Post authored by Erin Gernon, marketing assistant for Summer Programs.
Walking down Boylston Street on Thursday afternoons in the summer, you may stumble across a concert outside the Berklee Bookstore: young, talented musicians performing their compositions in front of peers, the cafe crowd, and the passersby, whose urgent errands fade as they stand transfixed by the music.
These concerts are known as the Sidewalk Series and have been a fixture of the Five-Week Summer Performance Program since 2011. Every Thursday during the five-week program, selected students use the bookstore patio as their amphitheater for an afternoon.
“It was really fun; I enjoyed it,” said performer Noa Vlessing of Toronto, Canada about the Sidewalk Series. “ It’s always a good experience performing and to practice and to show your music.”
Vlessing explained that during Five-Week, there is plenty of opportunity to grow and learn as a musician. “I’ve really enjoyed the environment–where everyone is passionate about music,” she said. “I like jamming with people and co-writing.”
“It’s so awesome,” agreed Sam Woolf, a guitarist and vocalist from Florida. “There are so many talented musicians all together.”
For another student in the Sidewalk Series, Caroline Hisel of Texas, the Five-Week has been particularly inspiring to her as a songwriter.
“I only started writing songs last year at Five-Week,” she said. This year during the program, she wrote over 15 songs.
While there are many performance opportunities at the Five-Week Performance Program, the Sidewalk Series is one of the most engaging. Regularly, the performing student will teach lines to the audience, asking them to join in on the chorus. More often, people will clap along to the rhythm, cheering and applauding the performers.
“It’s cool,” Woolf said about playing in the Sidewalk Series. “Like an open mic, but more audience participation.”
Bobby Stanton, who organizes the Sidewalk Series, agrees that its format contributes to a more relaxed and reciprocal performance than traditional venues.
“I think playing on the street makes them much more visible,” Stanton said. “Everybody walks by them and they have a much bigger audience than they might other places.”
Stanton is a guitarist and songwriter involved in ensembles, private lessons, and musicianship classes at Five-Week. He has been running the Sidewalk Series for three years and believes there is something compelling about playing on the street.
“When a siren or a truck goes by, they have to play a little bit louder and they learn to adjust. It’s a lot harder, but it sharpens their performance.” Stanton is interested in how space informs the performance and how it can even affect the music itself. As a singer-songwriter in a coffeehouse or theater setting, performers have a much different experience than when playing on the sidewalk, where they must compete with the city sounds of Boston.
More broadly, the Sidewalk Series is an opportunity for students to gain experience performing their own music and compositions in a positive atmosphere.
“I think that the most important thing for me is that we offer them a transformational moment—a chance to see if that’s what they want to do,” Stanton said. “We offer them a decision about how they are going to spend the rest of their lives. You get to see that moment.”
Other performers in the Sidewalk Series last summer included Blaire Alise, Daniela Amado, Victoria Canal, Molly Chapman, Madison Davey, Kate Diaz, Patricia Fernandez, Natalie Quevedo, Emma Stern, Leo Xia, Alec Young, and Paige Zollars.