If you’re a musician or just a fan of music, you more than likely have seen a few concerts in your lifetime. Most, if not all, of those shows probably were in a stadium or arena, or possibly in a community theater. But since 2005, a local public building has given musical performances a different look in a more intimate setting. Guitarist and State College native Eric Carbonara and harpist Jesse Sparhawk will hold one of these performances at 8 p.m. March 16 at the Schlow Centre Region Library.
Now based in Philadelphia, Carbonara has been a musician for more than 20 years.
“Around 1991 was the first time I started to even understand that there were genres within genres,” he said. “About the same time, some of my friends began playing guitar. So I think I was primarily influenced in social ways.”
Besides being an accomplished musician, Carbonara also has made his mark as a composer, audio engineer and producer, with a career that spans more than a decade of collaborations and solo work.
“Music is my best friend,” he said. “It’s a universal truth that’s always there for me, whether I have an instrument in my hands or not. I now make a living as a full-time guitarist and audio engineer, so I kind of have everything I’ve ever wanted.”
Sparhawk said he had many musical influences growing up, including Lionel Richie, Duran Duran, Wang Chung and Tears for Fears. Later on he became interested in a varied number of genres, such as funk, disco, acid jazz, free jazz and 1990s electronic. Classically trained by major figures of the harp world, Sparhawk admitted that for him music can cover the entire spectrum of emotions.
“Music gives me hope and grief at different times, the greatest joy and the greatest frustration,” he said. “I would like to be involved in making many different kinds of records for my whole life.”
Carbonara said Sparhawk’s description of the kind of music they are making is fairly accurate: “global devotional music-inspired improv and composition; primarily the sound of plucked strings.”
“But I would add that we bring a certain intuitive jazz sensibility to our improvisation and compositional style,” Carbonara said.
The pair’s newest release, “Sixty Strings,” is an album of epic duets with Carbonara on a 22-string upright Chaturangui guitar and Sparhawk playing a 38-string lever harp. Carbonara’s sound mainly consists of electro-acoustic improvisation, free-noise guitar thrashing, folk music of North Africa and Andalusia, and Hindustani classical music.
He performs mostly as a solo guitarist, but Carbonara revealed the joys of playing with another musician and the challenges it presents.
“When you perform solo, you don’t have to censor or reserve yourself as much,” he said. “You have to tell a full and captivating story; and not just entertain them, but to connect with them emotionally and move them to a place within themselves where they may not often go. When you have someone else up there, the challenge then becomes how to be a good listener, because you’re sharing the art of storytelling with another person. When you’re improvising you need to focus on listening as much as playing.”
‘A labor of love’
The concerts are organized by Kevin Moist and Nathaniel Rasmussen, a computer systems administrator at the library. Rasmussen has worked at Schlow since 1993. He says his daily duties vary but typically involve managing a large number of networked systems, planning for the future, and keeping the staff trained on all the new technology. However, he says that “concerts” are not part of the job description.
“I started doing those when we moved into our current building in 2005,” he said. “It is a labor of love, done more or less entirely on my own time.”
Rasmussen said the library is a great place to see a concert because it is a public building and there are no purchase requirements.
“This tends to lead to a much more diverse audience than what you might get in a private setting,” Rasmussen said.
He noted that a public setting also can lead to attracting a more attentive audience.
“We regularly have attendees ranging from teens to seniors (and often children too),” he said. “Folks are there to sit down and really listen, which touring musicians who are accustomed to busy coffee shops and bars always appreciate.”
Considering Carbonara is a native son of the Centre Region, Rasmussen said he believes more folks will come out to see the great music he is doing.
“He has performed here before numerous times, but not with Jesse so it should be a really special performance,” he said.
Rasmussen said he finds Carbonara and Sparhawk’s album to be very transportational and hopes the audience will walk away fresh and renewed.
“I would expect someone seeing them perform to be able to close his or her eyes and go to a pleasant and fascinating place.”