On Friday evenings, the sounds of international folk music carry through a Fullerton neighborhood. These melodies are from a series of community concerts created by local musicians on their front lawns to entertain family, friends, and neighbors. Initially conceived in the early days of the pandemic, the Friday night Six Foot Sessions on Valley View became a way for musicians to connect with one another by playing and sharing their passion for music with the Fullerton community.
Aimee Aul and Christina Garner started their lawn concerts in the Golden Hill neighborhood during the spring of 2020. Both have known each other a long time and have performed French music as a duo at a number of events. In fact, their families have a lot of musical inter-connections. Aimee and Christina’s husband, Jim, are both members of Interfolk, a dance band that has been performing international dance music for many years all across Southern California. Jim, along with Aimee’s husband, Bob, has also performed with Hurok, a Hungarian dance band in Los Angeles. “Normally, someone in our two households has a performance scheduled somewhere every weekend,” Christina said via email.
However, when the pandemic hit, all their many music gigs quickly faded away, and they were forced into lockdown in their neighborhoods. Aimee and Christina were eager to lift their spirits by making music in a safe way by going outdoors where they could stay distanced while playing together. “We invited our husbands to join us and called our weekly gatherings Six Foot Sessions in honor of our safety protocols,” Christina said. “We invited a nearby neighbor, Chris Heaton, to join our group and began to blend our many styles. We could not practice together in advance, as we were working all week, so each performance was an unrehearsed session. Like other musicians in the greater LA area, we were happy to keep our skills alive, and glad to bring sounds of life to our neighborhood as each Friday evening arrived.”
Aimee explained that pre-pandemic, they wouldn’t play for free, at least not for an audience. “Since no one was gigging at all during the shutdown and we missed hanging out with each other, outdoor lawn concerts seemed like a fun idea,” Aimee said via email. “It turned out lots of neighbors thought so too!”
When the pandemic lockdowns continued longer than expected, Christina became the stage manager, band leader, and emcee for each session, planning music and creating a theme for each set. In the midst of isolation, the group of musicians had a purpose, a way to express their emotions, fellowship, and camaraderie. They put up a Maypole for spring, brought to life French country tunes in the summer, played Oktoberfest music in the fall, and performed Christmas carols for the winter solstice.
Every Friday night at the Six Foot Sessions concerts, Jim plays fiddle and mandolin, Aimee plays flute and penny whistle, Bob plays bass and tuba, and Chris plays guitar. Normally, Christina performs as a vocalist with Zhena Folk Chorus, a Los Angeles-based East European women’s ensemble. However, for the concerts during the pandemic, she had to rapidly practice and learn the accordion to substitute for Kriss Larson, Interfolk’s band leader, who could only join the Six Foot Sessions occasionally as a guest performer. Christina said, “It took 10 hours a week for me to practice my instrument, assemble music, and prepare a set.”
Aimee said that pre-pandemic her husband Bob had been a busy tuba and bass player, appearing at venues like Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, and jazz clubs. However, the pandemic completely shut down his music career. She said, “Previous to the pandemic, although we shared a love of music, we never actually performed together, or really ever played together for fun.” Now, Aimee and Bob try to play a couple of pieces for just the two of them at Christina’s concerts. “It’s fun to figure out new music for the unusual combination of flute and bass,” Aimee said. “Plus, I’m learning how to improvise, a new musical skill for me!”
“For the Six Foot Sessions, it’s a different program every week,” she said. “But since we’ve been doing it for a year and a half now, there’s been some repetition.” The group plays a rotating repertoire that consists of a wide variety of traditional folk music and dance tunes. Depending on the time of year, they have played Celtic selections, English Country dances, Mexican and California rancho tunes, French country music, New England reels and jigs, Balkan and Klezmer melodies, German and Austrian polkas, Scandinavian suites, and Victorian Christmas music, as well as folk songs that express their mood.
The Six Foot Sessions often have about 30 to 40 people coming to their concerts, including neighborhood walkers, individuals who bring their own chairs, and families with children. Those who do not feel safe going out in public drive up in their cars and roll down their windows to listen in. The musicians involved have repeatedly heard from attendees that the musical events have provided them a touchstone, a way to feel connected to the community, making Friday night a special evening. The group has made a point of playing acoustic music only, to avoid being a nuisance for neighbors, who have all been very supportive.
Christina said, “We were visited by families out walking with children who couldn’t help dancing to the music, bringing heart and spirit to the listeners. Instead of passing a hat, as musicians traditionally do, we asked our listeners for donations of cans for the Pathways of Hope food bank and received hundreds of food items. When we heard about the American coin shortage, we asked for coins as well and have donated several hundred dollars to the American Red Cross to put the coins back in circulation.”
On an August evening when I attended one of the Six Foot Sessions concerts, they were continuing to collect canned food items; this time to support the All the Arts for All the Kids program. Everyone in attendance stayed distanced from one another and all the musicians were very welcoming. Christina pointed out that “folks have been great about maintaining social distance with family blankets and lawn chairs.” The group of musicians had set up two stands for shared sheet music between the four of them and chairs spaced apart for listeners wishing to sit.
Christina, Aimee, Bob, and Jim made use of a can of communal bug spray before playing in order to keep the mosquitoes and other insects away. A small chalk sign stood on their front yard promoting the evening concert. “We play for two hours so people can listen in for a few numbers and enjoy an evening walk as well,” Christina said. “Our events have largely been publicized by word of mouth. I put out my board once a week to announce the next event, and I maintain an email interest list to let folks know
when we will next be playing. Publicity has been a balancing act of responding to an appreciative audience, yet not getting so crowded that vulnerable people don’t feel safe showing up.” They typically play about 20 pieces of music as well as interacting with the audience, and have even incorporated poetry, Irish step dancing, ballet, and Shakespeare scenes into their evening gatherings.
When I attended a Six Foot Sessions concert, the theme was traditional music from the French countryside. “If we were a radio station, we would be radio station 1820 because that’s where our music comes from,” Christina joked at the opening of the concert. Their opening song was “Mon Lila,” a beautiful piece where the sounds of the accordion, fiddle, bass, and flute came together to create a unique musical composition. More people began arriving later in the evening as the sun sank lower in the sky. After playing a few pieces, Christina came out from the front yard where she was sitting and stood on the sidewalk to teach the audience how her accordion worked before jumping right into the next song.
“As paid work for musicians starts coming back, we will probably discontinue the free yard concerts,” Aimee said. Christina explained that they plan to keep offering Six Foot Sessions on Friday evenings from 7-9pm until Halloween. The concerts are held on Valley View in the Golden Hills neighborhood. For further information, please email email@example.com.
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