Tag Archives: Cara Brindisi

Music As Medicine: Music Therapists in Worcester Provide Healing Touch

by Matt Robert Originally published in the November 14th, 2013, Worcester Magazine.
THE SHOW
Just beyond the entrance of Worcester Music Therapy on Elm Street is a quiet and warmly lit waiting room – indistinguishable from any other, with the possible exception of a Dark Side of the Moon coffee mug that sits upon a shelf. As with most waiting rooms, a few adults sit or stand as a child rolls a toy around on the wall-to-wall carpet.

Worcester Music therapy owner Kayla Daly greets me with her characteristic enthusiasm, and ushers me into the therapy room, a small, neat space with white walls and trim and a dropped ceiling, with the same wall-to-wall carpet throughout. The room has been decorated with some kid-friendly furnishings that would not be out of place in a pre-school classroom: a multi-colored interlocking rubber mat and colorful papa san and beanbag chairs on the floor. The rest of the room is empty, save for two keyboards – one modern, one ‘60s-type wooden kid’s organ – two three-quarter-size acoustic guitars mounted on the wall and a nondescript cabinet.

It doesn’t look like much, but during the next hour it will become a living performance space in which Daly will present a concert of sorts. This concert, however, will not be the megalomaniac’s self-obsessed spotlit show. Rather, it will be a spontaneous composition, at times a ballet or Broadway musical, blending elements of music (rhythm, repetition, melody, call and response, vocalizations) with appropriate therapeutic goals and methods. It will be more about the patient than the expressive desires of the performer, and the success will be measured, not by how good it feels to the performer, or even how good it feels to the audience, but how well the methods get inside of the patient and respond to his or her inner workings.

Like any performance, some sessions are better than others, the result an important coalescence of the participants: therapist and patient. An 11-year-old diagnosed with autism (who, here we will call David), has been taking music therapy for three and a half years, and has recently been taken off of strong anti-psychotic medication, which was prescribed, in part, to calm significant muscular tics and spasms. David’s level of comfort and trust with Daly has grown and evolved over hundreds of sessions.

The session gets started with Daly pulling down and strumming one of her guitars, while singing gently in a warm, round tone. David immediately takes hold of the neck of the guitar and, like any child might, begins strumming brusquely upon it. Daly has stressed the importance of active participation. This isn’t awed fans before the master. This is participatory music. To this end, Daly begins singing, with pronounced articulation, the words to a simple song, using gentle redirection to keep David’s attention on the session. David, intense and roaming the room in search of something that ostensibly he cannot request in traditional ways, more often than not, finishes the lyrics. Daly remains fleet-footed and alert, changing her methods according to, it seems, the relative successes of her actions. At times, she will switch to keyboard or drum, or even put the instruments aside and take hold of David, reaching him with the most human of instruments, her voice.

“Ticky-tock,” she sings and strums, “goes the …”

“Clock,” sings David, offhandedly, while opening and closing the cupboard. This they do for several minutes, until, it appears, David grows bored of it and his responses diminish, at which point, Daly swiftly, though relaxedly, tries a different approach.

Throughout the session, David will tap familiar rhythms on a drum, sing lyrics, fill in missing words left hanging in the air, whistle pretty musical patterns in key (despite his mother’s insistence of a non-musical family), and reveal his excitement about a trip to McDonald’s to follow the session. Daly weaves her way through all of these occurrences, working the room like a prizefighter, gently nudging and redirecting, altering the words to the songs, and even the songs themselves, to maintain David’s attention, which seems intent on escaping, like a bird trapped in a tight space.

Daly begins a lilting dialogue about David’s trip to McDonald’s. She sings questions about what he will order, and he replies, “Chicken nuggets.” The call-and-response song is a conversation and is not about music, not about esthetic pleasure. Rather, it is a primordial path to David’s psyche, a means for him to communicate appropriately, with predictable cadence, and can teach social pragmatics, Daly later explains.

Music, she says, is especially effective for a case like this, because of its incorporation of both hemispheres of the brain. Using more areas of the brain means more opportunity for David to connect with it and express himself through it.

Daly is drawing on tested musical patterns, and repetition of familiar, previously effective tunes from past sessions.

BEHIND THE MUSIC
Much like the stereotypical therapist’s session with the leather couch and the pipe-smoking, bearded psychologist that we are quick to mock (“tell me about your, mother….I see….And how did that make you feel?”), there is more going on here than meets the eye.

Daly and another local therapist, Cara Brindisi, who is a member of the local music scene and who works for the Visiting Nurses Association Care Network and Hospice, operating in a variety of care settings throughout Central and Eastern Massachusetts, take their profession as music therapists seriously. Speaking of the nature of their business, both leave a lasting impression of a remarkably defensive posture – two professionals compelled to defend (Brindisi says not defending, but “advocating for”) their profession against accusations, suspicions, and ignorance.

Daly and Brindisi, through their agencies, service as wide a variety of patients as any therapist might, from school-aged children in the local school system to end-of-life hospice care, as is Brindisi’s specialty. The diagnoses, too, are broad, and often overlap with other types of therapy, offering cognitive, social, and physiological benefits, as the music therapists engage the patients in participatory, active music-making. Again, these aren’t performances. Rather, they are treatments made up of carefully choreographed song selections, chosen, either for familiarity of lyric or rhythm, recurrent pattern, or evocative qualities.

Brindisi says that she didn’t play music growing up, instead performing on stages at Calliope Production theatre in West Boylston, with groups like Worcester County Light Opera. When it came time to choose a college, she knew that she wanted to pursue music, though her interest didn’t center on classical arts, nor even on performing.

“All I knew was that I wanted to learn about music – I wanted to know the science of it, find the history of it, learn where it applies in everyday life,” she says.

She chose Berklee, where she fell into the stream of musicians, most of whom were engaged in typical majors, like film scoring, songwriting, recording, composition and performance.

On break from her first semester, Brindisi had a life-changing experience. Aware of the music therapy major, but not yet enrolled in it, a seemingly incidental event affirmed it all for her.

At the time, her grandfather was at the mid- to end-stage of Alzheimer’s. At home during a family gathering, Brindisi sang a traditional Scottish-Irish song in the presence of her grandfather, who expressed what she refers to as “blunt affect, or no connection with anyone in the room, especially not my grandmother.”

The second she began singing the song, however, his whole affect and demeanor changed, she says. “He knew the words and his face brightened,” she recalls. The moment was magical and observed by the whole family, but “almost immediately” upon the song’s end, he returned to his former state of withdrawal and disconnection.

“I just wanted to zoom into that,” Brindisi says. “It was a very emotional, moving experience, and one that had happened before when we would sing Irish songs, or patriotic songs.”

Brindisi notes that social media is replete with videos documenting the remarkable effects of music upon the elderly or disabled, which both confirms music’s potential therapeutic effects, but also “can negate what music therapy is” versus what she says her anecdote describes, which is, she says, just evidence of the human connection to music.

“Anyone you talk to knows that music makes us feel something,” she says. “But I wanted to know why and how I, as a now young musician going into a career path, how do I learn how to make that into something – to do that again – and how to reach … the right goals, the objectives, the clinical goals.”

Distinguishing therapy from the work she does on stage throughout New England, Brindisi says, “I knew that this went beyond just enjoyment.” The main differences, she notes, is that “music therapy is not about you (the performer). It’s never – ever – about me. It’s not what I want to sing. None of these goals are for my benefit.”

In fact, therapists must resist the urge to self-indulge, and Brindisi says that she often has to demur when asked by a client about her original music. “That’s bringing a part of me, my vulnerabilities and personal life, into a therapeutic rapport or a therapeutic setting.”

Therapeutic settings, where one might work, include: mental health clinics, rehabilitation centers, outpatient wellness programs, schools, nursing homes, senior centers, group homes, daycare centers, etc. Notice the list doesn’t include Carnegie Hall, The Dew Drop Inn, or The Lucky Dog Music Hall.

“The clients aren’t joyous and drinking coffee,” Brindisi jokes. They’re not hitting beach balls around and yelling out for “Free Bird,” either. Hence, she says, it isn’t appropriate for her to bring her personal life into a session, and potentially confuse the patient or burden him or her with the therapist’s issues.

THERAPY 101
And so, while it might seem strange, and often did to Brindisi’s colleagues at Berklee, she could be found heading to anatomy class, while her roommate might have been heading off to Horn Arrangements 101, or Special Topics: The Works of Thelonious Monk. These are not musicians who work in a clinical setting. These are clinicians whose primary tool is music. Kayla points out that the competencies exam required for board certification is only 40 percent music knowledge, while it is 60 percent therapeutic/clinical information, and the coursework associated with the degree is quite rigorous.

Just about everything in today’s society has a proving period. Music therapy isn’t exactly new, though it is still decades newer than its often maligned older sibling, psychoanalysis, which, had its own breaking-in period.

According to the Music Therapy Association, the idea of the therapeutic possibilities within music date back at least to Aristotle and Plato in the third century BCE. Aristotle, more or less, defined our current philosophy of catharsis through art. The late 18th century saw publication of the first music therapy scientific article, entitled “Music Physically Considered,” and references to the medicinal value of music in two medical dissertations, by Edwin Atlee, in 1804, and Samuel Mathews, in 1806. The first use of music in a therapeutic intervention in an institutional setting would follow within decades in Blackwell’s Island, New York. Music therapy gained traction and several associations were formed in the early 20th century, including the National Society of Musical Therapeutics, in 1903, the National Association for Music in Hospitals, in 1926, and the National Foundation of Music therapy, in 1941. None of these, however, led to “an organized clinical profession.”

Music therapy began on a broader scale when performed in community settings on G.I.s returning from World Wars I and II, when clinicians recognized noticeable effects on the physical and psychological well-being of the soldiers. It soon became apparent that more training would be required and beneficial. At the same time, several key figures emerged in promotion of music therapy, including the man that would later be known as “the father of music therapy,” E. Thayer Gatson. The Post-War period saw the creation of the first college training programs, at Michigan State University, and then University of Kansas, Chicago Musical College, College of the Pacific, and Alverno College, in Wisconsin.

It was the National Association for Music Therapy, founded in New York City in June 1950, that cemented the profession, by creating a constitution and bylaws and by laying out academic requirements for university-level music therapy education. A board certification program was established in 1985. Now called the American Music therapy Association, the group oversees 5,000 board-certified music therapists and publishes two research journals.

QUALIFIED TO HELP
Daly and Brindisi both draw on this long history and the rigors of the academic major as they fervently advocate for their profession. It isn’t merely lip service or ego stroking, though – naturally – both express resentment at being taken for little more than pretty girls strumming guitars for a living. Their ardor is cautionary, and when they make distinctions between their work and that of, say, a well-intentioned musician playing in a retirement home, they do so much the way a board-certified doctor might distinguish herself from a well-intentioned neighbor dispensing medical advice.

Daly and Brindisi, both board-certified therapists, have met a range of competencies as defined by the Certified Board Music Therapist (CBMT) organization. Each has been through a five-year undergraduate program and a six-month internship and sat for the board test. The test requires knowledge of music theory and history, composition and arranging skills, major performance medium skills, keyboard, guitar, voice, percussion, and non-symphonic instrument skills, improvisation skills, conducting skills and movement skills. Daly, also, has a Masters degree in Music Therapy and Licensed Mental Health Counseling.

And that is just the musical side of things.

The board also requires knowledge of clinical concepts, like exceptionality, principles of therapy, the therapeutic relationship, foundations and principles of music therapy, client assessment, treatment planning, therapy implementation, therapy evaluation, documentation, termination/discharge planning, professional role/ethics, interdisciplinary collaboration, supervision and administration and research methods.

Both Brindisi and Daly stress that placing a layperson in a therapeutic setting could be worse than simply non-beneficial – it could be downright harmful.

“I know the Bob Marley song says, ‘When the music hits you feel no pain,’ but…” Brindisi jokes before turning serious and describing potential harm that can occur when an untrained individual interacts with vulnerable populations, who might have serious physical, medical and/or psychological diagnoses. She explains that the trained therapist has experience in recognizing patient needs, thorough formal education in physiology and psychology, and works on a team with nurses, case managers, doctors, social workers and clinicians. They know the full history of the client before meeting them and are trained to prepare proper musical accompaniments relative to the goals for the patient. They are equipped with a broad range of tools to manipulate the environment in service of the clinical goals set by a team of health care experts.

While both Daly and Brindisi see widespread potential for music therapy, both recognize its place within a treatment plan and understand that its prescription doesn’t match every case. Brindisi points to scenarios, such as a former professional (or ardent amateur) musician who can no longer play, or one with a potentially high emotional reaction to music as, perhaps, cases in which music therapy might pose problems. This individual might be hurt by the reality of a younger therapist doing what the patient once loved doing, but is now incapable of, like having “lost a real friend” in music. This, she says, could be counter-productive, at least initially.

However, there does seem to be a place for non-certified musicians wishing to help others through sound and rhythm. Rich Leufstedt, or Amazing Dick, as he is known in Worcester as the undisputed ukulele king, takes music beyond the clubs and participates actively in workshops that foster involvement and well-being, both in casual settings, as well as in hospitals. Though he is neither board certified in music therapy, nor technically providing the same therapy as Daly and Brindisi, he nevertheless offers what might be deemed a music experience with therapeutic value.

Aside from his usual performance schedule, Leufstedt leads the Thursday Night Ukulele Club at Union Music on Southbridge Street in Worcester; he participates in the Caring Talents Program at UMass Memorial Medical Center; and he performs in a worship music group at his church. Each, he says, provides a sort of therapy, “or at least a level of enjoyment,” to those in attendance, and altogether, they have changed the way he plays music.

The Thursday Night Ukulele Club, which meets on the last Thursday of each month in a room adjacent to Union Music, brings together, he says, 12-15 people of all ages and skill levels, from guitar players looking to explore the ukulele, to others who perform in senior centers on occasion. The therapeutic value, he says, comes from involvement. Much like Daly and Brindisi, Leufstedt fosters an active, participatory lifestyle for these folks, even catering to new learners, by initially simplifying songs and offering chord charts that are easy to follow along to. With this program, he hopes to encourage everybody to try to play music.

The Caring Talents Program at UMass Memorial Medical Center makes “music and art and literature available for patients and [the] hospital community.” Once a month he plays on the pediatric floor, “going room to room for about a half an hour and playing songs to particular patients.” He seeks out universal songs, in the hopes of engaging the ailing children, who sometimes sing along, and sometimes tap their feet. Nurses occasionally report, to Leufstedt’s pleasure, “That was the first time he smiled today,” or other affirmations of the music’s positive effects.

MOVING US FORWARD
Brindisi and Daly, as well as our health care industry, continue to discover more applications for this emerging practice day-to-day, patient-to-patient.

And for Leufstedt, playing at a variety of music venues with different endeavors has caused him to think differently about his performance and material selection, especially with regard to setting, needs and the demographics of the particular audience. One that is a constant, however, is the result of music on those who play and listen. “When people sing together in a room, your brain releases oxytocin,” he says, “which is the same chemical released during other archetypal positive experiences.”

One can see these benefits in a patient, like David, who demonstrates during his sessions an expressiveness and humanity that mirrors the catharsis Aristotle connected with drama and the arts, which can be seen in the rapt faces of many of us when we attend big concerts, engage a talented band in a local club, or even when we experience a lullaby or a simple tune with someone we love.

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A Nice Little Bar Turns 15: Vincent’s, Worcester, Celebrates 15 Years in Business

“It was a really ugly place, but I knew it had a lot of potential,” says Vincent Hemmeter of his eponymous bar, which this week celebrates 15 years.

“We’re just going to celebrate on that day,” he says of the milestone that falls this Sunday on Christmas Eve Eve. The show, featuring local electric blues act Big Eyed Rabbit, begins at 7 p.m. “Jon [Short – solo bluesman and front man for Big Eyed Rabbit] plays every Sunday, so it’s kind of cool to have Jon’s band play there. We’ll have some special things going on. We’ll have some giveaways. We’ll have some food.”

The neighborhood bar, tucked up on Grafton Hill past the CSX rail yard on Suffolk Street, enjoys a quiet popularity with a certain offbeat, musically inclined crowd – many of the same who patronize Hemmeter’s other bars, Ralph’s Diner and Nick’s. They like homegrown music and Hemmeter has given it to them.

“I pretty much stuck to what I liked,” he says. Over 15 years, in fact, Vincent’s has cultivated an excellent reputation for live music. The current schedule has delta blues with Jon Short on Sunday nights, where he’s been in residence for over 11 years; Zack Slick, playing old-timey and folk on Wednesdays; and crooner Cara Brindisi with the Feather Merchants on Thursdays; plus a rotating slate of talent from around the state on Fridays and Saturdays, except on the second Saturday of each month, when The RoadKill Orchestra appears.

A high-quality stable has been the hallmark at Vincent’s since the beginning. “Dennis Brennan used to play every Wednesday with Duke Levine and Kevin Barry,” says Hemmeter, “and Troy Gonyea played every Thursday. [Michael Thibodeau, John Donovan, and Scott Ricciuti] played every Tuesday. Night Train – Jeff Berg and Troy. Yeah, I was lucky to have a lot of good music.”

Fittingly “the first person that played was Scott Ricciuti,” says Hemmeter. “We were close friends. Since the place is so small, I said, ‘You’re going to play acoustic,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, yeah, I’m playing acoustic.’ So, acoustic, to me, meant you sit down in the corner with an acoustic guitar and it’s not amplified. Well, he came in with his amp and all this stuff, and we had a big laugh about it.”

Though it’s hard to think of Hemmeter today as anything but a bar owner – THE bar owner – in Worcester, his journey has been long. “When I started working at Ralph’s [in 1986] I didn’t even drink,” he says. “I never worked in a bar before, I didn’t bartend, so I pretty much learned everything [from Ralph Moberly]. I learned a lot from Carol [Moberly], too. I ended up taking over the booking there, and I pretty much did all the hiring and fi ring and took care of all the money.”

“I learned right away that I enjoyed doing that,” he says. “I like old bars. So, I just traveled around and took ideas from a lot of other bars and made a place that I would want to hang around at, the same way Ralph did.”

“I thought that [it] was a nice little bar and it had a lot of potential. It was in rough shape and it needed to have a big facelift. It had a dropped ceiling and paneling, and it didn’t have a back bar. I had just closed on [the building], and I had a lot of renovations to do, so we were working pretty much around the clock. I had a lot of help from a lot of my friends.”

“I had bought a back bar from Ralph’s years before – the bar that was in Bowlers [the short-lived, cavernous club co-owned by Ralph’s and the original owners of the Dive Bar]. Ralph had bought that out of an old hotel in Connecticut that was probably from the ’40s.”

“The bar that you sit at…was brick. I bought this paneled room out of a mansion off south Main Street – a beautiful oak-paneled room from the 1800s. So, I covered over the brick, and did over the top of the bar [with the infamous lacquer-coated pulp-fiction paperback covers]. But the back bar, all it had were a couple of shelves, a bunch of knickknacks and a few bottles.”

“[The walls were] all covered up with some paneling. I ended up buying a whole room of tongue and groove from the guy that was the postman for that area, right around the corner on Norfolk Street. So, I had to go into his place and take it all down.”

But he did it, and opening day was December 23, 1997. “We were working around the clock just to try to get it open, because David Clark, the company across the street, would always shut down [for the holiday] and they would have their employees go over to that bar…and they wanted to still do that. So that was my rationale for working hard to get it open as fast as I could.”

Weekends, he says, were “pretty busy right away,” though “it took a while to get the weeknights busier. “I worked at Ralph’s and Ralph’s was a really popular bar…so I had a pretty strong clientele of regulars who came to see me at Ralph’s. I had the opportunity that they’d at least come down and see me once to look at the place and try it out, and, if they liked it, they’d come back hopefully. Lucky for me, they did.”

Hemmeter’s winning formula, evident at all three of his bars, is to know (and be a part of) your crowd, to know your way around a bar, and to know music and understand and respect musicians, all things Vincent’s does well. Because of this, musicians want to play there. Stu Esty, whose RoadKill Orchestra plays monthly at Vincent’s, says, “There are always great folks on both sides of the bar, an amazing menu, [and] a fourseason smoking lounge. All this and a photo booth combined with bizarre taxidermy? What’s not to like?”

Longtime bartender and Vincent’s fixture, Frank Inangelo, who says that he “started working there about five months after they opened,” says that “it started as a couple of shifts bar backing, and 10 years later I’m bartending five nights a week and booking some of the area’s most talented performers.” Frank says that he loves “the diversity of the crowd” and that “it’s like a company that runs three shifts: you have the afternoon crowd; then, around 4 p.m., the after-work crowd comes in; and, finally, around 9 p.m. the night shift is ready to have fun.”

Though Frank expresses great regard for all of Vincent’s live acts, he remembers most fondly “Dennis Brennan playing Wednesday nights about 10 years ago with Duke Levine, Bill MacGillivray and Kevin Barry. It would be jam-packed just to hear those great tunes and amazing players” and “the great nights with Scott Ricciuti, whether it was with Huck or his weekly Tuesday gig with Michael and John, or Pistol Whipped.” Of the current crop, he notes the Feather Merchants on Thursday, which he says “are the latest to impress me every week. Cara, Mike, Chelsea and Chris have been able strike a balance of great musicianship with broad appeal.”

Way back when, bartending at Ralph’s, Hemmeter was saving his money and “looking for the right place.” Thankfully for us, he seems to have found it.

Stop by Sunday night to continue the tradition of great music in a warm environment and to congratulate Vincent Hemmeter.

Vincent’s, 49 Suffolk St., Worcester.

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3rd Open Road Music and Arts Festival, Saturday, September 8th, 2012, Institute Park, Worcester, MA

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“Notes on the Rise”: New Faces in Worcester Music

This article ran on Thursday, January 26, 2012 in Worcester Magazine, a popular cultural weekly. See it at Worcester Magazine.

Notes on the Rise

Up & coming local music

by Matt Robert

Story Created: Jan 25, 2012 at 2:57 PM EST

Story Updated: Jan 26, 2012 at 6:07 AM EST

A new year can bring inventive resolutions and fresh beginnings. This year, while you resolve to lose 10 pounds, clean out your garage, write your memoir, or get that fractured relationship together, you can also vow to get out and enrich your life by taking in one of Worcester’s emerging musical acts, who, like the new year, bring fresh life to the cultural scene with new sounds, some spun from traditional mores put into new contexts, and some with a conscious abandonment of tradition. We’ve spent the past few weeks seeking out these new groups, visiting local clubs, scouring the web, and consulting club owners as well as the public at large in an attempt to bring you at least part of the emerging picture of where Worcester’s scene is headed and what new zeitgeist is springing up in the form of the area’s performing artists. What follows is a list of some promising artists or acts, which, by no means represent the entire local scene, or even all of the up-and-coming artists, but, rather, a sampling of promising or interesting talent recognized by the Worcester Mag staff, local club owners, or readers. Take it as a primer or starter kit. Get out and see what others you can discover, and keep us in the loop. Your comments and letters really help us to keep abreast of the local happenings!


THE LOCALS

On a recent Friday night, a text from my friend Jim, an aficionado of folk music of the U.K., alerted me that he’d be over at The Greyhound at Kelley Square seeing a new band. I decided to join up with him, and by the end of the evening, I knew that this 14-month-old duo from Brighton was one I’d want to write about.

On first appearances The Locals (Cormac Marnell and Brian Mooney) might seem like nothing special: an acoustic duet playing mostly Irish songs. The impression that quickly emerges, though, is that of a tight, confident pair of performers with a deep and interesting repertoire that will please fans of barroom drinking songs (“Wild Irish Rover,” “Molly Malone”) as well as those preferring quieter, perhaps lesser known tunes (“Fields of Athenry,” “The Wild Mountain Thyme”).

Armed with the barest essentials (Mooney on vocals and guitar, Marnell on banjo, harmonica, and tin whistle) they craft a serious, authentic vibe that lovers of any roots music will enjoy. Marnell is a powerful and passionate singer in the Irish tradition with a rich tenor voice and brogue. And his tin whistle and harmonica playing, despite his self-deprecation—the tin whistle, he says, is “the bane of [his] existence,” adding, “maybe one day I’ll actually learn to play it”—is refined, with a clear, clean pitch and complex melodic style. Mooney’s acoustic strumming on his pretty and rich-sounding Gibson J-45, which he chose because it was “Woody Guthrie’s guitar of choice” (Jorma Kaukonen’s, too!), is understated, but serves as the critical rhythmic underpinning of their tight sound. And though he prefers to steer clear of the microphone, he too can sing, as evidenced by his spot-on, spontaneous rendition of Ray La Montagne’s “Jolene” to fulfill a request.

The Locals had The Greyhound’s patrons stomping and singing along to “Black Velvet Band,” “Dirty Old Town,” “Town I Knew So Well,” and “The Rising of the Moon.” Both profess themselves servants to the rich traditions of the music they perform, finding the audience’s “collective knowledge of…Irish music…far greater” than their own, and exuding a humility in performance that extends to their musical origins.

Marnell says that he “began learning songs in October 2008 with the desire to simply play a few songs on Paddy’s Day,” but after losing his job in 2009, he decided that he “wanted to pursue music further and so hatched a plan to become an Irish folk group.”

Meanwhile, like a train chugging along the opposite way on the same track, Mooney took a trip to Ireland, where he became enchanted with a music he had long heard, but felt he was hearing for the first time. “We spent more time in the pubs listening to sessions-style play and one-man bands than we did seeing the sights,” he recalls. Already a Boston-area performer of original music, when he came back to Boston and searched for that music locally, he met Marnell for the first time when he “was out having a listen and a few pints.” Soon after, they “crossed paths” again and, it just so happened, Marnell was losing his guitar player so he and Mooney joined up.

“He said he was on a mission to revive this music because it is so relevant to the times of today,” says Mooney of Marnell’s zeal for Irish music.

“Early on I was dead set on just doing old-style folk, but as a compromise…we incorporated more modern songs from The Pogues and The Saw Doctors,” explains Marnell. Finally, he says, he realized that “these modern songs were an important part of the Irish cultural narrative.”

The Locals play regularly on the Boston scene and have begun forays into Central Mass., playing The Old Timer, in Clinton, and debuting at The Greyhound the night that Jim and I went to see them. They also have plans to appear at Fiddler’s Green.

Check them out at the Greyhound on Feb. 3, The Olde Timer in Clinton, Mass., on Sunday, Feb. 12, and Sunday, March 11; look for their soon-tobe- released CD within the next few months; or friend them on Facebook or ReverbNation.com.


MIARS

Getting a handle on Worcester’s Miars, who, though formed in 2007, didn’t take on the current lineup until 2009, can be tough. Writers before me have heaped praise on them for their attractive, unique music as well as for their hard-to-pin-down concoction that sounds to me—if you squint a little—a bit like Macy Gray backed by Rush. The songs are rootsy at heart and warmed considerably by vocalist Kayla Daly’s mellifluous tone that cuts right through the hyper, synchronized, syncopated backing band.

Drummer and Open Road Festival producer Marcus Ohanesian says that Miar’s (Daly – vocals and guitar, Imer Diaz – bass, and Ohanesian – drums) aim is for audiences “to enjoy themselves,” which the band hopes to do by allowing each person to “find a groove or pocket that they can move to and feel something deeper than just one genre or vibe.” Miars is successful in their quest to produce a music that is “temporal in the sense that it moves and grooves in different ways.”

Their eclectic, label-evading sound seems the result of diverse influences, which range among band members as disparately as Daly’s taste for Jeff Buckley, Motown, and soul singer Dorothy Moore; Ohanesian’s love of Lettuce, Soulive, Tycho and the Deftones; and Diaz’s jazz background with Tower of Power, Marcus Miller, and Herbie Hancock.

Holy marketing niche problems, Batman!

Miars speaks to the sensibilities of the late ’60s and early ’70s when breaking barriers and broadening listening tastes was common. Simon Cowell would have a conniption over these guys. Despite their possibly limited “X factor” potential, though, Miars intends to continue seeking open-minded music fans and to “move forward with touring, writing, recording new songs, and pushing our abilities and talents to new heights.”

Check out Miars’ July 2011 foursong EP “Sound of Tremors” online at Myspace, Facebook, or Reverb Nation, where you can access free downloads, and live at Tammany Hall, in Worcester on Saturday, Feb. 11.


MANITOBA

This band, recently renamed from The Silence, came recommended by Lucky Dog Music Hall owner and promoter Erick Godin, who has hired the group for his Wednesday-night new music series.

Manitoba began with local guitarist/vocalist Matt Marcel, who had been teaching his original songs to bassist Andy Belanger in their “spare time.” As with most musicians, the “desire to play live” reared its head and the duo began seeking other players to get the band together, eventually hooking up with and playing a few preliminary gigs with guitarist Nick Van Someren, before eventually adding drummer Jay Contonio and cementing the present lineup.

The tracks from Manitoba’s self-recorded new release “The Silence EP” (Alazair Studio) are a polished collection of tension-filled, high-energy hard-rock/prog-rock tunes, like “Remission,” with its frenetic pace, liquid-clean guitar tones and pounding drums, reminiscent of The Mars Volta, complete with a sophisticated harmonized guitar solo. This tune, like “A Lasting Cure,” reflect Manitoba’s solo songwriter origins, as, despite the big rock arrangements, at the core, sound like good songs that could be strummed out on an acoustic guitar. They’re melodic and vocal based, yet contain utterly modern elements of melody and structure, and detached, introspective lyrics and vocals, enhanced by tight harmony lines.

Manitoba hopes to continue recording and release an eventual full-length recording, but mostly, says Marcel, they want to write music that pleases them and to have fun.

Look for Manitoba at their CD release show at Ralph’s on March 2, on Facebook at facebook.com/wearemanitoba, and check out their new EP at Bandcamp.com.


PRO RE NATA

Pro Re Nata, featured in these pages a few months ago, is a young postmodern band from south of Worcester, in Sutton, where they have been honing a sound in their transmissionshop turned practice space. In two short years (they began in January 2010), they have sharpened their approach and developed a sound that should put them right at home with the hordes of independent bands touring the United States and routinely filling The Palladium.

Their sound – as heard on cuts like “Femme Fatale” and “Cages” – is a reckless cacophony of layered guitars, pounding drums, and yelled and growled vocals that brings to mind the post-punk, post-rave sound of early Hot Hot Heat, and, with its pastiche of heavily delayed electric guitar lines, even the psychedelic abandon of Jane’s Addiction. The band cites a few of its influences – Incubus, Brand New, Modest Mouse, Mobb Deep, and At the Drive-In –while its Facebook page also lists Radiohead and Michael Jackson.

With guitarist Neal McLaughlin, bassist Justin Marion, drummer P.J. Guertin, and guitarist/vocalist Brian Montigny, the band has been busy, working up the local club ladder, with appearances at Club Oasis, Hotel Vernon and Leitrim Pub, among other places; completing an EP at Echo Room Studios in Uxbridge with another in the works for a March 2012 release; and beginning writing for a full-length release with a tentative release of January, 2013. Additionally, they plan to broaden their performance schedule, with shows beyond the Massachusetts’ border this spring.

According to Montigny, the band hopes to continue to write and play shows and do short tours, and even tour nationally if the opportunity arises and circumstances are right. “As far as cross-country tours go, we need to make sure our families are taken care of before we spend their college fund on touring,” he says. “It’s a tough industry and [we’ve] seen so many amazing bands never get the recognition they deserve.”

Asked about the prospects for a rock band in 2012, Montigny nevertheless remains optimistic. “The music around Worcester has been good for a lot of genres,” he says, adding that “a lot of places have started to host more live entertainment.”

Pro Re Nata say they have what you need, though they comport the message with an air of humility. “We wouldn’t be doing much if we didn’t have all the support from everyone,” says Montigny.

Look for Pro Re Nata on Facebook or at ReverbNation.com.


THE TWANGBUSTERS

Like many of the artists that contribute to nightlife in Worcester, The Twangbusters are not from Worcester. They’re from Lee. But thanks to a small, devoted audience for good-quality roots-based music and a few clubs rife with suitable ambiance for it, bands from across the state like to perform here.

Vincent’s has a “great audience and a great vibe,” says Twangbusters vocalist, pianist, and ukuleleist, Paula Bradley. “We love playing there, and are so grateful that they support live music.” Bradley’s lightly rollicking, back-porch blues sound and Patsy Cline vocal twang make a perfect complement to Vincent’s dark, Depression-era rural feel. “And their meatballs are delish!”

Bradley, of western Mass. honky-tonk group Girl Howdy, says that The Twangbusters, who have played at Vincent’s about three times, rose up out of a group of future Twangbusters—Peter Zarkadas, Billy Nadeau (drums), and Brian Rost (upright bass)—who already performed together in a group called Twin Guitar Swing that played monthly at Vincent’s over about a year. And when their steel player, Rose of Girl Howdy, left to pursue pedal-steel training in Austin, Texas, Bradley stepped in, bringing with her a batch of originals she was “itching to perform.”

Bradley describes their approach as “blues-influenced,” but enthuses that they’re “willing to try a range of stuff,” and so a set can encompass “a Jimmy Yancey piano piece followed by a ukulele number followed by a Patsy Cline country song” or even Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man,” into what Bradley calls “a musical cocktail of blues, boogie and hillbilly bop – kinda ‘torch and twang!’”

“We have a great time and the crowd seems to as well,” she says, as to why these seasoned players would drive all over southern Massachusetts to play. “Playing with these guys is supremely fun.” That the musicians are “versatile” and “have such a great feel for the music,” and that the group tries “new and different material every time” makes “the drive out I-90…almost inconsequential,” she says.

The spare, rhythm-and-blues chug of “Too Late to Cry,” with its cautionary tale of a love at risk, and its wonderful, authentic country-jazz guitar solo and bluesy piano, will have you staring down to the bottom of your glass, while “Cattin’ Around” evokes dreams of a ’50s dance with poodle-skirted girls being spun and thrown over shoulders.

Check out the Twangbusters at Vincent’s on Feb. 15, or at ReverbNation.com.

Watch a clip of the band performing live:


CARA BRINDISI

Cara Brindisi earned her place on this list after I had the opportunity to catch her Thursday-night residency at Vincent’s and an appearance as a guest soloist for Bobby Gadoury’s American Songbook at Nick’s, and after both Nicole Watson and Vincent Hemmeter—of their respective eponymous nightclubs—recommended her as an up-and-coming bright light on the local scene.

The two gigs provide some insight into this Shrewsbury native’s range. At Vincent’s, Brindisi is the young woman I saw on her website performing Talking Head’s “This Must Be the Place” in a video that could easily pass as an impressive “American Idol” audition tape: a confident and competent performer, singing in a pretty, controlled voice. During her multi-set show at Vincent’s, at which she is armed with only a microphone and an acoustic guitar that mostly provides little more than support for her voice—she is a singer, first and foremost—her repertoire, over three or so hours, darts in and out of the ’90s (Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason,” TLC’s “Waterfalls”) to the ’60s (Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” The Beatles’ “With a Little Help from my Friends”), the ’70s (John Denver’s “Country Roads,” Neil Young’s “Old Man”) to the ’50s (Patsy Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight”). Like her guitar accompaniment, the songs become merely vehicles to showcase a classic pop voice that shows hints of Judy Garland, Norah Jones, Nancy Griffith, and, yes, Patsy Cline. In other words, a voice that feels at home in almost any popular American music, perhaps suggesting why the Vincent’s crowd so warmly receives her.

Similarly, at Nick’s, when appearing as guest vocalist for Bobby Gadoury’s American Songbook show, by simply donning an elegant gown, she becomes the pre-rock chanteuse, performing elegant, skilled renditions of standards, like “All of Me,” “Moon River,” “Route 66,” and “Blue Skies.” Brindisi’s voice is the point. Like successful “American Idol” contestants, she makes each song a fitting piece in her own persona. She is a chameleon of sorts, who, because of a diverse range of exposure as a child—she cites Sinatra, The Beatles, CSN&Y (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), The Cars, Ella Fitzgerald, Bette Midler, Natalie Merchant, and Nat King Cole as some early influences—seems not to see the distinctions among artists and genres, but merely the entirety of it all.

Brindisi says that “music has always been an integral part” of her life, as “music was constantly played throughout” her house. By senior year of high school, “after one campus tour, [Berklee School of Music] was the only thing [she] could think about [during her] senior year.” So, she spent four years at Berklee “soaking it all in” and “breathing, eating, and sleeping” music.

Brindisi says that she loves “raw vocal talent” in her favorite singer-songwriters and catchy hooks with a beat when she’s out and looking to dance, and this is evident in her vocal-strong selections. But she has an appreciation for the practical part of the job, too: “Some gigs it’s more appropriate to showcase what I love to do vocally. Other nights, it’s more appropriate to play music so that an entire bar will sing along. Either way,” she says, “my hope is to evoke some sort of emotion for the listener, be it a moment of peace or a night of fun!”

See Cara Brindisi Thursday nights at Vincent’s, or online at carabrindisi.com.


 HERRA TERRA

“We want people to party like George Michael on hallucinogens,” says Herra Terra guitarist Gregg Kusumah-Atmadja. With an energetic and aggressive presence befitting a major arena act, Herra Terra, a self-described “space/electronic/symphonic rock” band that calls both Massachusetts and Rhode Island home, is making waves with an introspective synth pop that consciously avoids traditions of blues, folk and jazz embraced by many alternative and mainstream acts today. They prefer, instead, moody rave rockers – metronome-rigid thumping drums and sixteenth-note bass, wildly fuzzed (and often synthed) guitar lines that seemingly jump right out of King Crimson, and, yes, layer upon layer of ambient and video-game synth, all topped by highly melodic lead vocals that, at times – it’s okay because Kusumah-Atmadja said it! – might evoke George Michael or Duran Duran. Not that these guys sound like Duran Duran. They’re more like a kinder, gentler Ministry. But there’s an undeniable self-consciousness and dignity that bears resemblance.

Herra Terra has been around as an electronic duo since 2008 when they released the threesong EP “Organs for the Afterlife,” but the band has only recently put together the act as it appears today. Founding members, John Paul Tonelli (vocals) and Kusumah-Atmadja (guitar) added drums (Brad Caetano) and, finally, bass (Adrian Bettencourt Andrade). In 2010, they released their first full-length LP, “Quiet Geist.” Their sound today results from those early days as a duo, according to Kusumah-Atmadja, who says, “Our beginnings were very experimental, especially because we lacked the element of live percussion.” And though the addition of a traditional rhythm section has “brought the energy level way up at shows” and “really helps everyone get into it, especially the crowd,” their “inspirations [still] come from free association jam sessions.” Kusumah-Atmadja says that “especially…with the new material we’ll be releasing this year…most of the material is born ‘off the cuff.’”

The performances are tight and unified and deliver a sonic blow in concert that incites crowds to stomp and cheer and body surf, as a number of videos on their site (filmed at Ralph’s) attest. The band has begun to generate steam and a significant reputation, and enjoyed a busy 2011 performance schedule, being invited to the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, in the spring for which they organized a mini-tour that ran across the southeast, and appearing in Philadelphia, Providence, Boston, Worcester, western Massachusetts, and New Jersey; and as this article goes to print, an all-night show on Jan. 14 at Worcester’s Club Oasis, ending at 10 a.m.

2012 looks to be even busier, according to Kusumah-Atmadja. “We’re currently in the studio recording a six-track EP, which is due for a 2012 summer/fall release,” he says, adding that “booking has begun for a 30-day tour to SXSW during the month of March to promote said release.” And if that’s not enough, Herra Terra also has “a cover-song EP and a split 7” in the works that” they are “super stoked about.”

Check out Herra Terra on Feb. 25, at the Lazy Dog in Marlboro and at herraterra.com.


DANNY FANTOM

Danny Fantom’s slo-jam raps are perhaps the most “local” of the local music covered here. His cerebral compositions, like “Reflections,” “More Reflections,” and “Longboards and Reefer (Remix),” teem with references to local streets and destinations. Fantom says that he is “born and raised” in Worcester and hopes to point out better options than hanging around to kids growing up today, though his tunes are also littered with happy memories of smoking weed, drinking beer and causing mischief.

The solo songs listed on his Facebook page and on Sound Cloud—he’s also a member of local act The Grand Arkanum—are very cool, and professional, despite a casual playfulness that permeates them with trippy samples that ping-pong left and right in complex rhythmic patterns, and backing vocals that effect off-mike conversations and small talk, often in hilarious, ironic call and response to crooning vocal samples. Fantom’s tracks are underpinned by deep clear beats and an array of unexpected samples: sped-up old ballads, jazz riffs, crystalclear piano and bouncy synth, as well as his friends chatting along.

“Another Reflection” includes all the typical name dropping found in rap but also takes an unusually complex look at the dilemma of producing music for self-amusement—i.e., “I just want to meet the big faces, get beats from Kanye, and rap with Kweli, give daps with Common, and puff on Whizza’s weed”; and, of course, business—“But none of this comes free. If I don’t try for money, how do I pay the fee?” Fantom’s music is smart, compelling and self-deprecating at times (he calls his music “nerdcore”), all of which makes it a lot of fun to listen to, while not evading the big issues that made rap important in the first place and which is often lost in the mega-commercial hits that populate FM stations and MTV.

Keep an eye out for Fantom or The Grand Arkanum in local listings, or find him on Facebook or SoundCloud.


Places to hear new bands: If you’d like to get out and hear new talent for yourself, a number of opportunities exist. The challenge is that most new acts face the dilemma of proving themselves on off-nights before being given the shot at premiere weekend slots. To catch them, and help them get to the weekends, you’ve first got to take a shot on them during the week. The Lucky Dog Music Hall, on Green Street, hosts new bands “just about every week,” according to owner Erick Godin. Opening slots on Wednesdays, Thursdays (and sometimes even Fridays and Saturdays) often feature newer bands. Check out weeknight slots at places like Nick’s, Vincent’s, Ralph’s, Beatnik’s, The Greyhound, and The Hotel Vernon; and open-mike nights all over Central Mass.

If weekends are your preference, established musicians often appear in new aggregates, which you can find on weekends at The Lucky Dog, Vincent’s, Ralph’s, and even JJ’s in Northboro. Bands like Happy Jack (covering The Who), Heavy Horses (covering ’70s arena rock), Pony for my Birthday and The Pistol Whipped, are all recent groups made of staple musicians on the local scene, while others are made up of new and established talents, like the duo Dan and Dorette (Dan Kirouac and Dorette Weld). Plus Duncan Arsenault’s Thursday night shows at The Dive Bar, on the corner of Green Street and Temple, routinely feature prime-time musicians in a range of formats, performing all kinds of music.

Tell us your favorite local band that we may have missed when you comment.

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