Song of the STL

On Saturday, September 4, we tuned in to local musical frequencies in their vast and varied incarnations. What we heard, all day and all night:

There's so much music floating through the air in St. Louis, every second of every day, that the natural impulse of your brain is to tune it out. A burst of a song hurled from the rolled-down window of a passing car, the chime of an opening door, a cell phone's crunk ring tone -- the sound surrounds us until we push it back to a burble. We close our ears.

This past Saturday, September 4, a squad of writers opened their ears to the music of St. Louis, wherever and whenever it was hiding. Hour by hour, from 8:00 a.m. until 8:00 a.m., from west county to Washington Avenue to Sauget, like six-year-olds at a piano lesson, we took note.

Of the yoga instructor's soothing sonic backdrop. Of Bosnian folk melodies, Japanese drummers and bluesmen at work. We heard the busker's hustle and, ringingly, the many-splendored soundtrack to the Saturday-night mating dance.

2:11 a.m.:  DJ Smitty drops beats at Velvet.
Jennifer Silverberg
2:11 a.m.: DJ Smitty drops beats at Velvet.
9:47 a.m.: Madeline Chilton masters the serious art of 
the piano.
Jennifer Silverberg
9:47 a.m.: Madeline Chilton masters the serious art of the piano.

Listen too, and you might hear. -- Jordan Harper

8:40 a.m.
Schnucks on Lindell Boulevard
St. Louis

Schnucks plays the same music at the same time at all its stores, whether you shop at the tony Ladue location or the less glamorous one on Lindell Boulevard at Sarah Street.

You were there when I neeeeeeeded you
You were there when the sky split wide, wide open!

Do the chicken-apple-sausage yuppies and the High Life Lighters really have the same taste in music? Does it matter? From Steely Dan to Bonnie Raitt, the songs spin past, on the periphery of recognition. -- Ben Westhoff

9:47 a.m.
Teipen Performing Arts Studio
University City

Sleepy-eyed Madeleine Chilton's tiny hands are moving gingerly up and down the ivories, and the tiny performance room fills with the bright wash of C and G chords. These six-and-a-half-year-old fingers, some flecked with the final vestiges of red nail polish, are mastering "Lightly Row."

While the child's mother waits proudly in the lobby, Madeleine's teacher, George Tesson, offers purring encouragement. Madeleine, her eyes squinting with determination, stares down the sheet of music, a strange and wondrous language to a child, and tackles "The Donkey," confronting the awkward task of playing quarter notes with the right hand, whole notes with the left.

Not bad, Madeleine, not bad. The tinkling music, generations old, rushes out to say hello. -- Ellis E. Conklin

10:53 a.m.
Grand Basin, Forest Park
St. Louis

"I'm gonna make you guys shake," capoeira instructor Borracha-Porto announces to the group of students standing around him.

A drum master begins pounding away on her waist-high atabaque drum, and the sound resonates across the lake up to the top of Art Hill. Borracha-Porto picks up a tall piece of arched wood. A wire runs from top to bottom; half an emptied gourd is secured at one of its ends. He begins to strike the wire with a small stick, and an uncanny hollow plunking sound issues from the instrument, called a berimbau.

A circle has formed with Borracha-Porto, the drum master and two other berimbau players at the head. Two students crouch in front of the musicians, then cartwheel into the center of the circle to face off in a highly choreographed bout.

Developed in Brazil as a form of martial art, capoeira morphed when police began to crack down on its practice. "The police would not let [the people] practice capoeira. Therefore, to disguise this practice as a dance to be allowed, they would sing and pretend to dance," Borracha-Porto explains. "Now there is no capoeira without song."

On the sidelines, the students sing responses to the drum master's calls. Borracha-Porto passes his berimbau to one of them and enters the circle himself. The tempo quickens; he aerials away from his opponent. A series of flips, kicks and strikes, and then the fight is over.

Students gather around, glistening with sweat. Borracha-Porto outlines the next exercise. "Oh, I told you I was gonna make you guys shake, right?" -- Andrea Noble

11:35 a.m.
Japanese Festival, Missouri Botanical Garden
St. Louis

Lola Wong lunges forward, smiling in anticipation as Pam Okano begins hammering her birch drumsticks into the cowhide that is stretched taut across her barrel-shape drum. With a yelp, Lola swings her stick backward and strikes the large drum before her. As the other members of Hinode Taiko drummers join the percussion procession, the sound of rolling thunder crashes through the towering trees and manicured landscape of the Missouri Botanical Garden.

Lola's blue- and purple-streaked piggy tails bounce when she drops to her knees and looks up to the sun. The three male drummers in the back row dance around her and the other two women in the front before they all trade places and fiercely pound out the beat of galloping horses. The grass, the flowers, the music. Everything is alive today. -- Shelley Smithson

12:00 noon
Big Bend Yoga Center
Webster Groves

For the first few minutes of a yoga session, it's better to listen to the crickets and tree frogs making a beautiful racket in the forest just beyond the screen of the Big Bend Yoga Center. The students can hear them clear as a bell in the center's practice room, a converted garage equipped with rubber floors, plenty of natural light and a sound system.

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