I listen to the soft first strains of the violin as they fall from the instrument and escape like thin strings into the open air. Without an echo, the sound is sorrowful but strangely comforting. The hum of a guitar joins in quickly followed by the cooing of an accordion and the swish of a snare drum’s beat. Without warning my foot keeps tapping to the backbone rhythm of the song. I glance to my side and grin as I see a semicircle of people similarly occupied, their heads bopping and fingers rapping in unison.
I am at an outdoor, free concert held in what was once the pasture for colonial cows in Boston. I have come here drawn to the sounds of a band hoping to make their mark on the future of the music scene. They are in great company since an array of great musicians and bands have appeared like phantoms out of the tiny capital of Massachusetts. Aerosmith rock and rolled their way from 1325 Commonwealth Avenue to all around the world. The Cars began their New Wave sound in the halls of the Berklee College of Music, Donna Summer belted out gospels at her tiny Mission Hill church, and Tom Scholz, founder of the band Boston fused technology and music notes while studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. These are a few of the hallowed names I have listened to over the years whose footsteps all traced back to Boston.
A City of Notes
In Boston, a whip smart city that takes no nonsense, the music scene can be intimate, raw, or funky, but it is always genuine. Street performers are as much a part of the cityscape as duck ponds and maple trees, providing an acoustical accompaniment to the visual life of every day. On a busy weekday morning, guitarists strum messages of peace and equality in subway tunnels while commuters run to catch the downtown line. Perhaps, in some subliminal way, the words and tunes stay with the suits and the laptop carriers hurrying to their destination. It isn’t unusual to find bands performing for free during the warmer months, while the city celebrates its small town roots with art and music fairs. This is when strangers come together, drawn by a shared love of ska or rock or blues. Singers and songwriters are popular features of many restaurants in Boston, popping by on Sunday brunches, weekend dinners, and salad lunches. Along the banks of the Charles River is a half encased stadium where thousands come, to be soothed or energized by the music of their choice. Along the tangle of streets in the compact urban center are underground venues dedicated to the unheard, unpopular, and unknown musicians that give Boston its cultural complexity and provide Bostonians with a steady stream of talent.
Listening to live music is both a deeply personal and communal experience. Whether I attend a night of “La Boheme” at the swanky Boston Opera House or spend the evening under the stars listening to the Boston Pops, I continue to find enrichment in the way music interweaves itself into daily life here. I often find myself repeating the words of a song I caught as I made my way from the red to the orange line. I have numerous snippets of melodies rattling around my head that I pick up on the weekends from impromptu concerts held on lawns, along street corners, and at the Hatch Shell. I have been introduced to the easy swaying of jazz, the emotional impact of fado, and the heart stomping roar of techno all while involved in sharing meals with friends, seeing artwork with family, and enjoying a night out on the town. Without very much effort, I have been privileged to witness music groups who evolved into famous rockstars and spent time listening to the lyrical confessions of poets set to notes. It is a boon I hope never to take lightly while in Boston.
Most cities are covered in noise that is not melodic. The raucous sounds of traffic, construction, and modernity at work are the heartbeat of every metropolis. Boston, I feel, struts to a different tempo. One attuned to the nuances of flats and sharps and the playfulness of instruments. It is the rhythm I hear while walking the streets of Boston, sometimes syncopated as it surges through the cracks of a nightclub door, sometimes pointed like the rat-tat-tat of a military tattoo. Whatever the cadence, I fall easily into its pulse because I feel it is the perfect symphony: the sound of Boston.
Boston has a variety of different music venues for all types of enthusiasts. Free concerts are constantly held at outdoor events in the city such as the Hatch Memorial Shell as well as in intimate settings like House of Blues. Famous clubs in Boston have hosted every sort of music genre from ska to electronica and punk rock. Famous bands like Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Dropkick Murphys, and Guster have gotten their start in Boston arenas. Whether searching for an Italian operetta or an indie songwriter, Boston continues to furnish music lovers with the right sound.