“I write a lot of songs about death and life,” Emma Chambers ’21 said, opening for the Music Entertainment Committee’s (MEC) “All Acoustic Night” on Nov. 23, “and how you can’t have one without the other.” The Lair was packed with students from across campus as Chambers kicked off the night with a beautiful keyboard piece. Her lyrics spoke a message of empowerment to her audiences that transitioned smoothly into local musician Helen Forsythe’s performance.
In her many original songs, Chambers covered topics such as belonging, loneliness and dreams. She put into words how easy it is to give to others by taking away from yourself, and she reminded her audience of the dangers of giving away too much. The repeating phrase “my body is a cathedral” in her song “Again” reminded audience members that everyone deserves respect.
Her fingers danced over the keys and her foot worked the pedal beneath the piano as she sang. As the night progressed, her soaring lyrics traveled in parallel with the highs and lows of life she described. Chambers performed a cover of a song from Unknown Mortal Orchestra, transforming their rock music into a keyboard piece, layering on darker tones and lower notes until she reached the end of the song.
At the event, Chambers also performed an original song for the first time. Propping her phone up on the piano, she told the audience that she wrote the lyrics two days ago. Chambers’ quick notes on the keyboard rose and fell like waves and beautifully matched her singing. She was unafraid of putting new music in front of her audience, and she made it look effortless.
The featured artist of the night, bluegrass musician Forsythe, followed Chambers’ performance with some old-time country music on a banjo. Forsythe said that she had started to learn how to play the banjo when she was seven years old, and accordingly began her set with the classic “Angel from Montgomery.”
The audience settled back into their seats as Forsythe performed her first song. When she finished the song, she grinned and admitted that she is used to seeing her audiences, not playing for a crowd sitting in the dark. The lights were raised, everyone sat up straighter and the performance began for real.
Forsythe’s music created a homey and welcoming atmosphere. Several in the audience had never heard a banjo live before and several knew all of the words to her songs. As Forsythe’s bluegrass groove settled in, everyone was clapping their hands, stomping their feet and singing along to the refrains.
Despite the heartache described in many of the lyrics, Forsythe’s performance offered a up-beat message even when looking back on hard times. Everyone smiled through old-time classics such as “Lighthouse Daughter,” “Boxcar” and Forsythe’s performance of her original “Come on Home” offered both hilarious and heartbreaking lyrics that touched the audience’s heart.
Forsythe left the audience with an indefinable heartache for horseback riding, sharp shooting and endless wandering. From Chambers’ soaring tunes to Forsythe’s soulful ballads, MEC’s “All Acoustic Night” kept the audience clapping until the very end.