Tag Archives: Sam Weiser

Personal Zoom Concerts: A Classic COVID Response

One of the great, unexpected consequences of the coronavirus is that musicians around the world are performing — live, for free — on very accessible media platforms. You can’t attend a concert, but concerts can sure come to you.

One of the downsides of this great, unexpected consequence is that it’s not exactly a real concert. Musicians get none of the usual feedback from audiences, who feel equally disconnected from performers.

The Hidden Fabric Music Project plays a different tune.

The premise is simple. A website connects young, classically trained musicians — graduates of Juilliard, New England Conservatory, Yale and other top schools — with anyone, anyone who wants to hear beautiful music. In a personal, one-on-one concert.

After filling out a brief form — answering preferred time and “strings,” “piano,” “wind/brass” or “surprise me!” — users are paired with an artist. The musician performs for 15 minutes via Zoom; the audience of one watches. There’s eye contact, energy — and the option, on signing up, for conversation too.

Hidden Fabric (the name comes from a Virgina Wolff quote) is the brainchild of Sam Weiser. At Staples High School he played violin — superbly — in every group, and every chance he got. He earned a dual degree from the New England Conservatory of Music and Tufts University. (The latter is in computer science. “I might use it one day,” Sam says.)

After grad school at the San Francisco Conservatory, he joined the Del Sol String Quartet. He has lived in the Bay Area ever since. (They performed in Westport last October.)

When the pandemic hit, Sam — and musicians around the world — suddenly lost all their gigs. Many pivoted quickly to livestreaming.

Sam Weiser

“There was an outpouring of creativity, even in the classical music world,” he says. “But as good a replacement as that is, the symbiotic relationship between the performer and listener gets lost. You’re playing to a camera. You don’t know who is on the other end, or how many people are there.

“For the audience, it feels sort of real. But there’s no sense that you’re sharing the music with the performer.”

He and his friends had an idea: short personal performances and conversations.. They recruited musicians from across North America. Their ability to connect personally was as important as their musical expression.

“The pandemic highlighted needs in our community — the need to create, but even more than that, the need to be heard,” the website says.

“HFMP is our way to engage with audiences, old and new, and to reaffirm our belief that to be human is to be connected.”

The idea has taken off. But even Sam was surprised by its power.

“It’s incredible how much doing 1-on-1 concerts changes my day,” he says.

“I’ve never been an extrovert. But it’s so touching to meet someone, and share something so personal. It’s just 15 minutes, but it feels really special.”

Listeners agree: Hidden Fabric brightens their day.

Enjoying a 1-on-1 concert, via Zoom.

There is no charge, though the website encourages tips. Sam says a set fee would “undermine the idea of giving our time to people who are struggling far more than we are.”

Across the country, restrictions are being lifted. Americans are going back to work and play. Concerts — with shared spaces, and musicians blowing into instruments — will be one of the last forms of entertainment to come back.

Until then, the Hidden Fabric Music Project plays on.

(For more on the Hidden Fabric Music Project — including sign-up information — click here.) 

The Wayside: You Heard Them Here First

Back in his “Highway 61” days, Bob Dylan could have written “Searching for My Twin.”

But he didn’t. Dustin Lowman did.

The lyrics, voice, intonation, guitar, harmonica, rhythm — all evoke Dylan, when he played Greenwich Village coffeehouses in the early 1960s.

In 2012 Dustin does Main Street, right here in Westport.

But he’s not alone.

The Wayside (from left): Dustin Lowman, Danny Fishman, Devin Lowman, Sam Weiser. (Photo/Eric Essagof)

Longtime friend and fellow guitarist Danny Fishman, drummer/brother Devon Lowman and violinist/bassist/musical genius Sam Weiser join him, forming The Wayside.

Remember the name.

The folk-rock — really, folk-to-rock — group is tearing up the area.

They’re all over Facebook and YouTube, too.

It took more than 40 years for Dylan to do that.

Dustin Lowman (Photo/Gabe Schindler)

The Wayside goes way back. Dustin and Danny were friends at age 7. They played on the same Little League team (the Huskies), but gave up baseball for music.

By 8th grade at Coleytown Middle School, Dustin was writing poetic lyrics — a nod to his musical hero, Dylan.

Dustin and Danny — he’s more of a John Mayer fan — went to the National Guitar Workshop together. Their playing and songwriting attracted attention from the likes of Livingston Taylor.

But the Wayside didn’t come together until a couple of years ago, when Devon and Sam joined. Sam’s crazy-good fiddle-style violin playing adds a special twist on folk-y, introspective-type numbers; he switches to bass for more rock-y stuff. Danny and Dustin write most of the material. The other 2 guys grab it, and make each song their own.

Danny Fishman (Photo/Gabe Schindler)

Their 1st gig was the 2010 EcoFest. Their tight, crisp, mature-beyond-their-years sound and clever lyrics drew immediate attention (and comparisons to not only Dylan and John Mayer, but the Avett Brothers and The Tallest Man on Earth).

In Dylan’s early days, the Wayside would have played local clubs, attracted attention from promoters, signed with a label, cut a 45, been heard on radio stations, hit the big time, gathered groupies and gone on from there.

But the music industry has changed. There are fewer venues, no 45s or radio stations. Groupies are looking for the next Mark Zuckerberg.

So the Wayside does things the new way. They play for free on places like Main Street. They make EPs. Their music is on ReverbNation. Their Facebook fan page draws plenty of attention. They’ve got a YouTube channel.

They’ve also got a manager — Staples grad Michael Mugrage (who toured with Orleans and Ronnie Spector, and worked with James Brown and Bruce Hornsby).

The Wayside not only plays smart; they are smart. Dustin is a rising sophomore at Middlebury College. After a year at Vassar, Danny is transferring to Tufts. Sam is entering his first year at the New England Conservatory, while Devon has one more year at Staples.

They’re not sure what’s ahead after college. But they love what they do; they love playing with each other. They’re heartened by their very enthusiastic fans (including Tommy Byrne, who made guitars for Steely Dan).

Keep your eyes — and especially your ears — open for The Wayside. Catch their raw videos on YouTube, and like them on Facebook.

And check them out on a Main Street near you. It may not be Bleecker Street, but everyone starts somewhere.

(Click below for 3 Wayside YouTube videos.)

Jake Landau: The Next Leonard Bernstein?

After you’ve composed a piece for the New York Philharmonic, what’s left in life?

How about writing writing choral music for the Conservative Synagogue?

That’s Jake Landau’s latest feat.

Of course, much more lies ahead. Jake is only a Staples High School junior.

Jake Landau

A multi-talented junior, that’s for sure. A student at the Juilliard School pre-college program, a member of the New York Youth Symphony and a national PTA “Reflections” award winner, he’s been playing piano — and composing — almost all his young life.

Classical music is his favorite. But Jake is equally comfortable writing opera, musical theater, soundtracks — and now, a piece for his synagogue.

His work will be performed tomorrow (Sunday, June 3, 7 p.m.) as part of the “On a Chai Note: A Musical Celebration of Israel” concert. Accompanying Jake on piano are 2 other nationally recognized young musicians (and temple members): cellist Danielle Merlis and violinist Sam Weiser.

Amazingly, this is Jake’s 2nd world premiere this spring. Last month, the New York Philharmonic performed a piece he wrote for their School Day concert. That one, he says, was “adventurous, aggressive and knotty.” Tomorrow’s piece is “simpler.” A synagogue is not a concert hall.

Working from a text, Jake composed this work for the “up-in-the-stratosphere soprano” cantor.

Jake Landau, rehearsing at the synagogue’s piano. (Photo/Marcy Juran)

He calls the process “very rewarding. It’s not just that it will be performed by my choir. Most of my pieces are done in high-pressure concert halls, and everyone is rushed for time. This is a much more personal environment.”

Conservative Synagogue Chorale member Marcy Juran is “blown away” by Jake’s talent.

“He understands how to create a beautiful piece of music,” she says. “But the way he explains his work to the choir — how it’s constructed, how he envisions it to sound, how his music matches the liturgical text — is unparalleled.

“It reminds me of hearing Leonard Bernstein explain music — but Jake is only 16! It is a joy to listen to play his piece on the piano, direct us, and understand from him what this is all about.

Still a teenager, Jake understands the long tradition he’s part of. “Music is a craft that’s existed almost as long as man,” he notes. “Music is practical, emotive and evocative. Music is everywhere. I’m proud to help continue that legacy.”

Danielle Merlis and Sam Weiser will also perform at the Conservative Synagogue tomorrow. (Photo/Marcy Juran)

Though Jake also studies piano at Juilliard, his playing is secondary to  composing. In fact, he says, “some of the pieces I write are too difficult for me to play. Someone plays my stuff for me.”

He hopes to make a career in music — writing film scores, operas, commercial soundtracks, “whatever.”

So — after spending the past 2 summers at Interlochen and Tanglewood — this year Jake will stay home. He’ll write orchestral and chamber pieces for his conservatory and music school applications.

Oh, yeah. His college essay, too.

(“On a Chai Note: A Musical Celebration of Israel” free concert takes place Sunday, June 3, 7 p.m. at The Conservative Synagogue, 30 Hillspoint Rd. The program also includes The Western Wind, a renowned a cappella sextet, and Jewish choral singers from throughout Fairfield County. For more information, click here.)