I think it was the old ringing piano in the parlor that sealed the deal for me.
Sure, there was the house itself, the gorgeous land, the lake, the chickens and goats, the friendly ghosts, the weird and serendipitous connections between everyone involved, and the prospect of building a nurturing home away from home for artists working in pretty much any medium. There was that too.
But that piano really caught my fancy.
When Susan Goodwillie told me about SPACE on Ryder Farm and the work they were planning on doing over the summer with Artists On The Farm, I was like “that’s a really cool thing she’s doing.” And then she asked me if I wanted to be a part of it. My response? Well, frankly, “duh.”
SPACE on Ryder Farm was everything I hoped it would be. What a cliché line, but it truly was. The days were filled with manual labor of varying sorts (paint peeling, sanding, scrubbing, weeding, exorcising) and the evenings were filled with stimulating conversation, bonfires, games, more exorcising, and of course artistic communion!
Part of the appeal of working to build an artist’s retreat is that you’re on an artist’s retreat. The SPACE team wanted to make sure that we all had the chance to “host” a weekend on the farm, if we so chose. I was thrilled (and terrified) to be the first to host a weekend.
I have been performing my original singer/songwriter material in New York for the past year and a half and have developed a real love for the art of the live musical performance. The song itself is where it starts, yes, but the way in which the song is shared, the order in which a set is put together, and the banter (my god, the banter!) are what truly excite me about live music.
I have been approaching my music performances with a relaxed, comfortable, and playful sensibility. What I really want is for my audience to feel as if we were all hanging out in a living room together, maybe after a wonderful meal, and we’ve moved on for some light entertainment and story sharing. I want to interact with my audience and I want them to interact with me. I want to play games in the middle of my set and tell jokes and share secrets and I want everyone to be engaged with the music and the moment and each other.
Here’s where the old ringing piano in the parlor comes into play.
When I saw the piano sitting below 2 portraits of early Ryders, in a room full of journals, old newspapers, and a chaise lounge I knew that this was where I would be spending my spare time while on the farm, writing songs on the piano and writing stories in my own journal. This room dedicated to relaxation, introspection, and music was a family room. And I wanted to bring my new family together to share with them some songs, stories, laughs, and cookies the way the generations of Ryders before us had done.
I can’t speak for everyone, but I certainly felt that the evening I hosted was a magical one, and is exactly the kind of experience I want to create and share with anyone who encounters the music I make. I gave a concert of music I’ve written on piano and bass, and infused the evening with stories, games, challenges, and, yes, cookies. My goal was to use the piano in the parlor to call up old memories, create new ones, and mingle with the memories already in the space. I think this act of communion allowed us to love each other a little more.
The weekend I hosted is part of a larger project I have been developing with the performance of my music, and everyone who leant their ears and hearts that weekend taught me so much about what it means to share honestly and playfully. I am very grateful to everyone involved with Artists On The Farm this summer, not only for all the new and incredible friendships, but for their great encouragement and support. I look forward to encountering more of the magic that SPACE on Ryder Farm creates J
Grace McLean is an actor/singer/songwriter working in New York City. You can catch her original piece (which was workshopped this summer on Ryder Farm) “Grace McLean Lives in Concert” at Ars Nova’s ANT FEST on Wednesday, November 3 at 8pm. For tickets visit www.arsnovanyc.com. www.gracemclean.com