Music and Chatter host Tony Sousa plays piano in most of the half-hour shows that air on the MDI Episcopal YouTube channel. SCREENSHOT

Music and Chatter episodes strike the right note



Fred Benson plays a mandora for one of the Music and Chatter episodes. He and host Tony Sousa used to play for the residents of Birch Bay Village before the pandemic. Now the assisted living community watches Sousa and others play music on the show that airs on YouTube weekly.
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BAR HARBOR — When in-person church services ended at Church of Our Father about a year ago because of the pandemic, parishioner and pianist Tony Sousa and his wife, Joanne, wanted to do something to keep their community together. 

Music and Chatter was born from a conversation with fellow parishioner Jim Vallette, who, along with the Sousas, did not want to see the Wednesday service go by the wayside. A short time after beginning to film the Sunday services for the Mount Desert Island Episcopal Church community due to COVID-19, Tony and Joanne also began recording the Music and Chatter shows from their home in Hulls Cove.  

“Our living room is the recording studio,” said Tony, who hosts and plays music for the half-hour show while Joanne films them. “We record with a phone — a high quality phone. They have beautiful quality.” 

Each Wednesday night at 5:30 p.m., a new episode airs on the MDI Episcopal YouTube channel. At the beginning of each episode of Music and Chatter, Tony says hello to viewers and then tells everyone what number episode they are watching. It was May 12, 2020, when the first one went out to their community audience. Nearly a year later, the audience spans from Mount Desert Island to Africa and throughout the United States.  

“The largest following we’ve had on any particular Wednesday nightwe had 450,” said Tony in a conversation with the Islander. “One of the neat things about YouTube is once it’s on there, it’s on there forever. 

Guests range from fellow musicians within the MDI Episcopal church family, which encompasses four churches in communities around the island, to people Sousa knows from here or elsewhere.  

“Tony is a natural host, a gracious man with a network of talented musicians who regularly perform at assisted living communities and churches and restaurants,” said Vallette in an email to the Islander.  “Tony and friends have struck the right notes from the beginning. Music and Chatter has become its own community that cares for each other and the world and, through the gift of music, helps us sort through troubling times.” 

While Valette refers to the pandemic and a tense political climate, the Sousas also faced a personal tragedy last year in October with the death of their son, Chris Buzzell, in an automobile accident. In one episode that aired in July, Tony plays a piece he created called Progressions, that he explains is inspired by Buzzell and their conversations around chord progressions. After Buzzell’s death, Tony dedicated one of the shows to him, playing songs by the Beatles and Paul Simon, among others, as well as another version of Progressions. 

There are some shows that are simply Sousa and his piano, but many feature musicians from the community that may highlight the season or simply their talent.  

“Most musicians these days have nowhere to play,” said Tony. “I’ve been here for 30 years so I know a lot of people.” 

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Guests have included singer Karen Lloyd, trumpet player Emma Stanley, pianist and singer Roberta DeMuro, local band Leavin’ Tulsa featuring Jim Vekasi and Jayme Lou, singer Sara Jones, violinist Spencer Tate and many more.  

“We mix it up from classical music to countrywestern,” said Tony. “We try to line (artists) up so we have them (ready to play). If we have to practice, we can do that.” 

Shows are prepared about two weeks in advance and take a few hours to put together between filming, editing and production.  

“It’s like a job, but it’s a fun job,” said Tony, whose career before retiring was in structural engineering. “Music and science go together; it’s a nice mix.” 

Valette was a big part of the production for most of last year, editing and putting together each episode. Recently, he turned that over to Roger Samuel, who is a member of St. Savior’s Episcopal Church.  

“Jayne Ashworth is the tireless and amazing leader of our MDI Episcopal broadcast team and helps with everything,” added Vallette. “Many viewers will not be able to come to our churches for a myriad of reasons as we reopen for live services. Others have health concerns that will keep them from coming and hearing live music anywhere else. So, I imagine/hope this series will continue on YouTube.” 

Details of how to continue the production are being discussed, according to Sousa, who would also like to see it continue. “We’ve enjoyed it and I think the community has enjoyed it too. 

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