When dissonant chords strike
How do you get out of Allston? Practice, practice, practice.
But when it comes to finding a place to kick out the jams with a few bandmates, laying down $400 or so a month for private space isn't easy, longtime residents acknowledge.
Some musicians decide to stay close to home. Rockers on a budget hone their craft in cellars and living rooms of leased apartments and homes, even padding their digs with thick boards and mattresses for a do-it-yourself approach to soundproofing.
For neighbors, the same old song and dance can be a real headache.
"If they don't bother anyone, God bless them," said Dan Daley, a Boston police community service officer who has lived in Allston for 34 years. "When it starts impacting the neighborhood, that's when we get involved."
With major colleges on both ends of the neighborhood, Allston has become a haven for aspiring rockers taking advantage of the relatively affordable rents, multibedroom homes, and popular restaurants and bars.
The area's city councilor, Jerry P. McDermott, who played bass guitar in high school, noted that "Allston and Brighton have a long history of being home to fledging bands." But, he added, "as rehearsal space becomes slim or nonexistent, we're probably going to see more and more of these situations where tensions are on the rise between neighbors."
Some real estate agents cater to bands. An online search of local listings recently found a six-bedroom house on Wadsworth Street advertised for $3,900 a month. Besides perks like hardwood floors and high ceilings, the ad touted a basement with laundry machines and "space for band practice."
"It's really the landlord who has to patrol there to make sure that when they're leasing the apartment, they're not going to be renting to people who are going to be disturbing the neighbors," said Bob Imperato, who is president of Boston Realty Associates.
By the city's standards, noise that hits more than 70 decibels during the day and 50 decibels at night can be deemed excessive; district police stations are responsible for keeping it in check.
Daley said about 25 complaints are phoned in each night about loud music, with 10 to 20 percent related to live music. Some of the musicians are at parties; others are practicing on their own. Occasionally, Daley is able to work out a deal with neighbors that sets guidelines to accommodate the musician's playing schedule, he said.
Paul Berkeley, president of the Allston Civic Association, said the neighborhood has had its share of problems with loud music. "If this is what they want to do, they need an outlet for it," said Berkeley, 57. "Somewhere that they're not going to bother a lot of people."
One costlier option is to rent space for music. The Sound Museum offers five spots throughout the Hub, including 24-hour locations in Allston and Brighton where musicians can pay to practice. In addition to renting private space, bands can get a shared space for about $200 a month, or even rent space by the hour.
Tim McHale, a musician and longtime Allston resident, has chosen to play for a garage band in a city dominated by street parking. To adjust to his surroundings, McHale, 53, said he soundproofed his basement with up to 9 inches of thick insulation. That way, when he practices with his group, the Knuckleheads, his neighbors aren't unwilling audience members.
McHale said he would like to see a community arts center established that would provide space for musicians to practice outside residential neighborhoods. "I've seen how music really changes people from isolation to awareness and withdrawal to participation," McHale said. "It has a great way of connecting all of us."
Allston resident Joan Pasquale, director of the nonprofit Parents and Community Build Group Inc., said she has discussed a public music center with other activists. Pasquale, who said she has lived in the neighborhood for 38 years, isn't sure where funding for the project would come from or whether she would solicit colleges to help cover the costs. To her, it's about more than keeping a lid on noise levels.
"We really need an art venue for other performers, because if you're alternative there really isn't much out there," she said.