Peabody Johns Hopkins University Magazine

Front Porch Concerts: An Important Lifeline

Front porch concerts, which sprung up across the country during the first months of the pandemic, were nothing new for Robert Hitz (BM ’82, Piano).

The composer, pianist, and teacher had been inviting students, family members, and other guests to join him for public recitals on the porch of his 18th-century home in Baltimore County for a decade, raising more than $100,000 for local charities.

What changed in the dark pandemic spring of 2020 was the need. “It meant so much to so many people,” says Hitz, founder of Robert Hitz Studio. “Many students had lost jobs. Music was really an important lifeline.”

Last year, Hitz reimagined his seven-acre property as a year-round outdoor studio that would allow him to continue to teach and break the isolation of the pandemic. His home, built in 1795, boasts three porches and a sprawling field with room for as many as 100 cars.

The outdoor space became even more critical as the pandemic wore on. Hitz held lessons outside during warmer months and taught online.

But he decided to partially enclose one porch, firing up heaters and rounding up electric blankets to keep the porch recital space active — while maintaining social distancing — through the winter.

“We realized it was vitally important to continue doing music,” Hitz says. “It was the one place people went outside their homes. They could walk around the property. It gave them breathing space.”

Three musicians sit on a front porch performing

There were freeform concerts and jam sessions, bringing together students — some of them semi-professional musicians — and his own talented family members. “We had lots of little events, jam sessions, sing-alongs, even fire dancers,”Hitz recalls.

Earlier this summer, as vaccination rates grew and COVID-19 precautions eased, Hitz reached out to a larger community, drawing on an 800-person mailing list for a four-concert series.

Concerts on the Lawn began with a celebration of Father’s Day and ran the musical gamut from original piano works and improv to Celtic, ’70s rock and hot gypsy jazz. The series concluded with a “Pandemic Birthday Extension Celebration” — a belated event to commemorate Hitz’s 60th birthday in 2020.

Hitz, a pianist who is known for his improvisational work and inspiring others to find their original voice as artists, has recorded four solo CDs, three collaborative CDs and will soon release two albums of original music.

He conjured the image of an average day from his wide Victorian porch, shaded by mature trees, overlooking an expansive lawn, the birds singing, his musical family performing. There’s joy and music in the air and a respite from the pandemic blues.

“I thought, ‘this is too much fun.’”

-Amy Worden