Longtime Daytonians may remember Michael and Sandy Bashaw from their Lemon Tree coffee house days in the late ’60s. In the decades since, these two creative artists have continued to entertain us — as a duo and as members of various musical ensembles including “Puzzle of Light,” “The Elements” and “Sound Sculptures.”
Michael and Sandy are Emmy-nominated composers who play a wide variety of instruments, including many created by Michael that are one-of-a-kind. The Bashaws perform and record music for video and film and can often be found interacting with students as Muse Machine artists-in-residence. Michael is known for the large-scale collaborative works of art he creates with people of all ages, and along with his wife, he introduces young people to American and world music.
The two have performed with the Dayton Philharmonic and the Sarajevo Philharmonic Orchestras. To celebrate a restoration of Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Fallingwater, they were commissioned to bring their sound sculptures to the famous house.
The couple’s “Welcome Dayton” songs — “Where There Is Love” and “Where the Rivers Meet” — celebrate the diverse cultures and talents in the Gem City and have introduced Dayton’s singers, dancers, musicians and landscapes to folks around the world. (The “Love” video has racked up more than 1,400,000 views.)
Recently the Bashaws presented a free children’s concert at the new Dayton Metro Library, inviting families to create a musical rainstorm. Next up is a series of concerts at the Dayton Theatre Guild June 8-10, where the two will be joined by musicians John Taylor and Erich Reith for a “Theatre of Sound.” Last year’s Sound Sculpture Concerts at The Guild sold out, so this time around they’ve added a Sunday matinee.
WHAT’S A SOUND SCULPTURE?
Since the 1970s, Michael has been a scavenger — picking up other people’s discards and turning them into sculptures.
“When you don’t have a lot of money as an artist you have to be resourceful, so I’ve always found a way to re-purpose materials,” he explains. “If I’m driving down a road and see that a building is being torn down, weight that falls down from a wrecking ball will smash and mangle iron and metal into interesting shapes.”
At a pivotal point in his life, he learned to weld and began turning some of his steel sculptures into musical instruments. “I didn’t want to give up music, and I didn’t want to give up sculpture so I found a way to synthesize the two art forms,” he explains.
The unusual instruments are created from parts ranging from old KitchenAid mixers to fighter jet engine blades and old piano wire. His work can be found in private collections around the world as well as in neighborhood parks and art galleries. For recipients of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, he created an abstract sculpture that contains the word “peace” in 200 languages.
In 2012, when he was presented with the Governor’s Award for the Arts, Michael was labeled one of Ohio’s most versatile artists and “one of the true inventive musical geniuses of our time.” In his year-long appointment as the University of Dayton’s first sustainability artist-in-residence, Michael collaborated with 50 river stewards through an 18-mile paddle down the Great Miami River.
We caught up with the Bashaws in their studio at the Davis-Linden building, a brick turn-of-the-century factory building on Linden Avenue. After 40 years in the space, let’s just say it would be a nightmare to move out. Every square inch is filled with the accumulated “stuff” that is destined to be turned into a creative treasure.
After a Bashaw mini-concert on the giant African kalimbas — fashioned off sheet metal and carbon steel bars and played with mallets and rods rather than thumbs or fingers — we sat down for a chat.
Q. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR EARLY YEARS?
Sandy: I started playing music when I was about seven. When I was home sick with the measles, I needed something to do and my mom taught me how to play the ukulele to keep me busy. Right away music made sense to me. I was intrigued with sound and the way different notes sounded with and against each other.
When I was about 14 I got interested in folk music and once I started playing the guitar that was about all I did. By the time I was 15 I wanted to perform for people and in those days, schools had hootenannies and talent shows. I began singing with a guy named John Alden and we had a folk music duo and played a lot at The Lemon Tree. We landed a recording contract with Joan Baez’s label, the Vanguard Recording Society. I met Michael in the Lemon Tree days in 1965 when a group of Carroll High School students, including Michael, were running the Lemon Tree with their parents.
Michael: I grew up on the east side of Dayton and graduated from Wright State. My father was a drummer in a swing band back in the ’40s, so we had a drum set in the house. So the first thing I played was drums; I had a duo with a neighbor who played the accordion. I was also playing harmonica since I was a kid and percussion has always been a big love of mine. My roots aren’t classical, they are blues, jazz, folk.
Sandy and I were friends since our teens and started working together in 1996 when we put a group together called “Music in the Fields.” We’ve been working together ever since and got married in 2003.
Recently, we’ve teamed up with film maker David Sherman and wrote/produced and performed a multi-media show about the story of sound. We also did the score for David’s ThinkTV series “Big Adventures of Little Iota” which won a regional Emmy for the music.
Sandy: I learned the recording software and I love doing the film scores. If I could do that all day and write/record music and send it away and have people send me money that would be heaven.
Q. WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR PARENTS WHO WANT THEIR KIDS TO BE CREATIVE?
Michael: Have an open mind. Encourage questioning being inquisitive.
Sandy: Take the kids to live music performances … whether they’re rock or bluegrass or symphony. I think all kinds ought to go to art museums and symphony. Children need to have those live experiences, not on screen.
Q. WHAT DO YOU HOPE PEOPLE WILL TAKE AWAY FROM YOUR PERFORMANCES?
Sandy: The philosophical foundation for our work is grounded in connection and transformation. When we acknowledge these connections and internalize that experience, we begin to feel common bonds; transformation and connection have the greatest potential to translate to peace and harmony among people.