Music, Mesclun, Maracas

Written By: Eve  Eliot

What could mesclun greens possibly have to do with percussion instruments?

In my town, there is a connection. I live in an unusual place. While there are many resort areas in which city folks maintain second homes for use on weekends and summers, and many individuals for whom the names of seasons are also verbs (summering in a cool climate, wintering in a warmer one), my New York zip code on the extreme east end of Long Island, is special, and I’m grateful.

The artistic, literary and musical community here is, I believe, is exceptional. For example, what other town, during a Saturday morning farmer’s market, offers live music featuring major talents?

One can walk on the soft grass on the village green behind Ashawagh Hall in Springs and shop for organically grown carrots, mesclun greens,  preserves made from locally grown berries, and freshly caught fish while listening to gifted musicians play guitar and harmonica and violin and sing.  Microphones and amplifiers are provided, and a drum set sits behind them. And a drummer sits behind it. It’s quite an event.  I think of it as, “Marketing: The Musical.”

Thus, one morning last August, I was browsing the shady, white- canopied booths with a friend, deciding which of the offerings of local farmers we would take home. (One of the farmers looked delicious too, and she wanted to take him home but that is for another essay!) We had bags with carrot greens sprouting out of the tops of them and musicians were playing “Sloop John B.”

We stopped in front of the musicians, feeling uplifted by the opportunity to not only supply the kitchen with provisions for the weekend, but also to have such fine music to enjoy. I tapped my foot in time with the rhythm. Job Potter, alternately playing guitar and harmonica, said to me, “Get up here and play this bongo, would you?” I was perplexed. I looked behind me to see if he’d been talking to someone standing nearby. Nope, no one behind me except two women sampling chunks of gluten – free scones.

(I don’t know why he’d noticed my foot tapping, except that maybe he is one of those rare men who notices footwear. That morning I was wearing my foxy zebra- striped flip flops.)

“Huh?” I said.

“Get up here and beat this thing!” he replied with some urgency, gesturing with his head to the drums while continuing to strum.

I handed my bag of greens to my friend and complied, beginning to tap timidly on the bongo.

“Beat that thing!” he said.

I did. I felt unselfconscious, encouraged, fearless. I felt the heartbeat of the music, like a stethoscope finding the beat and amplifying it. I felt like a rock and roll magician. I wasn’t good at it but I was AT IT. He seemed ok with what I was doing. At least he didn’t frown at me. I didn’t get fired. I got fired up!

When we were finished playing, Job asked me if I would like to come back the next afternoon to play percussion on the porch of the Springs General Store where for a few years he’d been organizing a weekly musical get together on Sundays, a gathering I’d never attended or even heard about in spite of the fact that I lived only a mile away. The jam sessions had been going on all summer, he said, and there was not enough percussioning. I was thrilled that my “audition” had been acceptable!

The next morning, the Sunday before Labor Day, I went to Crossroads Music in Amagansett and got a supply of percussion instruments. I bought shakers and wooden sticks and maracas. I already had a tambourine and a colorfully decorated rainstick, acquired in the 1960’s which I think every young woman who was a fan of Joan Baez and Bob Dylan or who’d been to Haight Ashbury possessed. I placed all these in a large tote and off I went to the porch jam at Springs General Store.

When I arrived, three musicians were strumming and picking and tuning guitars and before too long, Job nodded to the musician who would be first in the sequence of players. She played beautifully, an Irish folk ballad, and her voice was enchantingly perfect for the song. I very softly accompanied with a shaker that sounded like lentils being jostled rhythmically in a jar. I’d been coached by Job to emphasize the 2 and 4 beats in 1-2-3-4 metered songs, rather than the 1 and 3 counts. Once mastered, this much needed instruction helped me feel competent, or at least like someone that would not unsettle the professionals.

Job played “Built for Comfort” to everyone’s delight, as it is a relatively unheard song and so wonderful. I got a bit more courageous with keeping the beat going. I realized right then, for the first time, that percussion allows the heartbeat of the music to be heard, bringing forth a vibrancy that is essential. That I had no experience with percussioning didn’t seem to matter if my heart was in it. My heart WAS in it. My heartbeat was, too. My whole body understood the rhythm dancing inside it.

At the end of the afternoon, Job said, “You did good, come back next week.”

I did. I would never have considered scheduling anything between four and six on a Sunday afternoon again. Participating in the music was that important. How often does one have access to a joy so deep it penetrates into body and soul?

Thus began a relationship with the tender- hearted, skilled musicians that live here in our community. I’d been welcomed into a prolonged embrace that has allowed a bonding with individuals of such talent that I wonder how I have managed to be included in their circle. I have no musical skills, but am a good team player.  Perhaps I am a sort of mascot…like a pet. When there is a benefit performance at a local church or other venue, I am sometimes asked to come and join in with some form of rhythmic device. When this happens I have made sure to be available, cancelling all other commitments to prioritize the music. And the sense of belonging brings surplus value to an already heart-opening opportunity.

After summer, when autumnal gusts began and the outdoor temperature was not friendly to guitar playing fingers, Job announced that we’d have to suspend the gatherings until the weather warmed. I immediately offered my living room for the Sunday jams.
Sunday afternoons in my living room were quite an experience for both the makers of the music and the friends who formed their audience. When the musicians are placing their instruments back into their cases and checking to make sure they have their capos and picks, they graciously thank me for hosting them all. I am always quite amazed to be thanked for something I am being so deeply blessed by.  One day there were nine guitar players, three of whom also play harmonica, a keyboard player, a flute player and a violinist. Everyone is invited to sing along. And audience members pick up one of the percussion instruments arrayed on the table in the center of the room.

How many communities have such an interesting population? I am guessing there cannot be many such places. Some of the best music I have ever heard, in or outside of a performance space, happens at these gatherings.  The Sunday someone chose to play “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and so many of us sang along, we all agreed the whole production had never sounded so alive as in my living room, coming together as a complete surprise with no rehearsal.

I am musically without merit, but there is a particular talent with which I am blessed, the ability to recognize the gifts possessed by others.  A born “back up singer” with not a very good voice, I have a sort of obsession with finding ways to nourish and support the development of talent in others. This is one of the many ways living on the east end nourishes me, by providing me with talent to cheer on.

May anyone reading this who is interested in playing or hearing music come to the porch at Springs General Store on any Sunday between four and six. It will still be warm enough by the time you read this to enjoy a comfortable interval full of astounding music. Your heart will certainly be warmed by the experience. Bring your guitar, your flute, harmonica, trumpet or violin. Bring a cello or an oboe.  Bring a song or two that you want to play. Realize that you may find you are being accompanied by musicians who have played with Carly Simon, Meatloaf, Taj Mahal, or Richie Havens.  Bring whatever does not need electrifying, as this is an acoustic bunch. Be prepared to be electrified.