Why go to concerts by amateur music groups?


On Sunday, Abby and I carpooled with Helen and Mike (of the recorder gang) to Ambridge for a free concert given by the Pittsburgh Historical Music Society as part of a Christmas-themed event in Old Economy Village.

That was a long way to drive to see an amateur group give a concert. So why did we pile into the car?

The main draw was that there was going to be a performance of Bach’s Brandenburg concerto 4, including as soloists the local Baroque flute players Karen Parsons and Laura Lockard, and violinist and conductor William Lockard. I was very curious to see some Baroque flutists in action, since I had only recently bought a Baroque flute. Also, I love Bach’s Brandenburg concerto 4 (which I tried to sight read for alto recorder a while ago but is still too hard for me).

The concert featured a variety of early music, including some music specifically written for the original orchestra of historic Old Economy Village back in the day.

Left view of orchestra

Right view of orchestra

Harp, viola da gamba, and flute

Below are the soloists in the Brandenburg 4:

Soloists for the Brandenburg 4

Concert review

Going to an event like this, my expectations are not very high. In fact, once upon a time, I would not really bother to attend a concert of amateur performers because of high standards programmed into my mind as a result of easy access to any number of current or classic music recordings by professionals. And no, I wouldn’t have bothered to attend this particular concert if not for the draw of the Baroque flutists and the personal connections as well as expectations that they would be decent (which they were).

During the concert, some of the violins were perpetually out of tune, and there were constant glitches everywhere, whether in the cello, horns, whatever. One has to simply be patient and decide to enjoy the performances as they are. Sometimes the struggle even adds to the excitement. The Brandenburg 4 is not easy, and even at the slow tempos chosen, the imperfections in execution combined with honest enthusiasm made me appreciate even more how special it was that Bach wrote such brilliant and passionate music.

In praise of amateurism and imperfection

I am an amateur musician, and not yet a very skilled one, so I recognize my limitations. I can miss notes, create uneven and ragged phrasing, fall apart at high speed, play out of tune, and make all kinds of other errors.

I think that being out there myself playing now, I am more appreciative than I used to be of other amateurs who love music and put themselves out there also in all their imperfection. And interestingly, I learn from that also. By hearing someone play less than perfectly, I better see that in myself and have a basis for becoming more self-aware and improving. Paradoxically, it is less useful to see someone perform at professional perfection, because that’s too far away from where I am. I consider this true whatever the field: music, chess, computer programming. Just being around perfection does not help one’s own practice and appreciation. It helps also to be around those of a somewhat higher level. That makes it easier to think, “I could be up at that level also, with work”, which is much easier to think than, “I could be Einstein or Beethoven”.

You too can participate!

Especially today, when some people are fearful and avoid doing anything that they don’t think they will be immediately expert at, I think there is a powerful message to spread. If you love music, please consider joining us amateurs who go around playing it and sharing it and helping each other improve! You don’t have to be perfect to enjoy performing. You can sing, or pick up that instrument you haven’t touched since childhood, and start up again! The media would have us believe that we are unworthy and that the best we can do is choose not to be an active music maker and instead just buy and consume recordings from the pros. There is certainly nothing wrong with appreciating the pros and supporting their beautiful performances, but we too can dance and sing, with enthusiasm and without shame!

Personal connections

The recorder gang knows Laura Lockard from her involvement with a music workshop held in the summer (which I may attend next summer). They also seemed to know the other solo flutist, Karen Parsons. Also, Abby and I have our own connection to Karen Parsons: it’s her farm that we sometimes get eggs from! Very small world, this Pittsburgh or western PA region.


If you love the Brandenburg 4, check out this amazing melodica rendition of the last movement by James Howard Young, all by himself on multiple tracks:

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