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The streets are alive with the sound of music

Posted Thursday, July 7, 2011, at 5:47 PM

Phillip Bell and Charles Ferguson play jazz standards at the Marshall farmers market Saturday, July 2. (Eric Crump/Democrat-News)
The best cities have fertile sidewalks -- such fertile sidewalks that musicians sprout from street corners and entertain passersby for hours, filling the air with music.

This observation is from a previous life when I traveled often. I've been to places like New York, Chicago, New Orleans, Ann Arbor, Minneapolis, Denver, Pittsburgh, Nashville and more.

And in most of those cities, it's common to come across musicians playing wherever crowds gather, sometimes solo, sometimes in small combos. They open their cases, play their hearts out and accept whatever generosity their music provokes in the people who stop to listen for a minute or two.

Music makes life better (or so I've led myself to believe). Music on the streets changes the feeling of the place, giving the routine experience of walking down the street a nudge in a better direction. It's not magic exactly. Striding along the concrete corridors of a city from one appointment, late for another -- that's still stressful. But give the journey a soundtrack supplied by live musicians and a little of the stress melts away.

For those who aren't in a big hurry, stopping a while to listen is like getting a quick, convenient concert in the middle of the day.

Music isn't magic. But it's close.

For example, I once spent four days in San Diego and all I can remember about the city is one particular spot and one particular moment.

I was at a convention and was done making presentations for the day and was killing some time before starting to prepare for my next presentation. I went for a walk along the shore.

There, anchored about 30 or 40 yards away, was a sailboat. On the sailboat was a middle-aged woman playing a violin. Mozart, I think.

It was one of those moments that are so beautiful the preoccupations of the day, the deadlines and details and looming problems, just recede into the background, temporarily drained of urgency or forgotten completely.

It was sunset. The glowing sky reflected in the water. And a woman played Mozart.

The experience didn't cost me anything, either. If I'd tried to toss her a tip I would have either missed (and what do fish need with money?) or beaned her (which likely would have spoiled the moment).

I've had somewhat similar things happen closer to home. My son and I went to Columbia not long ago. We came across two street musicians in two blocks. One was playing traditional Irish music on a fiddle. The other was playing jazz and African music on sax, drums and flutes.

We went intending to shop, but we ended up spending more on tipping street musicians than on ourselves.

Guess where else I've encountered music on the street?


Every Saturday morning from 8 to noon during Market on the Square someone plays music. Marshall Cultural Council helps coordinate things. Sometimes its individuals or groups who have signed up and play for a set time. Sometimes it's just somebody who stops by and plays for a while.

Among the people who have generously shared their talents so far this summer are

--Charles Ferguson, director emeritus of the Marshall Philharmonic Orchestra, former director of the Marshall Municipal Band and currently adjunct professor of music at Missouri Valley College. He brings his bass or guitar or both and plays with whoever else happens to show up.

--God's Love. Bathsheba, Sarah and Josiah Love bring uplifting Christian songs to life. Bathsheba has a beautiful voice. Sarah (who plays in Marshall Philharmonic Orchestra) accompanies on violin and Josiah plays snare drum.

--The Swift Family. Dale, Kathy and Daniel Swift bring an old-time string band sound to the square. They sing old-time gospel songs. Kathy plays upright bass. Daniel plays Dobro. And Dale plays whatever he can get his hands on. I've seen him pick up guitar, mandolin, banjo and fiddle.

--John Michael Johnson plays guitar and is a frequent performer.

--Dave Farris plays guitar.

--John Dice stopped by once to play his fiddle with Charles.

--Phillip Bell played bass last Saturday while Charles played guitar. They sight read some jazz and popular standards, including "Begin the Beguine," "Blues in the Night," "Tip Toe Through the Tulips," "Happy Days are Here Again" and more.

--Phil Dieckhoff stopped by once with his harmonicas.

No matter who shows up or what kind of music they play, everybody has fun, and they make the world, or at least our little corner of it, a little bit better for everybody in the vicinity.

There's more summer left and more music to come. In coming weeks, we're execting to hear from God's Love again (July 9 and Aug. 20). Members of Tugboat Soul are expected to stop by July 16. The Swift Family and Lines of Atrophy are signed up to perform at Cookin' in the Park, a family event at Indian Foothills Park Friday, July 15. Dave Para and Cathy Barton are scheduled to perform Sunday, July 24, in Jim the Wonder Dog Memorial Garden.

We have a lot of talent in this area, and it's at its best when it is shared. In that respect, the great cities of the world got nothin' on us.

Marshall, after all, is music.

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The music sure makes the Saturday Farmer's Market not just a destination for fruits and vegetables but also for entertainment.

Thank you to all the musicians!

-- Posted by salinemg on Sat, Jul 9, 2011, at 1:35 AM

Those indelible moments are wonderful. The summer of 1963 I was bumming around Greenwich Village, ignorant as can be, and stumbled into Washington Square Park. It was filled with muscians of every stripe. Broke, and hungry, traveling by thumb, I hung out there all day. Gotta say it was one of the best days of my life.

-- Posted by Oklahoma Reader on Fri, Jul 8, 2011, at 1:34 AM

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Eric Crump is a former editor of The Marshall Democrat-News. He lives elsewhere now but still loves Marshall and Saline County. He's trying to catch up on all the stories he should have written while he was on staff.
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