Outside the Music Box

Monadnock Music has always had a talent for thinking outside the box to make music accessible to all.

This season, a pandemic has led to twice the creativity needed to fulfill that mission — and the organization’s “playing it by ear” has opened up a whole new world of possibility to listeners.

For more than 50 years, Monadnock Music has produced and hosted close to 30 free concerts in nearly 20 towns in the region throughout the summer. Founder James Bolle realized intimate and acoustically friendly buildings abundant in the area make for great performance spaces. Monadnock Music grew around the concept of musicians developing a relationship with their audiences while performing at these small venues.

Bolle has described the style of Monadnock Music’s annual festival as “offbeat and adventurous.” This is because resident and guest musicians perform a lot of music outside of the mainstream. It wouldn’t be uncommon to hear Beethoven and Dixieland jazz, or world music and even a little country along with traditional classical in the same concert.

As was the case with all scheduled performances at the start of the pandemic this spring, the summer series was cancelled. The organization rescheduled part of the line-up as Music in the Time of Quarantine — a short series of high-quality video/audio recordings of musicians streamed via YouTube and Facebook, and also on the Monadnock Music website (the last was May 31). They were recorded prior to airing so when they were broadcast, viewers were able to share their thoughts and ask questions of the musicians as well as Monadnock Music’s artistic director, Rafael Popper-Kaizer.

The hope remains to cap off the summer season with the annual fundraising gala — originally scheduled for Aug. 19 — on Oct. 14 at Aldworth Manor in Harrisville. There will be a pop-up live music performance and a menu of appetizers served. The evening will be topped off with a champagne toast on the veranda and a fireworks display.

The organization’s inaugural Listen & Lunch Monadnock Music in Depot Park series for all continues every Thursday through September. Live solo musicians (flute, percussion guitar, violin) all summer have performed from a safe social distance in the park during lunch break from noon to 1 p.m. Performances are under a small tent.

Up next in Listen & Lunch is a performance by guitarist David William Ross on Sept. 17. Ross, trained in classical and jazz, has performed throughout the United States and in Europe and frequently works closely with composers and other artists as well as dancers and choreographers. He has also taught music theory, guitar, improvisation and other programs of study while serving on the faculties of Fitchburg State University, Keene State College, The Vermont Jazz Center, Elm City Music and the Concord Community Music School.

Monadnock Music’s general manager, Laina Barakat, said Listen & Lunch had been part of the summer plan this year pre-pandemic (it was meant to be a side note and has become a focal point of the season) and the timing has been perfect.

It’s also perfect for the organization’s inaugural free Pop-up Concert Series.

“We’ve seen other groups do [pop-up concerts] in the past,” she said. “For us it was 100 percent born out of the pandemic.” She added Monadnock Music is the only classical music group hosting live performances this year.

The first Pop-Up Concert is Wednesday, Sept. 16 at noon outside the Hundred Nights Shelter in downtown Keene. Performing will be a clarinet duo featuring Jason Koerber and Justin Pelkey and a 15-minute program of Bach and Beethoven.

Koerber is director of Elm City Music and teaches clarinet, saxophone and flute. He’s also performed with many groups in the local area and the region, including the Keene Jazz Orchestra, Tomfoolery Band, Raylynmor Opera Company and the Pink Floyd tribute band, Liquid Floyd.

“Part of our mission with free village concerts is to include low-income families of all ages,” Barakat said. “We thought the shelter was a good location because it reaches people who ordinarily may not have classical music accessible to them. Plus, it [creates] a communal atmosphere being at the center point of downtown. It’s a safe spot for people to come together and enjoy music.”

Koerber will perform again as part of Listen & Lunch in Peterborough to close that series on Sept. 24. He’ll perform with Richard Sanders, who once served as a member of the USAF Ceremonial Band based in Washington, D.C., and was the first director of music for the Conval School District. He has served as guest conductor for several music festivals and has performed with many musical organizations throughout New England.

More pop-up events are in the planning stages, including one on Oct. 7 at the Frost Free Library in Marlborough and Saturday, Oct. 10 at the Peterborough Historical Society.

Another outdoor concert created as a response to the pandemic is Beacon Brass, performing Sunday, Sept. 20 at 4 p.m. at the Cathedral of the Pines in Rindge, featuring music by Scheidt, Gabrieli, Debussy, Joplin, Ewald, Ellington and others. Seating will be limited to 50 people, seated in every other row and staggered six feet apart. Masks must be worn, and tickets must be purchased in advance.

The Beacon Brass quintet, which performed as part of Monadnock Music’s 2019 season to a sellout crowd, has performed everywhere from Carnegie Hall to the John F. Kennedy Library and recorded theme music for PBS. In recent years, Beacon Brass has been featured in informal lecture/recitals with Boston Pops conductor, Keith Lockhart.

While events scheduled later in the fall and winter months have been cancelled because they can’t meet pandemic guidelines indoors, Barakat said Monadnock Music is looking forward to planning the 2021 season.

“We will continue to fulfill our mission of making music accessible,” she said.

For more information and to purchase tickets to any event, visit monadnockmusic.org.