Live, via laptop: Josh Sitron’s Request Room

  • Josh Sitron and Izy Coffey during a Request Room live stream Courtesy of Josh Sitron

Thursday, June 15, 2017

“Experiencing live music” and “sitting in front of your computer” are two activities that seem mutually exclusive. But composer/producer/pianist Josh Sitron has figured out a fun way to fuse the two together with Request Room, a weekly event that streams live on Facebook, Tuesday nights from 8 - 11 p.m.

It’s a live piano party, beamed directly from his 13 Queen studio space in Northampton to your phone or computer. Simply search for “Josh Sitron & Friends' Request Room” on Facebook and send a comment with the song you want to hear performed. The pianist will do his best to oblige, in real time, joined by a rotating cast of singers, often wielding iPhones (for those all-important lyrics).

Sitron has compiled highlight reels of memorable moments from past nights, like Izy Coffey rocking Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” or Emily Moran doing a swinging jazz waltz version of The Doors’ “Riders On the Storm,” or Sitron’s multi-instrumentalist studio partner Andrew Atkin coming out from behind the drums to join the pianist in crooning Player’s 1977 soft-rock smash “Baby Come Back.” 

It’s fun to ride that in-the-moment wave of inspiration with the musicians, watching them slide their voices around to find harmonies or sing guitar hooks on the fly. It can be a real high-wire act: will they make it to the end of the song? Especially with that complicated bridge? Will they try for that super-high note? Sitron gets to be both an acrobat and the playful net. Clubland spoke with him last week.

Clubland: How did you come up with the Request Room idea?

Sitron: As far back as I can remember, my favorite musical activity has been sitting at a piano, surrounded by friends and strangers, taking requests, improvising, medley-fying, leading sing-alongs, accompanying singers on the spot — you know, the old-fashioned piano party. I’m just a song-and-dance man at heart. I think I had a past life or two spent mostly at some saloon or hotel bar piano. 

I’ve been talking about making it an official activity forever, and when I moved into my new studio 13 Queen (above Jake’s restaurant), I thought it would make a great piano party space as much as it would a recording studio.

I’ve been thinking about live streaming, and how if you’re live on video, and someone makes a comment that you respond to, you’ve kind of restored a touch of human connection to the always-now, on-demand internet. So I thought, whatever we do, let’s play in-person for a handful of local folks, AND live stream for the other 75 million at home on the internet.

Clubland: When was the very first Request Room broadcast?

Sitron: The actual first live stream happened somewhat spontaneously a few weeks ago. I was working with Izy Coffey, a young Hampshire student and singer/songwriter I’m producing for our new 13 Queen record label, and we said, “Let’s go outside and busk, play some original tunes, covers, take requests.” Almost no one walked by, much less stopped. 

So I thought, let’s go back inside and live stream whatever it is we’re doing. I downloaded the Facebook app (which I had deleted) and hit the “go live” button and asked for requests. Dozens of old friends I hadn’t talked to since high school or college started commenting and sending requests. More than a few said some really encouraging things afterwards, like, “Best use of the internet I’ve seen so far,” and “It was so human,” and “Real breath of fresh air in my depressing news feed.” And my favorite: “This is good medicine.’”

Clubland: Were you anxious at all during that first live stream?

Sitron: There are always nerves with performing,  but when you’re doing something unrehearsed or totally improvised, the mistakes and train wrecks are often more entertaining — and even inspiring — than flawless performance, because they require spontaneous shifts and new ideas.

Clubland: You have to dedicate a lot of time and mental space in order to do this... what do you get out of it? What does it feel like to ride that improvisational wave?

 Sitron: It’s such a joy and a high. At least once a week or so, I need to jam or sing with friends, or alone, just for the sheer love of playing fun tunes. I love the blurring of the performer/audience vibe in a jam or sing-along. I always found the idea that ‘some people are musicians and others are not’ to be ridiculous. We’re all just meant to sit around the fire and sing and dance and clap along, and there is no such thing as being “good” or “bad.”

For example, I love it when we train wreck a song, and just laugh about our failed attempt. Or improvise our way into something new or equally hilarious. And then a song or two later, when we least expect it, a serious performance comes together so well, that I’m like, “You’ve got to come down another day and let’s record that version.” Nothing lifts my spirits these days like this activity, so I’m going to continue no matter what.

In addition to the Tuesday night live stream, Sitron is also hosting an internet-free live piano karaoke night at the 13 Queen studio space, every Thursday night from 8 - 11 p.m. The internet camera will be turned off, lyrics will be projected on the wall and the public is invited to attend and sing, on or off the microphone. To find out how to join in the fun at 13 Queen, contact Sitron at therequestroom@gmail.com.