Edberg, friends keeping busy with music each Wednesday

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Wednesday nights in Greencastle have been a little less quiet for the past few summers. From June to August, the sounds of pianos, cellos and guitars can be heard from inside Gobin Memorial United Methodist Church.

The cause for music isn't a mid-week worship service, but rather the Greencastle Summer Music Festival, started in 2005 by DePauw University Professor of Music Eric Edberg.

That first summer, Edberg says he was just looking for a way to keep busy.

"When I started the festival, it was because I thought I was going to have a really boring summer," he said. "I thought, 'What am I going to do other than sit around and watch television? I need to make music.' Gobin had just got a wonderful seven-foot Petrof piano, and I thought if I could put on chamber music concerts, that would be a great thing to do."

A Juilliard-trained cellist, Edberg had the talent to perform at each concert -- a friend in New York had created a similar series with herself as the main attraction -- but he thought that might get tiring for both him and audience. Instead, he reached out to faculty members, colleagues at Indiana University, the Indianapolis Symphony and other professional musicians in the region.

"Some years I'd send out an email asking who wanted to play and what they wanted to do," Edberg said. "It was like fitting the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle together."

After a few years, the number of concerts doubled, turning the festival into a weekly event from Memorial Day to late August.

For Edberg, it meant that the project changed from a summer pastime into a professional focus. He spent the 2010-11 academic year on sabbatical, developing a course on entrepreneurship and concert presentation that built on his own experience.

But Edberg also wanted to know what others were doing. He attended performances in non-traditional formats and venues, visiting clubs, a former warehouse and a building in Brooklyn that was once a community bathhouse, but is now a multi-purpose space with a main room that serves as both a gymnasium and performance venue.

Along the way, he stumbled upon a new way of presenting music to concert-goers. "One of the things I discovered was that people were mixing multiple genres in a single concert, both as a way of developing new audiences for classical music and as a function of the fact that we listen to music on our iPods on shuffle," he says.

The following summer, he decided to create his own mix: Baroque-period performers with Appalachian folk singers; a classical pianist and rock musician who jumped between the two genres; and talented graduate Seth Tsui, a trombonist and audio engineer, performed with singer-songwriter Michael Kelsey, both looping recorded audio while performing live.

"Hearing things shuffled together like that is a new way to listen to music, especially in concert.," Edberg said. "It's like a sandbox for me to play in, and it's an interesting experiment for the performers and the audience."

Even if the experiments fall short of Edberg's vision, nobody would ask for a refund. Aside from an optional donation when entering the church (appropriately, into a pair of offering plates), the concerts are completely free. That said, Edberg raised nearly $5,000 in advance this summer, covering the cost of printed materials and a piano tuner, and giving visiting performers enough to pay for gas and a nice dinner.

One festival regular even liked a previous performer enough to cover his flight from New York City.

Edberg says he's considered investing more time in raising money for the festival, but with satisfied attendees and performers, there's little need. He's content to keep things as they are -- a welcoming group of music lovers who enjoy each other's company.

"The theme for this summer's festival came from Joseph Schwantner, who was the guest composer for Music of the 21st Century this year," Edberg says. "Everywhere he went, he would say, 'The best way to spend your life is making music with your friends.'

"That rang so true for me," Edberg said. "I realized what I'm really passionate about doing is organizing events where you have friends making music for friends, and sometimes you're making new friends. This is our eighth summer, and for a lot of the people who come regularly, it's a wonderful kind of community gathering. Really, for me, the festival has become about using music as a way of enhancing community life and bringing people together. And you know, that's a really nice thing to be a part of."

Information about upcoming performances can be found on the Greencastle Summer Music Festival website. The free concerts are held every Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in Gobin United Methodist Church, 307 Simpson St., until Aug. 15.

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