electronic music and composition. Weymouth candidly admits that his first song is older than all of the other songwriters themselves. And while his songs are a musical reminiscence of past generations, the words they speak have universal messages.
We often take for granted our musical experiences. Open mic nights and garage band performances are more commonly social gatherings than they are cultural exploits. But in the hopeful—if sedate—atmosphere of the first Songwriter’s Concert, the importance of innovative and thoughtful music rings true.