In the Leigh Lounge last Friday, Oct. 9, Connor Padden sat resplendent in a black kilt and Irish driving cap. He sat down and smiled, thinking about the melody of the song he was about to play. Plucking a few quiet notes, he drew the bow across the strings of his violin, filling the room with a resonant hum. He closed his eyes. And with no more ado, the silence was broken by the lilting melody of an Irish jig.
The Honors Musicale is a little-known tradition at Montana State. It has been in existence since 2009, when Dr. Ilse-Mari Lee became director of the Honors College. Beginning in the basement of Quad D, it grew quickly in performers and audience, and migrated to Quad F and then to the Leigh Lounge. In its current incarnation, it happens four times a year — the recent concert, one on Dec. 4, and two more in the spring. The musicale is by no means an Honors-specific event. Lee stressed “all students, faculty and staff at MSU are welcome.”
“Musicale” is a strange term for us today — according to Merriam Webster, it is “a party or social affair featuring a musical program.” And indeed, the atmosphere of MSU’s musicale felt more like a party than a fancy-dress event. The performers sat on a piano bench in the center of the room, and the audience was on couches spread in a semi-circle. It didn’t feel like a concert as much as a royal court entertainment. Some performances were not always even prepared — some people only performed after the audience called for them to do so. Cajoled and harassed by their friends, the players would reluctantly walk up, and blow the audience away with a gorgeous piece of art. The relaxed atmosphere was an important part of that creative energy. “We are a supportive and appreciative audience,” Lee explained. “To receive the thunderous applause of their peers, creates a moment that will encourage and inspire young musicians for years to come.”
Spontaneous music often has very little outlet in our society. Busking requires time and permits, and playing music late at night disturbs the peace. However, many of the music world’s greatest stars began their careers in impromptu settings — jazz clubs, dive bars, street corners and back alleyways. Amateur music sometimes suffers from an overdose of perfectionism in American mindsets. However, MSU is certainly not opposed to public music. “We can always create more opportunities,” Lee said. “Lunch hour concerts in the SUB, and future performances spaces in the Norm Asbjornson Innovation Center, are all spaces where we can celebrate and foster music and creativity at MSU.” She also mused on the prospect of Sunday gatherings in residence halls. And later she added, “We need more flash mobs!”
While most students might not be wild on the idea of joining a flash mob, no one can rule out the joy of performing, or being an audience member. Bozeman has a thriving music scene — from Kelly Roberti’s jazz to Drink Me Plenty’s hard folk, our town is well-stocked with fantastic musicians. To take advantage of that, start here at MSU. If you play an instrument, sing or would like to do either, think about joining the next Musicale. As Lee said, “We need players and audiences. Help us foster the creative and performing arts in our community.” All it takes is a first step: reaching out and getting engaged in the community.
As the evening faded, the Leigh Lounge was still filled with music. Choirs, Armenian piano pieces, guitar duets, French and German vocal pieces, ukulele and an Irish fiddle carried out into the street from the lounge’s open windows. The audience clapped, cheered and occasionally stomped their approval. Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “Without music, life would be a mistake.” As the last notes died, no one in the room was feeling the least bit mistaken.