The Old Parish House: College Park’s music temple
By Eric Maring
The Old Parish House is a sacred spot in the College Park community, over 200 years old and full of history that I can’t even begin to honor in this brief space. It was first used as a dairy barn, but over time has served as a place of worship and togetherness for many generations. I feel blessed to have been able to be a part of countless special moments there, making giant paper mache puppets while meeting neighbors, teaching music classes for families, and holding tribute concerts to honor legendary musicians and their music. I’ve sung in choirs at the parish house, celebrated my son Leo’s bar mitzvah and relished a 50-year wedding anniversary there. I’ve watched countless young musicians fill the building with music as they cut their teeth in front of their neighbors, and moved hearts and minds by moving their fingers nimbly across fretboards, violin necks, piano keys, saxophones, clarinets and beyond.
When I talk with younger musicians about the parish house, I refer to it as our temple, a building designed for worship, because that’s what it feels like to me: a place to worship community, and most personally for me, a place to worship the role that community plays in music and that music plays in community. And these days, as the pandemic is keeping our community out of the Old Parish House, we do miss it dearly.
The College Park Youth Music Traditions group calls the Old Parish House its home. This group that I mentor, now in its sixth year, is dedicated to learning traditional and old melodies, songs and dances. At least twice a year, we hold a performance and dance for the community — but no dance calling, holding hands in a circle or switching partners these days. Even with the challenges that the pandemic has brought, we have families in the group who share my vital need to carry on, to find ways to play music together — albeit outdoors and distanced, or on Zoom. Playing over a virtual platform is not ideal for musicians, but we can still pass around melodies, learn new tunes and see each other smile.
Even as we’re facing challenges creatively, meeting together, in the same physical space, remains key to our growth as a group. To touch this need, we’ve held three outdoor rehearsals on the lawn at the Old Parish House. It felt important to me to give the young musicians a chance to connect with our musical home. When I entered the building to plug in my extension cord, I was amazed at the sensory reaction I had to the space; I would know the scent of the Old Parish House in any blind test, for sure. How many memories are contained in a scent? I carried that moment with me back outside, and I could feel my memories transfer to my teaching.
As we rehearsed, people in the neighborhood strolled by, smiling behind their masks and giving these young musicians a thumbs up. Their appreciation reminded us that what we were doing mattered, that we’re still going, we’re still living and life has not stopped. Children adapt to different situations, and my students were doing exactly that, with masks on and joy in their hearts for the songs. And at the conclusion of our rehearsal we took a bow to the moment, to our community, and to the Old Parish House.