Merriment in Merriman’s Melodies
Marc Drake | Thursday, March 27, 2014
Quick. Think about the city of South Bend. No, seriously, just think about it for 10 seconds. Alright, now what came to mind? Chances are it was probably your favorite community service location, the city that your university happens to placed in or maybe cold Midwestern wasteland (will it ever be spring?). The city of South Bend represents many different things to people, whether those things are positive or negative.
However, for most individuals, South Bend is not thought of as a place with a thriving music community. Although relatively unexplored by the Notre Dame community, South Bend offers musical performances ranging from the sounds of Louisiana at Chicory Café to the Irish styling’s of Fiddler’s Hearth. Events such as South by South Bend (SXSB) and efforts by The Bridge Project have started the to deepen the connection between Notre Dame students and the South Bend musical community, but there is a great deal of uncovered territory.
For students looking to hear some great jazz or practice their musical abilities in a jazz setting, Merriman’s Playhouse provides a great alternative to AcoustiCafe. Merriman’s Playhouse is situated just two miles south of campus at 1211 Mishawaka Ave, South Bend. A sleepy piano shop during the day, the venue is transformed into a hopping jazz venue for all ages on Monday nights. Upon entering Merriman’s, visitors are immediately greeted by Steve and Mary Merriman, the founders of the shop, with copious hellos and offers of popcorn, coffee and tea. Notre Dame students mingle with students from Indiana University South Bend. Faculty members bring their children, who eagerly show off their musical chops, and regardless of how many people attend any given week, there is always room on the stage for another musician.
According to their website, Merriman’s Playhouse is described as a “venue for improvisational and interactive arts,” and they put that description to the test nightly. From 7:30 to 10:30, musicians from all over the community come together to perform various jazz standards and hone their skills, while eager listeners arrive for the chance to hear a free concert. Informality is key to this place as musicians walk off the stage mid song to take a phone call or say hello to an old friend. Individuals who come to watch read books between songs and chatter with the performers about the songs they’ve just played. The environment is relaxed, and the feeling of musical community is always apparent.
Aside from the weekly improv jazz sessions, Merriman’s Playhouse offers a variety of other music and non-music related events throughout the week, including a poetry reading the last Sunday of the month. Recently, a new program has begun called “The Soul Influence Sunday”. On the first Sunday of each month poets, artists and musicians share work to be experienced by the “soul”. I’m sure that if you asked the Merriman’s, there’s no better way to relax on a Sunday night.