From a night that began with an unexpected interruption from a train, a stunning and soul-stirring concert flowed out of Marathon Music Works in Nashville on Friday evening. Penny and Sparrow have made a permanent home in the heads (and Spotify accounts) of many with their haunting harmony, simple accompaniment, and crystal, acoustic sound. Very rarely do you find an artist nowadays whose live concerts outshine their records, but Penny and Sparrow defies that modern expectation.
They promised an evening filled with “music songs” both old and new, which was a pleasant surprise from a band that released a new album the same week as their Nashville show. Though their new album is unsurprisingly beautiful, I very much enjoyed hearing a few of the songs that sparked my initial interest in the duo. Songs like “Slaves,” “Honest Wage,” and “Gold” were interspersed with new songs like “Javert” and “Wendigo,” the opening song that was so abruptly interrupted by a nearby train, resulting in an outburst of laughter on stage and subsequently a comedic uproar in the crowd. Their rendition of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” allowed for the fellow singers in the crowd to share the spotlight for a brief moment and was a lighthearted break from the mellow playlist that evening.
Perhaps the most noteworthy musical moment was during “Fantine,” in which guitars were put away and Andy, the lead singer, captivated every person in the room with a jarring, a capella telling of a broken woman’s story. My eyes, ears, and very being were magnetized to the stage. When the song was over, there was a mass intake of air before applause as if everyone had started breathing in sync. Moments like that happen so rarely today because our culture preaches individuality and a shutting off of co-dependency. But in that moment, every concert attendee was with Andy and Fantine as they told their story together in a song lasting less than two minutes.
At the end of the song, applause eventually broke the silence that hung over the room, and I wish I could have shut it off. I did not want noise to interrupt the aftertaste of quiet that Andy and Kyle had fostered with that particular song. That desire, a near ache for silence after a song, was cultivated in me when I studied classical music in college. When an orchestra plays a symphony, the audience is not supposed to applaud between movements; they are to wait until the end of the entire symphony and then clap. I used to find that difficult, but now I relish it, and the silence between movements is one of my favorite things about live classical music.
Penny and Sparrow’s music works similarly to movements in a symphony; it is connected with stories and melodies and style, and the songs, if permitted, flow seamlessly from one to the next. I took no issue with a single part of Penny and Sparrow’s performance on Friday night. The only issue I had was with an audience raised to think that silence denotes dissatisfaction and noise denotes appreciation. With the effect that Penny and Sparrow’s music has on one’s heart, I think that silence between songs would almost show more appreciation for their musical brilliance.
Now, let’s be honest. I’m not saying that applause doesn’t encourage or build up artists (believe me, I am a musician, so I know the effect of rousing applause!). But in the case of Penny and Sparrow and artists like them, I hope they know that their music deserves a moment or more of silence to let the music and lyrics sit and stir in one’s soul before being moved to break the moment with applause.
This duo in particular strikes the perfect balance of humor and melancholy, lightheartedness and heaviness, pride in their work and humility in their hearts. I have never experienced an evening of music where the audience will sat in such stillness and allowed themselves to simply absorb what’s happening around them (most of them without knowing they were doing so). Penny and Sparrow created an unrepeatable environment that invited people into their stories and offered an opportunity to reflect on the stirrings of their soul, even if just for an evening.