House concerts have been going on … well ... forever. Think travelling minstrels.
But the modern day house concert, like the kind hosted by Kelly Waters of North Battleford, is a growing trend supported by today's social media and tech networking. The house concert retains, however, a sense of "back to the roots of live music" as people gather in an intimate, interactive, usually acoustic event that brings audience and artist together.
It's an atmosphere Kelly Waters loves.
"It's fun to have a vision of what that atmosphere could be like and then create it, and have people enjoy it," says the St. Vital School teacher who holds degrees in arts education, music and dance.
Waters has been opening her North Battleford home to music lovers four or five times per year for most of the five years she's resided in The Gog, so named for its original function as a synagogue.
Friday evening, her 1,000 square foot living room with its 14-foot ceiling was the site of a concert featuring the Manitoba rock-pop-folk-trio Until Red. While they play various venues, including festivals, pubs and more, many of their gigs are house concerts.
"We do our fair share of house concerts, and that comes from the fact that a large part of our show is centered around audience interaction and … personal connection," says drummer Roman Clarke. "House concerts are an ideal medium for our style of show."
An audience of approximately 30 people attended The Gog Friday evening, with Waters enjoying her role as hostess. In addition to the music, the arts education-trained teacher, enjoys the excuse to indulge her own artistic bent by way of preparing tasty food for her guests.
“For me, it's a form of art expression,” says Waters, who self-professes herself as "artsy."
In particular, Waters has a passion for creating one- or two-bite appetizers — no utensils required.
“I am constantly thinking in my mind, ‘what would be a pick-up conversion of that, what would be a one- or two-bite version of that,’ so that nobody needs any utensils … that's what I think about."
The whole house concert experience is something Waters looks forward to.
“I just think it's fun to do it,” she says. “I think it's fun to provide an atmosphere where there's some interesting live music going on or something artsy going on, and that's why I like doing the food, I think, because I feel it's very artsy, too.
There’s one appetizer she almost always puts out. It’s a favourite of her guests, and they’d notice if it wasn’t there — the almond-stuffed date wrapped in prosciutto.
“It's salty and sweet together ... very, very simple and it's actually not hard to make,” says Waters. “It's a fun combination of flavours. It’s not like it's that unusual an appetizer, but it's not an everyday one either. That's one I always put out.”
But she likes adding in new things.
“I'm always doing experiments,” she laughs. “Sometimes there's some last minute salvaging.”
She keeps ongoing lists of what she has prepared.
“I look at it, ‘that's a keeper or it's about time to do that one again,’ so I just try to rotate things and have a variety.”
She enjoys help in the kitchen as well.
“Often Vivian Jackson will come down the street and help me cook,” she says.
Cooking should be fun and social, she believes, and having her kitchen right off and open to the living room works well as part of the house concert atmosphere.
“I like that it's an open kitchen because I'm someone who always likes to have food going and that kind of thing,” she says. “I like that it can all be social, that the kitchen isn't separate from everything else going on, that people can be talking and cooking.”
She’s usually in the kitchen during the performance.
“The concerts will be on and I'm getting the dessert ready back here, putting one more thing in the oven, still listening to the concert, trying not to make the oven door creak,” she laughs.
It’s all part of the fun, she says.
"I like to make it kind of an of arts cafe sort of atmosphere and put out tablecloths and candles and make it kind of funky and fun.”
She adds, “It's just a party, basically, where people are chipping in, all the money goes to the artists.”
Guests pay $20 admission at the door that goes directly to the artists performing.
Waters does put out a donation jar to recoup part of costs of the food and wine service, but it’s not about money.
“I’m not trying to make money at it or anything, I generally lose money at it, but I don't care, that's not why I’m doing it,” she says. “I'm doing it because it's fun and I want people to enjoy themselves. I want them to say, ‘Oh! That was really interesting, that was really delicious, and it was fun to sit here and talk with people and have music.’”
Her house concerts have a loyal following, and new people are finding their way there as well. One of her favourite compliments came from a couple who said it was “the best date night they could have had.”
Waters adds the entertainers enjoy the intimate atmosphere as well.
“They really have a good time because it's an appreciative audience and a fun atmosphere — and they can have food, too,” she laughs.
Waters’ says it all started with a conversation about house concerts with fellow arts educator Sherron Burns.
“I had told her I could see doing that with this space,” says Waters.
She had just purchased her new home upon being inspired by its open area and excellent acoustics.
“A friend of mine who’s a realtor said, ‘You have to come see this place.’ I said, ‘Why? I already have a house.’”
Her friend insisted.
“She knew,” laughs Waters. “I remember coming up the stairs and seeing the open space, and it felt like a space that had potential for artsy activities.”
The light, the curved lines and the open space won her over, and the renovated synagogue became her home.
Soon after, Burns asked if she was still interested in doing a house concert, because she had someone interested in performing.
“That started it,” smiles Waters.
Most people do potluck for house concerts, Burns told her, but Waters was excited about doing the food herself.
“That's my art expression,” she says. “That's me doing my little edible art experiment.”
Waters also enjoys working with food at school. In her eighth year at St. Vital School, she often works with practical and applied arts food studies students.
She says she doesn't have a homeroom, so her duties have been varied, from Grade 7 arts education and religion, to Grade 2 math and Grade 5 English language arts, even Spanish at one point.
Currently she is teaching arts education for kindergarten through Grade 2.
She also works with the We to Me group at St. Vital.
"We to Me is a passion of mine at school," says Waters. "I work hard with the kids, raising awareness of child poverty issues."
Right from the start, she says, they decided any money they raised should be split evenly between local children's needs and developing countries' needs.
"We thought it's important to help your local neighbours as well as your global neighbours," she says.
They've done a lot of work and had a lot of fun, too, she says.
"We try to make it fun so, yes, it's about something serious and important, but we try to have a lot fun doing it, too."
Waters was born in Saskatoon and raised in Swift Current, but then, she says, she "lived all over the place."
She went to university in Regina for three years, then she was off to Spokane, Wash., to study vocal jazz.
"Then I lived in the States for a long time doing everything from teaching jazzercise to teaching piano to being a cook in a vegetarian deli," she laughs.
She ended up living down in Mexico and having two children, then she came back to Canada and went back to university, finishing off her bachelor of education in arts education, majoring in music with a minor in dance. About 12 years ago she finished her bachelor of arts in music.
Her son is now 19 and daughter is 18. They both live at home.
Waters says, "They both like artsy things, too. My son likes poetry and drawing. He likes music as well, but not so much performing as listening to music and analyzing how it's put together. My daughter likes to paint and draw and she likes to play guitar and sing."
Waters is a member of the Gallery Singers and she has been involved with the Kiwanis Battlefords Music Festival since she moved to the Battlefords. This last, she says, is thanks to Cathy Richardson, speech language therapist with Living Sky School Division. They went to school together in Swift Current.
"She saw me in the staff room at St. Vital and said, 'Hey, we need a secretary for the music festival committee. Since Cathy asked …" laughs Waters, she said yes.
In between her work and extracurricular activities, the house concert scene remains a constant, though she usually holds no more than four a year.
"It varies," she says. "It depends if somebody contacts me and it works for me and I think it would be a good fit, or there've been a few times I've heard of somebody, maybe they are coming through or not that far away."
She adds, "Sometimes they'll do some research and find I'm a possibility for a venue or maybe they are going throughout the area and trying to fill in dates on their tour … so they can do as much performing as possible while they are out on the road."
The former synagogue has proved to be a perfect fit for house concerts, and the acoustics are excellent.
"The father son duo that has come and are coming again in May, Andrew and Zachary Smith, come early just to play in the room because the acoustics are so good."
She also likes that large expanse of windows and the light they bring in.
"The windows are up high enough so it still feels private … no one can see in."
Waters loves her home, but she doesn't know as much about the history of the building as she would like to.
Her understanding is that it was built as a synagogue after the Second World War. She's done some research and has found stories about people travelling as far as from St. Walburg to attend the synagogue.
It was renovated as a home in the 1990s, but she believes it is still something of historical interest in the community. She has never seen any photos of the original building, but if anyone has any she would love to put copies of them up in her home to help preserve the history of the building.
"I would like to put up pictures of what it was historically."
* Some online research has indicated two of the founding members of the Beth Israel Synagogue in North Battleford were the late Ed Kaplan and the late Ed Grobman.
The synagogue may be closed, but its legacy continues as the Torahs and ritual articles continue to be used in other synagogues to the good of Jewish communities throughout the world.
The Beth Tzedec Synagogue in Edmonton, attended by Doreen Grobman, wife of the late Ed Grobman, coincidentally, was given two of the Torahs from the old North Battleford synagogue when it closed down, as well as some of the textiles used there.
Records show the Edmonton congregation was founded in 1996, and soon after acquired its own Torah from the Beth Israel synagogue in North Battleford to replace the one it had on loan.
There are currently two synagogue congregations in Saskatchewan, one in Saskatoon and one in Regina. A synagogue at Edenwold has been restored and declared a Regional Historic Site.