If music be the food of love, play on — #berkshireweekend

‘Don’t let the lights go out — they’ve lasted for so many years.’

I remember a clear evening when families sang together at Hanukkah. We sat outside around the fire, and we were singing softly to Peter, Paul and Mary … the kind of folk song my brother and sister and I grew up listening to on our parents’ records, the kind that call for vigor and human warmth.

We were informal and improvising, guitar chords holding us together and people looking up the next verse. The music moved around the circle, some of them friends I’ve known half my life.

At night in the frost, by firelight, people who cared about each other were feeling our way through the words with a familiar integrity, like a conversation at home, coasting on a closeness that gives room for shared intensity. Kids were running on the lawn in the dusk.

And looking at the stars on a winter night gave a new immediacy to a song about seeing the humanity in people, and holding on. Singing around a fire in the dark has its own kinds of mystery …

And we’re singing music woven for this time of year. How often can we say that now? The world has many traditions among many people, in many faiths and many places, and my ancestors may have known more of their own.

Palestinian-American vocalist Mona Miari and multi instrumentalist Zafer Tawil hold a night of music to help the people of Gaza. Press photo courtesy of Race Brook Lodge
Mona Miari and Zafer Tawil

Palestinian-American vocalist Mona Miari and multi instrumentalist Zafer Tawil hold a night of music to help the people of Gaza. Press photo courtesy of Race Brook Lodge

But for me, it’s often at this time of year when I re-encounter music that belongs to the rhythm of a season and to a way of thinking. And I can feel a strength in it. Sharing music with friends can open up time.

It gives us one way of touching what holidays are, spaces when the membrane between day to day and larger cycles of life becomes permeable. Holy has a root in whole and in health. The word holds room for relationship and reflection. And with the right elixir, a heady elation.

I’ve found that feeling in different places — wassailing up Linden Street in the soaking rain with a jug of sweet cider. Watching a room fill with a sea of light, as we sat in the dark and each one of us in turn lit a candle and held it for the person next to us, who made their own choices. And when the light had moved to all of us, voices began singing Silent Night.

Once, when I was home a day or two before the holidays, my family realized the night had begun to snow. We walked up the road where I grew up, zigzagging through fresh powder … and we all started singing. Spontaneously, in a ragged zany chorus, because even then we knew snow on the solstice was becoming rare, and because the warm current we were riding in being together found that release and rolled on through.

Cape Breton fiddlers Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy present a Celtic Family Christmas.
Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center

Cape Breton fiddlers Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy present a Celtic Family Christmas. Press photo courtesy of the Mahaiwe.

Sing we clear …

Music is running through these next few weeks, in informal nights with friends and performers with ties around the world, from wassailers to a Persian shah kaman resonating with 12 strings …

More events and music coming up …

Grosse Isle musicians from Quebec and Ireland — Sophie Lavoie du Lac-St-Jean, André Marchand and Fiachra O’Regan — sit with their instruments against a wall of weathered wood. Press photo courtesy of the Foundry
Mar 2 2024 @ 7:30 pm
The traditional music trio Grosse Isle was born out of a collaboration between three exceptional musicians from Quebec and Ireland — Sophie Lavoie du Lac-St-Jean, André Marchand and Fiachra O’Regan.
Electric guitar. Creative Commons courtesy photo.
Mar 2 2024 @ 7:30 pm
Interweaving the classic songs and jams of The Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers Band and The Band, Dead Man’s Waltz performs as an all-star collective from the Northeast festival scene.
a double bass catches the light on its bridge and bow in a purple-shadowed room. Creative Commons courtesy photo
Mar 3 2024 @ 10:00 am
Every first Sunday of the month, Pete Toigo and Dave Bartley bring a morning of music — soulful jazz and blues with Pete on bass and Dave piano and vocals.

By the Way Berkshires is a digital magazine exploring creative life and community — art and performance, food and the outdoors — and I’m writing it for you, with local voices, because I’ve gotten to know this rich part of the world as a writer and journalist, and I want to share it with you.

If you’d like to see the website grow, you can join me for a few dollars a month, enough for a cup of coffee and a cider doughnut. Members get access to extra stories and multimedia, itineraries a bookmark tool. Let me know what you're looking for, and we’ll explore together.

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