I was walking downtown on the River Walk approaching the bridge that I consider to be the northern gateway to the neighborhood, at Cesar Chavez Boulevard. Rounding the corner I heard, and then saw, a young woman seated on a folding stool playing a mandolin and singing an old bluegrass folk tune. Her voice was clear and really beautiful. She’d chosen the location under the bridge and at the water’s edge for shade and for the remarkable acoustic effects that seemed to amplify her voice – the reverberation was as good as a concert hall.
I’ve noticed a number of musicians have made the same discovery, and I’m coming to expect a surprise concert every time I go for a walk. A young fellow with a tenor saxophone has used the same spot, but on the opposite bank, as his personal rehearsal hall. Other bridges in the neighborhood have hosted a cappella singing groups and another young woman trilling opera arias.
One of the best things about the summer for me is the concert series that the King William Association stages at the grassy natural amphitheater next to the Guenther Street bridge. The massive vine-draped retaining wall on the opposite side of the river performs the function of a concert shell on a stage, focusing the sound toward the audience. The aural experience is much enhanced by running bare feet over the beautiful green lawn. And sipping wine.
I’m delighted with the kinship between our wonderful neighborhood and music. Strolling through King William’s shady streets or lolling on its verdant banks seems to demand a score to accompany the activity. I half hope to encounter the shade of the great Mexican composer Revueltas, who was a neighbor early in the 20th century. I’m sure he’s listening under the bridges, too.
The breeze from the river is a kind of sound system and brings with it the distant tolling of bells on Sunday and occasionally something to support a drowsy mid-day back porch reverie. I was enjoying the zephyr and watching it toss the pecan trees canopies while its parent Aeolis was blowing white clouds across the sky. I was thinking the view could have been the same in 1900, and then somewhere up the street, out of an open window, came the faint echo of that very time, someone was playing ragtime on a recording that captured all the pops and hisses of a gramophone. It’s not so much that time stands still in our neighborhood, it is that it loops back and forth over decades and even across two centuries on the smooth lubrication of music.
- Michael Guarino