Though not observed in this country, Boxing Day, which is celebrated in the U.K and Canada on the day after Christmas, dates back to a time when it was customary for the wealthy to give gifts to employees or people in a lower social class.
Boxing Day is also traditionally when working people are given a little time off to gather with their own friends and families around the holidays. Given how hard most year rounders work to survive on the East End, especially in this economy, it somehow seems appropriate that Kathryn Szoka and Maryann Calendrille, proprietors of Canio’s Books in Sag Harbor, have arranged for a Boxing Day concert at their shop featuring musicians Cynthia Post and Roy Lechich.
“I think of Boxing Day as an opportunity to play after all the work and frenzy and preparations for the big Christmas holiday are done,” notes Calendrille, an old friend of Cynthia and Roy’s. “That’s when the servants, staff — and yes, us shop girls — get to relax a bit and party.”
Cynthia and Roy live in Branford, Conn. and are partners both in music and in life. On stage, they are known collectively as The Elsewhere Band. Cynthia, a pianist, is also a singer and songwriter. As a musician, Roy is adept at a number of instruments, including guitar and fiddle.
The duo perform at Canio’s on Boxing Day, this Friday, December 26 at 6 p.m. It would seem that Cynthia and Roy’s music fits the bill, given that, as a venue, Canio’s is all about friends getting together to share a few tunes and good times. In fact, that was how Cynthia and Roy first met more than two decades ago when they were students at Southampton College.
“I was always involved in music,” explains Roy. “I started violin at age five and studied until I was 13 or 14, then I did the teenage thing and switched to guitar — folk guitar and rock stuff. When I got to Southampton in my suite there were a bunch of musicians to play with. It was a community of students who played. There were always people sitting around and playing.”
While Cynthia was well versed in folk music by the time she arrived at Southampton College, having traveled to many folk festivals, at Southampton, she was exposed to new musical influences like jazz and blues, and even madrigals, a centuries-old style of music, which will be part of the Canio’s Boxing Day program on Friday.
“Before Bach and scales, there was church music in the late middle ages,” says Roy. “There was official music, then there was all this secular music. Madrigals, even though they are related to religion, were songs you could dance to in a field on a sunny day. These were written by composers, including Henry VIII, and written in four part harmonies. The idea was that people get together and if there were 12 of them, they could split up the parts between them.”
“We’re going to sing a couple lively ones we’ve chosen,” adds Cynthia. “They are fun to do and seem to work well with two singers. I might even print up the words for King Henry VIII for the audience. Apparently all these noble people were trained in hunting, dancing, singing and composition so they could pass time with good company.”
Good music with good company seems to be a philosophy for Cynthia and Roy, who will also be performing some Italian folk tunes at Canio’s in a musical nod to Roy’s heritage.
“When I grew up my parents would have friends come over, and at some point after dinner they’d have wine and all sit back and start singing these songs,” says Roy. “After dinner there were all these harmonies going on. A lot of these songs are really old.”
“It’s a similar thing to people getting together today and enjoying singing and playing,” he says.
While they love the old songs, Roy and Cynthia also write and record their own original music and, after years of working together, have found that their talents compliment each other nicely. Cynthia excels as a singer and songwriter while Roy fills out the sound musically, playing with arrangements and adding depth to the songs. The couple’s most recent recording is a CD of original work entitled “Cave Drawings” and when asked how she describes their music, Cynthia pauses and considers the question.
“Back in college I would’ve said it was folk or folk rock,” she says. “All the flavors of it are what I grew up knowing —songs by people like Stevie Nicks or Celtic ballads, so I’ve often found it difficult to say what it is I do. There’s also country and some blues in it.”
“If I had my way, I’d just call it folk rock,” she adds. “It still sounds like the best ways to describe it. It’s melodic and female vocal oriented.”
It also is apparently timeless, and while musical trends have come and gone, Cynthia and Roy have found that, throughout the years, they have always managed to find audiences for their music.
“We always feel there’s a vein of people who enjoy it,” says Cynthia. “We will go through dry spells — clubs change and we lose places. Then we go to a party and play and it’s so nice to feel that people really do love what we’re doing.”
“We’ve played our share of bars where we were competing with sports on TV,” admits Roy.
Lately, however, Cynthia and Roy have found a new venue for making music — one which is reminiscent of their days at Southampton College or the intimate setting of a place like Canio’s.
“The latest and greatest thing for us is the house concert scene,” says Cynthia. “People open up their house or backyard for a night of music and might even have a sound system.”
Though the idea is relatively new in this part of the world, getting together at homes to make music is a tradition that goes back literally centuries. In Nova Scotia, people often gather for Cielidhs (pronounced kaylees) impromptu home concerts to which everyone is invited. A similar music scene has long existed in rural Ireland and other places around the globe.
“I think it’s a spreading idea,” says Roy. “We’ve heard about it for several years. It’s a comfortable idea. You play in a house where you can fit 15 to 20 people, or in a back yard where you can have a few more. In a way, it’s like having a party, but it’s clear that the music is the central thing.”
House concert hosts don’t typically charge an entrance fee, but they will request donations for the musicians and often, the take is split with the house.
“I’m excited about the house concerts,” says Cynthia. “Sometimes you feel like you’re not meeting people. But there’s a real sense of community with them.”
“I think it’s coming around,” says Roy. “The idea is it’s nice to watch a small group perform simple music in a simple way. Just the idea of a handful of people sitting around playing instruments.”
“It’s a better way for honing your skills than playing a bar,” adds Cynthia. “In that intimate situation you want to play your instrument well, sing well and get in touch with your muse.”
“You’re also aware that people are listening for a change,” she says.
Cynthia Post and Roy Lechich’s Boxing Day concert begins at 6 p.m. on Friday, December 26 at Canio’s Books (290 Main Street, Sag Harbor). Admission is free. Call 725-4926 for more information.