Local legend Murray Horwitz (host of WAMU) and jazz pianist Aaron Diehl are teaming up to perform the second show in a series called "How Do We Listen," presented by Washington Performing Arts which explains the building blocks of music -- rhythm, melody and harmony for novices and professionals. 

The second program on melody will be happening on Jan. 31 with the final show happening on Mar. 8 at the McEvoy Auditorium at the National Portrait Gallery. In two separate Q&A's, they talk about their collaboration, the vibrancy of the DC music scene and what they hope audiences will take away from the show. These Q&A's have been lightly edited for clarity and grammar. 

Aaron Diehl 

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Could you describe what this event is about and why they should come out?

We have 3 parts to this: We did the first part in October and the last part is in March. It’s conversations in music and Murray Horwitz and I have teamed up to discuss what makes ‘music music,’ and what makes great music. We hone in on the fundamentals of music: melody, rhythm and harmony. The first was on rhythm, the second on Jan. 31st is melody and the third is harmony. We call it the ‘building blocks’ of music and how those elements are important individually and collectively and how they serve each other.

What will make “melody” interesting? Why should people come out and hear it?  

Anyone who has heard a song can appreciate a melody and it does not have to be specific to a particular genre. The fact that melody is always around us, we have musical déjà vu and we may have not heard it before but it seems familiar.  We can’t get it out of our ears, over the course of time, many different people use and re-use a different tune. That’s fascinating to people and related to musicians and connoisseurs and amateurs alike.

How has reception to your show been so far?

The last show we did rhythm, I was sick, I had the flu. I was giving this presentation while coughing and taking breaks in between. But it was well-received. I’m excited about this particular discussion because I speculate I’m not going to be sick. It’s just a fun subject matter compared to the others. Rhythm is fun and harmony is more abstract but most can relate to the idea of a great tune.

What is your biggest hope that these events will turn into for audiences?

I hope audiences will come away with a finer appreciation for music in general. Murray and I have discussed possibly doing more of these series. Washington Performing Arts has been gracious enough to program this. Murray and I have been discussing that and that’s certainly a possibility in the future. In terms of listeners, right now, sort of the challenges that the performing arts have already faced, it’s my hope that people who are not music aficionados will check out what we are doing and have a different perspective on music and how music is constructed and take something with them that they can apply to their daily lives.

Murray Horwitz 


Can you give examples where rhythm is now bigger than melody or harmony?

In general, I’m not saying anything is better or worse, in general, hip-hop is much more rhythmically sophisticated. Generally, it emphasizes rhythm much more than it emphasizes than melody and harmony. Hip-hop has been the dominant form for the last 20 years at least. It’s grown and matured and has gotten richer in a lot of ways, so you will hear somebody. But in the golden age of American popular songwriting with Jerome Kern and Duke Ellington, melody and harmony had a much more prominent role than in hip hop and rock and roll. When rock and roll took hold in the ‘50’s, a lot of the classic songwriters said there was no melody or harmony. But compared to hip-hop, rock and roll had much more melody and harmony than those genres.

What do you think the future of music will consist of?

To my observations and to my experience, people of all races and backgrounds now have much more greater conversancy from all backgrounds with country music, hip hop, blues, jazz and bluegrass. They feel they have a handshake relationship with all these different genres, that bodes well for the future of music. If people’s ears are that big, the possibilities are very intriguing.

What are the biggest thing that people have taken away from these shows?

We sold more tickets on the second one than the first. What we hope is that people will listen a little harder and a little closer. The more you bring from it, the more you take away from it. If people have a richer understanding of what goes into actually making the music and how they actually listen, they will make more out of it. There are people who do not realize they are listening to harmony, music and melody when they are hearing it. When we tease those out and show a little bit of what is going on, in our first concert, we played Bach, Philip Glass, Jerome Kern, the blues. When people understand what those elements are, I think what they take away is a little bit of a keener ear and brain.

Do you think that’s essential these days more than ever?

It will certainly help a lot. If people understand there are all these elements and they can work together in a variety of ways, then that will help with human progress if you will. It will make for more engaged listening and if any of this were in the arts, especially the performing arts, it has to confront the question of what are we doing this for? How much are we actually doing? We all want to make the world a better place. We want to improve life, and the role of the arts will make you a better person.

 What makes the DC music scene different than others?

I just saw a documentary in progress called “Anacostia Delta” about the guitar players. It centers on Danny Gaston and Roy Buchanan. One of the points the movie makes is that Washington has been this great crossroads for all kinds of music: blues and all kinds of African music.This is one of the best bluegrass places in the country. All kinds of folk music, there are foreign communities here. If you see a SE dance troupe, they have local musicians. There are all these local influences any day of the week and that’s really made for a DC sound that tends to be funkier, more blues-based, a lot of country in it, a lot of jazz. It has been a very rich, fertile musical ground and continues to be. There are neighborhood things that happen like the couple of new music spaces at the Strathmore, Westminster Presybyterian Church that has a blues night every Monday and a jazz night. Washington is ground zero for choral music, there are great choruses here. It is a very rich musical landscape.

What do you hope your legacy be?

I try to think of the lasting value of everything I do. I think we have to be very modest about what we do, but my hope is that more than one or two, we can really enrich the lives and the listening of some of the people who come so when they come out, they listen with new ears.


Brian Hart is a former corporate attorney who became the founder and CEO of LightHouse, a non-profit in Washington DC which gives re-purposed furniture and home goods to low-income people. Since beginning, they have helped furnish homes for around 65 people and hope to help more at their New Year’s Eve Gatsby Gala on Dec. 31, 2017 from 8:00pm-1:00 am on New Year’s Day at the Josephine Butler Parks Center. He talks more about DC’s issues with affordable housing, LightHouse’s mission and the gala here!  

Can you describe what you are doing this New Year’s Eve?

We are hosting a jazz New Year’s Eve event with a Gatsby gala theme where we are inviting members of the community, friends and family to have a great celebration and ring in the New Year supporting a local charity and a good cause. All 13 DC councilmembers and the DC attorney general have all graciously agreed to be honorary hosts of the event and have really been standing with us from the beginning and are very supportive of our mission to help people transition into affordable housing.

How did you come up with this idea for the event?

Well, we were thinking there are all these various parties on New Year’s Eve and it would be great if there was a party where you could have a nice night, listen to great jazz music and also support a local charity and people in need. There was no local charity jumping out at us on New Year’s Eve.

Why is it important to shed light on this issue particularly in DC?

Well, this is one of the major challenges addressing the city – affordable housing and homelessness are at crisis levels and within the new policy approach of housing first, one of the challenges within that is ensuring that people have a stable home [and] that they have a fully furnished real home environment. There are far too many people across the entire city who are eating and sleeping on the floor, living in an empty space or reverting to homelessness because they do not have basic house hold goods or furniture like a bed, or a table or a couch. We realized this was a major problem in our previous work in homeless services. Through our work with DC councilmembers like Robert White, we saw there was this massive waitlist of people who did not have what they need and as a result, it was very difficult for them to enjoy life and take advantage of other services like education and job training and career counseling and other services.

How is affordable housing becoming more and more of an issue and how are you seeing it affect people?

There are 7000 people living in homelessness, over 120,000 living in poverty and people are either being driven out of the city to live in other places or they literally cannot afford their rent, are evicted and put out on the street. Our phones have literally been off the hook. We have partnerships with over 20 non-profit agencies across the city including Pathways to Housing, Jubilee Housing, DC Government, DC human services, DC housing authority. There’s a real need in which people don’t have these basic goods – their children are sleeping on the floor who started school. We served a veteran who was living in an empty home, it is unacceptable that people are living in these kinds of conditions so we can reduce and end chronic homelessness, this part of the continuum of care needs to be addressed and that is exactly why we have been created.

What kind of steps have you taken to fight this problem?

So the key difference is, we do use donated goods and resources, high quality donated goods to individuals with the idea that it is cost-effective, helps people and prevents things from going to waste. There are furniture banks that exist, and there are other organizations in DC. What we do that’s different is we deliver and we furnish. If furniture banks exist, people oftentimes have trouble actually taking advantage of those services. To take advantage of a furniture bank, you have to get your own moving truck, your own labor, people continue to suffer. We recognize that and we invested in the delivery part. There’s no other nonprofit in the DC area solely focused on the furnishing of people’s homes.

How have you seen it help impact people’s lives? Can you give an example?

One of our newest programs is a sponsored home program in which we work with a local organization or company to sponsor a family. They’ll make a monetary donation, provide anywhere from 7-12 volunteers to come out for the day and work with us. They will help us furnish the home, we work with a pro bono interior designer and filmmaker. The family will leave, go to lunch, they’ll come back and the home is furnished. The first woman we worked with was Tania Webb. She has 3 children and 2 young daughters in elementary school in DC. Their father died last year, and as a result, they were homeless because of that and lived in the DC homeless shelter system and in hotels in Maryland before they received affordable housing on the same street she grew up in DC. These little girls were literally sleeping on the floor for a month before starting school. We went into the home, completely furnished it [and] the look on her face was just incredible. You could tell it gave them a gift of so much. It’s tough to put into words.

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Watch more of their story here. 

What are you hoping to accomplish with this event?

This past year, in 6 months since we started operations in June, our goal for the entire year was to help 32 persons. In 6 months, since we started operations, we have already helped 65, so we doubled our goal in 6 months. Our goal for next year is to help over 150 people and to put it in perspective, the cost to fully furnish a home is approximately 3000 dollars and because of our partnership model and volunteer network, we are able to do it for 1300 dollars. With the funds we raised from New Year’s Eve, we hope to help 10 families.

Make sure to buy tickets for the gala here.

No show ever feels small at the Kennedy Center and the 200-voiced, symphonic Washington Chorus is no exception with their holiday concert, “A Candlelight Christmas.”

The Washington Chorus is now led by the humorous, lively Christopher Bell who opens the show with glittery jacket and dry humor. He refuses to let his audience sit – he makes them participate in dances during the rousing “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” Bell is as entertaining as the music itself – his personality is a welcome addition to an already festive show.  

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When the show began, the lights dimmed and the choir sang angelic, peaceful opening chords as they filled the aisles and walked to the stage. Singing classics from “Once in Royal David’s City,” to “And the Glory of the Lord,” a supreme standout was the touching “I Pray.” A tear-jerking ballad about passed-away loved ones during Christmas time, Bell smiled at the awed audience, saying “It’s available on iTunes.”

The sopranos of the chorus were particular standouts. Their voices blended and soared on the heavenly “Silent Night,” particularly.

One welcome addition to the concert was the Eleanor Roosevelt Concert Choir who sang a soulful “Get Away, Jordan,” and spirited “Christmas Bells are Ringing.”

Overall, the Candlelight Christmas concert is a perfect show for all audiences – families, individuals, couples looking to escape from every day and feel more connected with the holiday season. Bell shows a promising future as the director with his uncensored personality and limitless energy, adding more depth to the concert.

“A Candlelight Christmas” shows how music feeds the soul, especially during a busy holiday season, reminding audiences why we still keep singing those same classic carols over and over again.

There are three shows left at the Kennedy Center which will be running on Sat. Dec. 16 at 4pm; Thursday, Dec. 21 at 7pm; and Friday, Dec. 22 at 7pm at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Buy tickets here.

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