Lunch Hour Concert Series

If you’ve ever walked through Parrish on Monday on the way to lunch, you might have heard a bit of music in the parlors. These performances constitute the lunch hour concert series, an ongoing project providing students and faculty the opportunity to start off the week by sharing some of their favorite music pieces.

The atmosphere is cozy and intimate as the musicians set up in the east parlor with the audience sitting cross-legged on the ground or curled up on the sofas and chairs scattered around the room. As opposed to a traditional concert setting, in which the musicians are on a stage and the audience is rigidly aligned in rows and columns of stiff-backed chairs, the Lunch Hour Concerts exhibit the musicians’ expressions and techniques from up close, as well as other audience members’ reactions. I see this as creating a little spontaneous community around the expression of art. If concerts were like lectures, the Lunch Hour Series would be seminars, where the exchange between the musician and audience, as well as the exchange between audience members with other audience members (although subtle), affects the takeaway of the performance.

From the musicians’ perspective, the same is true. Sumi Onoe, a first-year who ended the first semester series with her piano pieces, shared what set the Lunch Hour venue apart from big concert experiences for her.

“It was more relaxed and interactive,” she said, describing the same “vibe exchange” that I felt as an audience member. While she noted that the proximity can be scary, with an audience full of friends (she says she forced them to come), Onoe says it felt more like playing at home.

For Rebecca Regan ‘19, who sang with Lili Tobias ‘19 on piano and later performed as part of a choral quartet, the experience was also enhanced by the intimate setting.

Echoing Onoe’s experience, Regan eloquently shared that in a concert setting, “the edge of the stage acts as a boundary,” whereas the atmosphere in Parrish Parlor “feels more like a normal way for people to get together…wonderfully free of ceremony.”

While the close proximity does create an exciting intensity, it may also subdue the artist’s full range of expression. Because of the anonymity of the audience in a large concert setting, with bright stage lights creating the effect of a large black hole in front of the performer instead of individual faces, it is easier for the performer to focus on being a conduit for art. The evenly lit and cozy Parlors, however, can make the performer feel more self-conscious.

Regan describes this feeling of self-consciousness. “I felt so very much myself, and recognized as myself by the audience.” This made it harder for her to fully express the full emotional range she usually brings to her selections in a casual and intimate atmosphere.

The relaxed setting of the series has also been a way for the musicians to open up their repertoire. Onoe chose to bring a Prokofiev piece that she last played in the third grade to her set along with pieces she’d been working on more recently. Regan reflected that she chose to sing a piece that wouldn’t be considered polished enough for concert performance but that she really enjoyed.

Many of the chamber groups that performed in the Lunch Hour Concert Series did so in preparation for their performance for the more formal Fetter Chamber Music Series. Jasmine Sun ‘18 and Ayaka Yohiro ‘20, who were part of a quartet that started off the series for the spring semester, agreed that it was a good way to bring their repertoire for the Fetter Concert to a different audience.

Eligibility is not limited to students; the most recent performance on Feb. 5th featured Andrew Hauze, a music professor at Swarthmore. He shared that the concert’s  platform of being open to both faculty and students creates a “lovely musical dialogue” between two groups usually strictly set apart as teacher and learner.

Even if you would never listen to the music being played normally, most of which are classical music, it’s hard to feel bored when you are so close to the process itself. An article in the Harvard Gazette, “The Look of Music,” talks about a study that shows that people can identify superior musicianship by watching a musician even without the audio. I find myself reminded of this when watching Lunch Hour Concerts, because even if I am not engaged by the sounds, I am by the physicality of playing striking loud chords on the piano or drawing out a tenuous note on the cello.

While 12:30 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. on a Monday may be a busy time, it’s worth coming to witness Parrish come to life with this unique performance arrangement. The upcoming concert will most likely be announced on Friday.


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