by Rebecca Jones
For the Montclair Local
Every weekend for the last four weeks, MHS grad Sam Levine has been playing guitar and singing for his Christopher Street neighbors from the front stoop of his house.
Neighbors sunbathed in lawn chairs on their front lawns while others chatted from a distance. People riding their bikes or walking past also stopped to listen.
“When I first started it was just me playing loud music more than performing,” Levine told Montclair Local, “but I was overwhelmed by the positive response. Soon people were asking my mom, ‘Is Sam going to be playing music again this weekend?’ and then they started emailing requests for songs. I think it’s because it’s the closest thing to an actual concert people get these days.”
Levine, a sophomore at Tufts University studying music, has been home since March 14, when his college switched to remote learning. “It’s really easy to let the days slip by,” he said, “so playing for an audience has been really great for me. It’s a way to get out of the house and stay in practice.”
The idea came from Levine’s mom, Sarah Wolman, who sometimes joins her son on voice when he performs. The two sang “Me and Julio” this Sunday from the front yard. On Saturday the two sang at Bnai Keshet’s virtual service, concluding with “Our House,” by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.
“My mom sang a capella in college, but she has no musical training,” Levine said. There were always instruments in his house, and music playing. His parents “hey, pretty much Stockholm-syndromed me into learning the classics,” he said. Classic rock, that is.
Levine’s dad, Ken, said his son plays with a group at Tufts called Public Harmony. “They perform at nursing homes, hospitals, and homeless shelters. He likes to perform, and it serves the community.”
“I play a lot on my own,” Levine said, “but my favorite thing about music is the social aspect. The collaborative process is what makes it so special. Then put that in a different setting like a homeless shelter. It makes me a better musician.”
Switching to online learning has been a challenge. “I think everyone, no matter what they study, will say it’s hard to study that subject online, but I think music is especially weird,” he said.
He’s been sending music through voice memos and has done some FaceTime and Skype writing with people, but he says, “it’s hard to play with the lag.” Still, he finds it’s a good way to stay in touch with others, as are his weekly concerts on Christopher Street.
This past Sunday, Levine played a fused rendition of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” and Marcy Playground’s “Sex and Candy” for his neighbors.
“I do that kind of thing a lot,” Levine said. “I started playing the song ‘Sex and Candy’ and then I was like, ‘You know what that sounds like?’ “Ain’t No Sunshine.” I also didn’t know the words to the last verse of ‘Sex and Candy,’ so it worked out.”
“He played some John Prine earlier,” said Shirin Irani, who watched from the curb with her son Jasper Pinkus and husband Greg Pinkus. Country/folk rock singer John Prine died from COVID-19 on April 7.
“This is a nice block,” said neighbor Rebecca Rudelson, whose children rode their bikes up and down the street. “People have been grocery shopping for each other. We share information about what’s open, and if we’re going to the store we ask if anyone needs anything.”
Levine is one of many young musicians who will be live-stream performing on the April 25 fund-raiser for Toni’s Kitchen.
Montclair High School students Lucy Solomon and Sarah Shiffman organized the event, bringing together 25 other musicians to attract publicity and donations. “I’m the oldest of the bunch,” Levine said. “I think it’s mostly high schoolers.”
Levine will be playing this Sunday around 4 p.m. from his stoop at 117 Christopher St.
If you go to check out the music, remember to maintain social distance.