Approaching the Stanford Co-Op Columbae, I noticed two things. The first was that the red brick steps had been laced with Christmas lights, and opposite them sat plush couches and armchairs that had been moved outside for Acoustic Jukebox. Their aesthetic ease matched the vibe of the night. The second thing I noticed was that the ‘A E’ in Columbae’s house sign had been taped over and in its place was a homemade Sharpie and printer paper sign that said “I R T H.”
“Columbirth,” indeed. The night was full of musicians who experimented with the idea of convention.
The night began with Gabriela Leslie (‘14) playing her acoustic guitar to original tunes, inspired by her time in Ecuador. Her breathy voice blended into the rough and soulful guitar, reminiscent of “Tallest Man on Earth”. Despite the chill October air, the deep and heartfelt lyrics of her song “The Poet’s Wife” gave warmth to a very cold audience.
After Leslie finished her set, Clark Pang (‘16) shuffled his way onstage to give a dynamic new age cello and vocal performance. I use the phrase “new age” because the first half of his performance depended heavily on pizzicato—a musical style in which an artist performs solely by plucking the strings on his instrument. On cello, the sound was electric gravel and Mozart. Although stronger on strings than he was vocally, Pang gave a beautiful rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on his cello. For his finale, he sampled a hip-hop beat, playing his cello over the music. I’m a big fan of playing classic string instruments with modern music, especially hip-hop. Giving traditional instruments a new function is pretty cool. Other artists like Kishi Bashi have started to invent their own music genre with this technique.
The evening’s third performer, Nate Nunez (‘15), caught the audience’s attention with his acoustic renditions of mainstream hits, playing classics on his guitar by Amos Lee and John Mayer. The real gem of his set was his duet with Virginia Steindorf (‘16) singing and playing “Royals” by Lorde. Bringing a Jason Mraz-y vibe to the concert, Nunez’s performance got the audience simultaneously excited that they knew the music he was playing and disappointed that he wasn’t actually Jason Mraz. Although not a pop star, his talent was obvious in every note. While keeping the progressions identical to those of their original performers, he varied vocal intonations, putting a new spin on what it means to perform in the “mainstream.”
Aishu Venkataraman (‘14) played only five notes during her half hour performance of traditional Indian music. For those who don’t know, that is not a lot of notes. Using a limited musical range on her violin and Vignesh Venkataraman on traditional Indian drums, she made five notes sound a whole lot like magic. Their performance defined my night. The audience entered a trancelike state listening to the drum and violin hum and strum out such intricate melodies—most of them improvised. In the space of complete musical attention, I was assailed by memories of people who made me think differently about art and the world and all of the little tranquilities we should afford ourselves. Why should music not just be five notes and a drum? There is something about instrumental performances that tends to have a magical effect on people. These performances transcend language and allow for a group of people to sit around and rather than listen to music, experience it.
Closing the show was Bo Prochnow (‘15), on electric guitar. Playing with the enthusiasm and eagerness of a high school garage band, Prochnow earned the girlish smiles of many in the audience. The instrumental portion of his set was a mixture of well-executed soft rock tones and sheepish smiles at his own performance.
The night was rounded out by a quick viewing of the art exhibit by Eric Kofman (‘14), who reimagined the Dish in patterns and colors, lending itself to an abstract interpretation of a place that is so generally portrayed green and plain. Those who chose to walk around the make-shift exhibit oohed and ahhed not only at the versatility of the artist, but the versatility of the venue. Columbae residents ate a midnight snack in the dining hall directly adjacent to the exhibition. It smelled good.
Music is a gift. In the case of this week’s Acoustic Jukebox, it is a gift given in many different forms, and my ears enjoyed every one of them.
Acoustic Jukebox is run by the Student Organizing Committee for the Arts. The next AJ will be at 680 on Monday, October 21. Check out SOCA’s next event, Tuesdays in the Pool Room, at Kairos this Tuesday at 8. Their website is here.