Music with meaning

By Rebecca Kirkman

Faculty in the Department of Music engage local seniors with “Tiny House Concert” series

Aerial view of houses

On April 11, older adults throughout Maryland enjoyed an intimate virtual concert featuring faculty performances from the Towson University Department of Music.

The first in the “Tiny House Concert: Music with Meaning” series brought the 45-minute live streamed concert to seniors and residents at more than seven retirement communities and senior-focused organizations in Baltimore County and beyond. 

Unlike most traditional in-person concerts, the Zoom platform provided an opportunity to create a dialogue between performers and attendees. After the performance, audience members had the chance to engage with the musicians during a question-and-answer period. 

“One of the things people miss when they go to a concert and just buy a ticket, appreciate it and leave, is they don't get to talk to the performers,” says Phillip Collister-Murray, music department chair and professor of voice at TU. “It brings the audience closer to the music, and it breaks down that fourth wall of the stage. Especially with this virtual environment we live in today, it breaks down that [virtual] wall, too.”

Collister-Murray, who has a history of performing at senior centers with students, said the idea for the concert series came from the need to perform music in any way possible.

“It's such a wonderful experience to give back to the community in that way, to people who are really appreciative of music in general,” he says. “Doing this virtually is something I hope can benefit them and us as well.”

The name of the concert series was inspired by the idea of bringing music performance into an intimate space—whether it was performed from musicians in their homes or enjoyed by audiences where they live.

“There’s a lot of images that come out when you think about a tiny house—an intimate, small, cozy environment,” Collister-Murray says. “In the virtual concert format, you have a front-row seat with the performer. You can see the pianist's hands up close. You can sense the technical proficiency that’s required for a person to play their instrument or sing.”

At Blakehurst, a senior living community in Towson, outside performances have been limited for the past year due to the pandemic.

“We were thrilled to experience a quality performance virtually,” says Debra Bartgis, community life services director at Blakehurst. “The Blakehurst residents not only enjoy the variety of performers, but the engagement of each person enhanced the program. It was so nice for the faculty at Towson University to reach out to local retirement communities since we cannot engage in person at this time.”

Faculty musicians relished the opportunity to perform together, too. 

“This concert was unusual in that it was a chance to hear my colleagues in the Department of Music and for them to hear me,” says David Ballou, composer, trumpeter and professor of jazz/commercial studies. With fellow music faculty members Mike Kuhl and Jeff Reed, Ballou performed “Art Deco” by Don Cherry, a trumpet player who wrote the piece as a tribute to jazz singer Billie Holiday.

“There is an incredible wealth of performance and musical thought in the Department of Music at Towson,” Ballou adds. “Such a showcase should happen more often!”

The next “Tiny House Concert” will be streamed on May 16 via Zoom, with access expanded to the general public. It features performances from TU music faculty and their families, including baritone Collister-Murray, mezzo-soprano Leneida Crawford, pianist R. Timothy McReynolds, pianist Aaron Ziegel with flutist Audra Ziegel, and bassoonist Terry Ewell with flutist Laurel Ewell.