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House concerts cropping up in North Baltimore

North Baltimore is becoming known for its house concerts.

In Guilford on Sunday afternoon, about 30 people crowded into Daniel Weiser's living room on Northway, where the accomplished freelance pianist and teacher, 47, held a spirited, two-hour concert, talk and slide show called, "The Romantic Heart: The Life and Music of Frederic Chopin."

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Weiser, who is relatively new to Baltimore, said hopes to do such concerts monthly, "not always at my house."

Two nights earlier, in the Village of Cross Keys, people filled the apartment of Wendy Rambo Shuford, a retired registered nurse from Greater Baltimore Medical Center in Towson. After a few minutes of mingling, Shuford rang a hanging chime to get the audience's attention, then introduced Castlebay, aka harpist Julia Lane and her husband, multi-instrumentalist Fred Gosbee, of Maine, who performed Celtic folk music in a corner of the living room. At intermission, food was served in the small kitchen. Helping Shuford set up for the show was her friend, Paul Boudra, of Gambrills.

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"I'm the roadie," Boudra said.

In the TV Hill area, Paul Cassedy is planning a February 2015 concert of vocal music known as "lieder" or art songs, a genre of existing poems set to music, in his 1,200-square-foot row house on Greenspring Avenue. The 54-year-old Cassedy, a business management analyst for a credit union, said he drew about 35 people in September to a concert at his house, billed as "An Evening of Hebrew Songs," complete with a Jewish-themed spread of food that included sliced kosher cold cuts and kasha varnishkas, an Eastern European dish of buckwheat groats and bowtie pasta.

For house concert impresarios like Cassedy, Shuford and Weiser — and their faithful audiences — there's no place like home.

Weiser is lining up musicians, including a cellist from Israel, to play with him at his planned Part II concert about Chopin in January. He said that house concerts spark "a spirit of community between audiences and performers."

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Plus, he said, "You can hear people's breath."

Cassedy and Shuford don't play music instruments, but love to host house concerts. Shuford said she got hooked after attending one in Ellicott City. The only thing she lacked to stage her own concerts was seating.

"I now own 22 stacking chairs," she said.

Cassedy said he bought a little upright piano, "because I need it for these [concerts]."

It's also good for dinner parties, he said, when invariably a friend will sit down and play.

"It gives me an opportunity to hear things that I don't normally get to hear," Cassedy said, adding, "It's a way of making music in the house," which he thinks is becoming a lost tradition.

Lieder music is best heard in a small setting, Cassedy said. In larger venues, "it tends to dissipate," he said.

A small setting is what brought house concert aficionado Joanna Brandt, of Towson, and her friend, Bob Fleming, to Shuford's apartment to hear Castlebay.

"You're up close and personal with the performers," Brandt said. "I like the intimacy, the opportunity to see how people live. There's food. That's not bad, either."

A venue and a bed

For Shuford, hosting concerts is an avocation. She goes so far as to post fliers at grocery stores and other businesses announcing upcoming shows. Other performers to grace her apartment have included guitarists Robin Bullock and Charlie Zahm. She said her concert prices of $15 to $18 cover the fees for performers and expenses.

Lane and Gosbee, who tour as Castlebay, are grateful that Shuford provides a reliable venue — and a bed.

"She's a way station for us, a place to lay our heads," Lane said. Before the show, Lane and Shuford couldn't agree on how many times Castlebay has performed there over the years. Shuford said 17; Lane swore it was 16.

Weiser earned his master's and doctorate degrees at Johns Hopkins University's Peabody Conservatory of Music after a brief fling with law school at Harvard University. He also taught for about 10 years at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.

For him, house concerts are a living as well as a love. He charged $30 for Sunday's solo concert, and charges up to $40, "depending on how many musicians I have."

He lived for four years in Asheville, N.C., where he founded Amici Music ("music among friends"), an organization dedicated to playing chamber and classical music informally in houses and other intimate, nontraditional spaces. He also taught music there.

When his wife, Dr. Kirsten "Kisha" Weiser, a gastroenterologist, got a job at Greater Baltimore Medical Center, the couple and their twin daughters, Emma and Sophie, now 9, moved to Baltimore, where he is trying to expand the organization in Baltimore while keeping it going in North Carolina. He also teaches piano and music locally, including at the Bryn Mawr School, where Emma and Sophie are students.

Weiser said the family had his house concert career in mind when they bought their stately brick house with high ceilings and a large foyer. He said Guilford's typically large houses would be great for concerts.

"I have this habit of walking around people's houses, thinking, 'Ooh, this would be a nice place for a concert,'" he said.

Weiser's wife was on call at GBMC during Sunday's concert, his fourth in Baltimore, but Emma and Sophie were happy to greet people, make name tags and help in the dining room, where food, wine and cider were served. The girls wore dresses for the occasion and painted toenails on their bare feet. Their father played 11 Chopin compositions, including the popular Nocturne in E Flat Major, Op. 9, No. 2 and Fantasie-Imptomptu in C Sharp Minor, Op. 66. He also showed slides on a laptop computer that sat on his 1911 Chickering.

Next to the piano sat a small table with books about Chopin, including letters written by the composer. Weiser read from the books between performances, to educate the audience about Chopin's life and times, from his romances to his ill health to his war of words with an unimpressed music critic.

On a table inside the front door sat a stack of CDs for sale He recorded them at home and said he wants to learn how to make MP3s that people can download from his website.

"Technology has passed me by a little bit," he said.

Live acoustics

Kisha Weiser, who got home in time for the tail end of the concert, said she enjoys sharing their house for her husband's concerts.

"I think it's great," she said. "We get so many different kinds of people from so many walks of life."

Among those who came to the concert were "old hippie chicks" Ann Feild, of Waverly, and her friend, Helga Graff, a fellow graduate of then-Towson State University. Graff was visiting from, of all places, Asheville, N.C., where Weiser started Amici Music.

"It's such a small world," said Graff, who confessed she had never heard of Weiser in Asheville.

Feild said she loves house concerts.

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"It's the way this music was meant to be heard," she said.

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Also impressed was John Dorsey, who owns the store Soundscape on West Cold Spring Lane in the Keswick area. The store sells high-end amplifiers and speakers, "but there's no way you're going to replicate what (music) is like naturally. This is it, live acoustics. What's not to like?"

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