Eleven years ago, Steinberg — a musician whose musical tastes veer sharply away from Top 40 and toward traditional world music and vocal ensembles — decided in the midst of a remodel to build a large room onto the back of his house. Ever since, he has held a monthly concert series there, featuring an incredibly diverse array of his favorite musical acts.
Steinberg favors traditional music from around the world, particularly styles that fuse different elements together. Among the acts he has welcomed in his home are a quintet from Madagascar called Tarika Sammy; a klezmer ensemble of Eastern European Jewish and gypsy music called Klez-X; and a Venezuelan mandolin virtuoso, Cristobal Soto.
Almost all of the music is acoustic — typically banjos, fiddles and guitars, as well as accordions, bagpipes and a variety of ethnic instruments. Steinberg also has a special penchant for choir ensembles and a cappella singing groups that hail from Eastern Europe, South America and Africa.
Most of the performers are Steinberg's friends or are recommended through other musicians.
"I personally think I know some of the absolute best musicians in these types of genres," he said. "I really like that I can provide a venue for them and help them to make a living with their music by supporting their touring."
There is no fee to see a concert at Steinberg's home, but donations are appreciated and go directly to the performers. Steinberg says around 50 to 60 people usually show up, at least a third of them frequent concert-goers. Most are residents of Mountain View and neighboring towns, and Steinberg says all ages are welcome. Many people bring their children.
Some regulars say they attend just as much for the atmosphere as the music itself. Mountain View resident Meryl Ginsberg, who has been going to the concerts for 10 years, said the appeal for her is "the intimacy of the venue, and the sense of being an arm's length away from what the musicians are doing and how they communicate with one another."
Many friendships have blossomed in the 11 years since the series started. "There is a community that develops around house concerts," said longtime attendee Barbara Haas, a Menlo Park resident. "You see familiar, music-loving faces and you have an instant bond with the other audience members. It's conducive to meeting people with similar interests."
The experience has created many favorite moments and memories, Steinberg said. He fondly remembers one show that acted as a 70th birthday celebration and benefit concert for Olatunji, whom Steinberg had heard since he was a child. The event was an unprecedented success, and the concert featured many guest performers, including Joan Baez.
For Haas, her favorite concert was on Feb. 8, which featured banjo masters Dan Levenson and Bob Carlin. Levenson's wife, Barbara, spontaneously got up to perform a few songs with the duo, much to the delight of the audience.
"I feel like I participated in something good versus spacing out in front of my fuzzy TV where I am a passive observer. It's a much better alternative," Haas said.
Steinberg, a choir director at the Community School of Music and Arts who also plays flute and piano, agrees that the concert series fulfills a need for people wanting to take part in a community-based experience, and so he plans to keep it going for the foreseeable future.
"People are thirsty for connection: for each other, for music and musical traditions," he said. "Our society around here is increasingly alienating, and this gives people some sense of place that enriches their lives."
Those interested in attending the concerts can e-mail Daniel Steinberg at firstname.lastname@example.org. The next concert is scheduled for March 15, featuring jazz vocalist Dina Blade.