By Eric Maring
My wife and I moved to Calvert Hills in College Park in 1999 after wandering around India with backpacks and a guitar for six months. We wanted to make our home in a place that grounded us, and we fortunately found a house that we still live in to this day. One of my early memories of the neighborhood that first fall was hearing joyous group singing emanating from a nearby neighbor’s backyard. They sang song after familiar song that early evening, and filled me with feelings of welcome and togetherness. “I’ve arrived in the right place,” I remember thinking. Lucky for me, I soon got to know that neighbor, the banjo-playing Rocky, and we’ve delighted in many years of shared concerts and sing-alongs, often with the hallmark moment of his leading us in “This Land is Your Land.” Those are moments of magic that all of us have remembered for years. While Rocky and I are of different generations, we’ve found a great deal of common ground in the songs we share — with each other, and with all the people who sing with us. On Halloween, families know that they can find Rocky and his wife outside, playing songs for trick-or-treaters. And the players of the College Park Youth Music Traditions know that having the elder musical-statesman Rocky play with them at a performance is a special treat.
Musicians and the music they create are an integral part of their community, and certainly the serious musicians of Calvert Hills are noteworthy. Talented, driven and varied, we are an extremely special glue in our community. Rocky represents the folk tradition of Greenwich Village in the ‘60s — think Pete Seeger. College Park boasts some immensely talented classical players: there’s Kathy, a renowned violist and professor at UMD, and Claudia, mentor to young orchestral players and concert master of numerous prestigious ensembles (The Washington Post featured a photo of her, performing, on June 23). We have Gabriel, an internationally recognized composer and pianist; Allison, singer and leader of several chorales; and Mia, Leo, and Theo, all young and extraordinarily gifted players. And they are just a few of the musicians in our community.
When I think about these musicians and the value they offer all of us, I also reflect on how music is about making peace. A musician may spend years, even many years learning how to make meaningful sounds, sounds that tell a story, that bring us together in a place of peace. In times of protest, music gives us a common message, and it demands that we listen. Young children learn by watching musicians play; you can all but hear the gears turning as they react with, “Ah, that’s how people are. That’s something I want to do, too, and that’s something I CAN do.” For me, this is the ultimate peace-making.
This pandemic has cancelled live performances and prevents us from some of the best things about music: our ability to create and share it with each other, near each other, together. But we musicians are here, and we will be there, on the other side, waiting.