It’s 7:30 on a Thursday night as I approach the front porch of Texas Tech music professor Christopher Smith. He leans back on his chair, banjo in hand and a glass of whiskey to his left.
We exchange helloes as the gravel crunches under my feet. The music fades to a halt and Smith takes a sip of his drink. He’s settling in for his nightly porch performance. It’s given him a daily routine and has become his way of connecting with his quiet neighborhood, Tech Terrace. But he doesn’t really remember when it started.
“Sometime in the before times,” he laughs. If his memory serves him correctly, he started the small, low-key community concerts around Spring Break. He was inspired during a morning walk, marveling at the silence of his neighborhood. No cars. Only the sounds of chirping birds. People attempting to self-isolate to the best of their ability. “I thought it would be good for my head and it might also be good for other people’s head to just hear some human sound.”
He plays the banjo, among other acoustic instruments—figuring it’s less intrusive than the noise leaf blowers make on his street.
Smith compares this period of time to 9/11, when the entire nation was dealing with a national trauma. People couldn’t travel. We shared feelings of loss, anxiety and fear—similar to today. “Having a little bit of a shape to the day,” he says, “it helps.” Having to be somewhere to do something, and people counting on him to do it, it gets him through this time of isolation.
As we talk a young man and woman walk towards Smith’s house. The woman lugs a wooden slab onto the grass and places a pair of tap shoes on top. The man takes a seat on the opposite end of the porch and unpacks his fiddle.
“Want to give it a go,” Smith asks.
The young man shrugs, “sure,” and the concert begins.
After a few minutes of playing a duet, Smith invites the young woman to begin tap dancing—which adds a new dimension to their performance.
As the trio performs, spectators slowly trickle into the creative space. One neighbor, Kris Olson, sets up a stool under the tree. She reveals a lanky wooden puppet and with a piece of wood wedged under her leg, lightly taps its small feet along with the tune—contributing to the music.
The number winds down. “I’ll tell you what I miss,” Smith says. “I miss hospitality…I miss feeding people.” He says it’s hard to feel connected right now without the act of cooking for guests.
This time of year, Smith and his wife would have been inviting his students into their home to celebrate the end of the year. It’s his students he worries about the most. He makes a point to stay virtually connected to them through zoom during the day, and shares this in-person connection with his neighbors at night.
“It’s a little contribution… It’s mostly, for me,” he says. “I don’t remember what day of the week it is but I remember at 8 o’clock I have to be on the porch making some sort of coherent noise.”