This column by Michael Mizrahi, Associate Professor of Music at Lawrence University, first appeared in The Post-Crescent on Sunday, Feb. 3 as part of its weekly Voices of the Arts feature.

On a small grassy field in downtown Appleton, my children and I are trying to draw sounds from plastic trombones. We laugh at the squeaks and squawks coming from our instruments while dancing with dozens of others along to the funky rhythm laid down by the Mile of Music’s Music Education Team.

Portrait of Michael Mizrahi
Michael Mizrahi

We shout in excitement as my six-year old daughter finally gets one low trombone note to sustain.

In the Lawrence Memorial Chapel, the audience sits in rapt silence as a performance by the Lawrence Academy Girl Choir fills the beautiful space. The high school-aged musicians have spent weeks rehearsing their parts, and years before that practicing their vocal skills and musicianship. After their thirty-minute set reaches its exciting conclusion, the audience erupts into sustained applause.

Shared musical experiences like the ones I’ve described can take a variety of forms here in Appleton, from seeing a live band at Houdini Plaza to joining a sing-along at Mile of Music to attending a Lawrence Symphony Orchestra concert. In fact, all the examples I’ve given so far represent admission-free events in our community. No matter the venue, a shared musical experience has the potential to create a spirit of community and camaraderie.

I am a professional performing musician myself (on piano, not trombone!), and a member of the Lawrence Conservatory of Music faculty. For the past five years I have co-directed Music For All, a series of free performances presented by Lawrence students and faculty in a variety of spaces around the Fox Cities, including Riverview Gardens, the Pillars Adult Shelter, the Freedom Center Food Pantry, various retirement communities, and at local public schools.

Most of the singers and instrumentalists who perform on our series are studying classical music performance at Lawrence. One of our objectives is to present concerts in which audiences can sit up close to the performance, and all members of the community have an informal space in which to mingle before and after the event.

Noah Vazquez, a Lawrence University sophomore and piano performance major, says that “being in the position to establish some level of interpersonal connection before, after or sometimes even during a performance immediately adds a whole new layer to the experience.”

Cosette Bardawil, a Lawrence University senior and flute performance major, says that in these performances “there is an exchange of listening and responding that happens between performers and audience members that creates a unique and momentary energy.”

In these cold winter months, when our city’s fields and plazas are covered with snow, we are fortunate to have many other welcoming spaces in which to experience the warmth of a shared musical community.

On Sunday, February 17, the Music For All series is partnering with Mile of Music to present a free Family Concert at Riverview Gardens. The event is designed for children of all ages, but especially geared towards elementary-aged children. The event will begin at 1:30 p.m. and feature a variety of music-making stations that invite interaction and participation, followed by a short, engaging concert presented by students and faculty of the Lawrence Conservatory.

Michael Mizrahi is Associate Professor of Music at Lawrence University. He wrote this column for The Post-Crescent in partnership with the Fox Arts Network (FAN), a grassroots organization of nonprofit arts groups serving the Fox Cities and surrounding communities.  FAN’s goal is to encourage trial in all art forms. For more information contact foxartsnetwork@gmail.com