The 9 Songwriter Series

One of the many things I love about DC is there are an incredible number of free and low-cost music shows. Music is a hugely important part of my life. I played piano for 16 years, a continuous stretch that ended only because I moved first to Spain where I didn’t have a piano to practice and then to the second floor of a row house whose steep, narrow staircase made it impossible to carry up a baby grand. To say I was disappointed would be a serious understatement. I had spent the last three years in college working my way toward not just an adoration for but at times an obsession with playing the piano. My university had generously provided free, individual piano lessons throughout my time at the school, a wonderful and unexpected gift that still remains a mystery to me, as I neither participated in any school music groups nor was by any means extraordinary in my expression or technique. What I did have was passion. I practiced for hours on end, seeking out the best pianos in the rooms with the richest acoustics and foregoing weekend events and party invitations to have the practice halls all to myself late at night. I often sat outside the practice rooms or underneath the outside windows to listen to other people play. Once a strings and piano trio booked a sold-out performance in the main concert hall, and I was so desperate to attend that I stood with my ear to the balcony door until finally the usher took pity and allowed me to stand in the back. I was so emotionally invested in playing the piano that when my mom downsized our apartment, I gave up my bedroom in favor of a place to have the piano. When upon graduating I moved to Spain and had no way to regularly practice, my piano professor emailed me to ask how I was surviving.

There is nothing I love more than music, and I am lucky that I have found an incredible circle of musicians here in DC. Back in the fall, my  friend Brian Farrow invited me to see him play at a 9 Songwriter Series event at Gypsy Sally’s in Georgetown. It was the first time I had been to the 9 Songwriter Series, a series started by musician Justin Trawick to give songwriters an opportunity to showcase original music in a music scene otherwise dominated by cover bands. Each show features a different lineup of nine songwriters playing solo and in collaboration with fellow artists, sometimes extemporaneously or impromptu. Gypsy Sally’s has phenomenal acoustics, and the recordings from the evening turned out exceptionally well. You can listen to Brian here (this is, by the way, the first song he ever wrote and remembered for the guitar). I listened to the recordings all the way home and all the next morning on the way to work. I could hear myself laughing in the recordings, could hear the smile in my laugh. I couldn’t stop smiling while listening to them. It is impossible to hide such happiness.


After the show, Brian introduced me to some of the other musicians, notably guitarist Andrés Gallego and ukulele player Louisa Hall. This is one of my many examples of what my friend Meredith calls my aggressive friend making. I introduced myself to Andrés, had him send me an email (right there on the spot), and told him we were going to hang out (the key is to use active verbs and affirmative statements rather than suggestive statements or open-ended questions). Louisa I gave my phone number. She lost it, I found her on facebook, and recalling that I was interested in the ukulele, invited me to a free group ukulele lesson in Virginia. I still haven’t been, mostly because I’m one of those zip code snobs that doesn’t leave the District, but also because I don’t have a car, but I did, with her encouragement, take up the ukulele, and I now play it daily despite it being perpetually out of tune. What can you do – it gives me so much joy despite the twangs, and let’s be honest, you can’t expect too much from a ukulele the neighbor children received as a gift in the mail. I have borrowed it indefinitely. If anyone wants to buy me a high quality ukulele, I will not refuse.

True to form, I stayed in touch with both Andrés and Louisa and we are, in fact, now friends. I often see them perform. Andrés plays in the band Australis with his brother Felipe, and Louisa sings and plays both solo and in conjunction with other artists. I have gotten to know other 9 Songwriter Series artists, too, and by “gotten to know” I mean that one time — in fact, this past Friday night — I went with Andrés and some of the musicians who played that night to eat falafel and discuss on deep levels prime time American TV (Anybody who knows me knows that I don’t have enough of an attention span to watch TV and this is a joke. What actually happened was Andrés gave me explicit instructions as to how to pack the falafel so as not to spill all over myself, but I didn’t follow them properly, and as might have been predicted, I spent the majority of the time brushing falafel off my lap while everyone else was discussing Great American TV, which is just as well, as TV is a topic about which I can neither actually hold nor feign a conversation.)

The point is that this is another example of my force-friending people in the DC music community, and I have to say how thankful I am that this community has included me to such a great extent. I play the ukulele enthusiastically but not very well, and I sing well enough but not notably, and yet these musicians have welcomed me as a groupie and on select occasions a performer, at least in the after hour. There is a sense of everyone being in this together, something I often experienced in Spain but have yet to find any comparable example of back here at home. Still, this comes close. It’s not always something you can see, more so something you feel, but as it happens, the 9 Songwriter Series serves as both a visual and auditory illustration, with musicians collaborating on songs and singing all together at the end of each show. The audience is sometimes called upon to participate, too. One of my favorite songs from the most recent 9 show at Hierarchy was a song led by Jae Jin. “Everything is gonna be alright,” go the lyrics, and that’s exactly how I felt at the time. It can be difficult finding your way in the big city, but having these makeshift performer-audience communities definitely helps.

Jackie Stem and Nick Depuy collaborating at The 9 Songwriter Series at Hierarchy, April 2014

Above: Jae Jin collaborates with Kevin DeSouza and Zia Hassan to lead an audience singalong at Hierarchy, April 2014 | Below: Jackie Stem and Nick Depuy play together at The 9 Songwriter Series at Hierarchy, April 2014

After Friday’s show, I was talking with Andrés and Kevin DeSouza, one of the regular 9 songwriters, joined our conversation. “Have you guys met?” Andrés asked. “You’re Elizabeth Delaney Moore,” said Kevin. “… Yes I am!” I responded, surprised, because while I had attended a number of 9 Songwriter Series shows and of course knew who he was, we had not actually met, and I was not prepared for him to have recognized me. “We’re friends on facebook,” continued Kevin, and this was true. Sometimes after shows I find people on facebook if we already have mutual friends  — the more music events I hear about, whether it’s from my facebook newsfeed or otherwise, the better. We laughed about this, about how I’m so forward in seeking out connections and friends. We were all laughing, Kevin and Andrés and me, kind of as if we all already knew each other and were friends, and that’s the thing about these types of shows: you can go alone and leave having met a whole new circle of people.

But here is the best part. I love music, love it more than anything else I know. Andrés can attest to this. I show up at concerts completely drained and exhausted and leave feeling like I could stay up for hours more as long as there’s music involved. Once Andrés told me that he looked over during a show and could see just, the joy, in my face. Again, happiness is impossible to hide. On Friday Kevin said something similar. Scrolling through his facebook newsfeed, he had watched (although not yet listened to) some videos of me playing the ukulele. “You look so happy,” he said. “Like someone that loves music for what it is, for playing. Like pure … bliss.”

Bliss. Yes. That’s exactly it.