A tale that ends with a bang
Justin Nawn really wanted to be a drummer. With a professional pianist grandmother classical music was in his genes, but this kid wanted to rock! However, with neighbors within earshot of his house, drumming was not a realistic option for expressing his musical side . . . and guitar became his instrument of choice. As Justin grew up, music took over his world. He played hard, formed several rock bands and he took on the front stage position, singing and jamming his way into adulthood.
Bronwyn Bird’s first “serious” instrument was the accordion of all things. Now, before you judge and ask “what kind of a child chooses the accordion?”, let me just point out that there is nothing mainstream at all about Bronwyn. Homeschooled as a child, with not exactly run of the mill teen hobbies, such as Irish dance, I was not at all surprised when she told me that she later chose the Nyckelharpa (keyed-fiddle) as her instrument of choice and attended a tiny folk music school in Sweden for 18 months just to master it.
The Boston Years
Sometimes the seeds of love are planted in faraway places before they come home to blossom. In the case of Bronwyn Bird and Justin Nawn those seeds were incubated faraway, in Boston at the renowned Berklee College of Music, to be more specific. While they only grew up few miles from one another and even shared mutual friends and local haunts, they didn’t actually know of one another. But one day, Bronwyn was looking for friends to join the contra dance club that she ran. Justin, who was much more of a rock & blues kind ‘a guy, accepted the invitation as a way to further his personal connection with Bronwyn. He could have never imagined that such a chance decision to attend a traditional dance would profoundly change the course of his life. But meeting Bronwyn broadened not just his music horizon, but also tampered with his heart. He fell in love both with Bronwyn and with folk music.
As their love for music and each other became intertwined, and graduation was on the horizon, it was time to think about how to make a living. They both worked in music therapy and as musicians, performing and giving lessons up in Boston. Life was hitting all the right notes for the young couple. Yet, they both shared a dream, that one day, they would use their musical talents and skills to create a center for the arts; a place for individuals of all ages and abilities to reap the benefits of music therapy and experience a rich sense of community. In addition to their professional aspirations, they started to think about becoming a family and felt that it was time to return close to their hometown to rejoin their community of friends and family. This combination of circumstances and the remarkable vision of the young couple were met with an abundance of encouragement from the Bird family, making The Birdhouse Center for the Arts a reality.
A Bird in the Hand
It took time of course to actually build the business from the ground up. The dark wood historic building they found and bought in Lambertville didn’t even have running water when they started and little did they know that rehabbing a historic property can come with its own unique set of challenges. However, once they launched the Center, the good vibes they broadcast echoed right back from the community.
It took time for people in New Hope – Lambertville to become familiar with the Birdhouse center. “I am not sure that everyone knows about us, but we have meaningful, strong relations with the people that do,” Says Justin. “Relations with the community are crucial to our success,” Bronwyn continues, “when we plan our activities and events we take the community and its needs into consideration. The more local people know who and what we are and what we have to offer to the community, the more we feel that we are on the right track. “
“What we envision for the Birdhouse is a multigenerational center that brings together music lovers with a mix of interests and needs. Initially, because of our background and education, we focused primarily on music therapy activities”, Bronwyn continues.
As people have started to discover the Birdhouse they have realized its unique vibe and great location, and other professionals have started to get involved and to host there events, shows, classes and additional programs and activities. The Birdhouse has become a hub for musicians and anyone that appreciates both the arts and community.
The activities are varied and cool. On any given day you may find a bluegrass band practicing, or the “Not Just Nyckelharpa Orchestra” who play traditional music untraditionally with many unusual instruments, or the Sing off Stress (SOS) weekly group that meets to sing rounds and chants from around the world while unloading the day to day tensions. Additionally, the Birdhouse has established itself as the place to get private or group music lessons. It hosts music ensembles, workshops and special events, including performances by visiting musicians from around the world. It also hosts many local bands such as the River City Healers, Acoustic Song Circle, open folk jam and much more.
All the programs have one thing in common – they are all inclusive and welcoming to people who appreciate the many shades of music.
When I ask Bronwyn and Justin what they are most proud of achieving so far,the answer was unanimous – “Willow!” They both laugh and look at their young, pretty eyed daughter, as she crawls under the piano. But with additional sincerity they both acknowledge that the winter solstice and summer solstice, events that take place on the shortest and longest days of the year, have become a big hit. “On these days that mark the onset of winter and summer, we’ve created a solstice spectacular –all the musician and people that we are connected to come together and celebrate the changes of the season we love so much. This community event started small and grew each year. It has become a part of the community tradition. At the last event, the place was packed, with almost no advertising at all, not even Twitter, despite our name! We are proud that we’ve successfully created a fun music centered platform that serves others and has become embedded in the community.”
Pleasure and Business
Running the Birdhouse as a business has been a learning curve. There have been trials and errors as Bronwyn and Justin explore new avenues and focus on the successful ones. If they do have one regret it is that they were lacking in business and marketing knowhow. Justin admits that the first few events they organized were challenging and stressful, however, planning, marketing and executing events successfully has evolved and is easier now. There is still room for improvement on the marketing. “It kills me to run and tell people about a great event after it happened and people are disappointed and say- I wish I had known about this, I would have loved to attend!” Bronwyn says.
When Bronwyn and Justin want to wind down, they love to go out and . . . you guessed it, listen to music. “There are so many great options around here for that – The local in Point Pleasant, Triumph Brewery… but one of my favorites is the open community stage at Karla’s run by John Charles (Beacher).
Just as I was about to leave I remembered to ask: “If you could invite anyone in the world alive or not to an event, who would that be?” “Paul Nordoff and Clive Robbins” they answered.
Paul and Clive were the pioneers of music therapy and our gurus. A lot of what the Birdhouse is built on is their philosophy. . .
Suddenly, we are startled by a loud noise.
Willow, who had begun to get bored, was trying to climb on one of the drums that was now rolling on the floor.
And on that loud (but incredibly cute) note, we ended the interview. See ya at the next event!
The BirdHouse Center for the Art
7 North Main St, Lambertville, NJ