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John Lamb, Published February 08 2014

Thompson man's house has built-in concert hall

THOMPSON, N.D. - When Kevin Muiderman decided to build a home, he wanted a place that would be welcoming to guests. A lot of guests.

A handful of times each year, Muiderman moves the furniture from the living room to set up rows of folding seats, transforming the space into a concert hall for 85.

Muiderman didn’t just have a sound design for the house, he built it with sound in mind.

“Our lives were so rich with music, we decided to build a place with music and gathering in mind,” he said while preparing the room for a recent concert.

A plastic surgeon at Altru Health Care in Grand Forks, Muiderman and his wife Amy decided to settle down and build the four-bedroom, 3,400-square-foot house two years ago. He wanted to revive the house concerts he hosted when he lived in Wisconsin, so when he started planning the house, he thought how it would sound.

While he would need space for guests, he’d also need to break up the space so sound wouldn’t echo around. The result is an angular home that is as intriguing on the outside as it is on the inside.

“We didn’t want it to be a cracker box,” he explained of the house at 1410 Elm Coulee Drive in Thompson.

The long sloped roof is more angular on the inside, as exposed wood beams criss-cross the open living room space. Wood stairs lead to an upper level, but with wire guard rails, plenty of light fills the room from a two-story window looking out the back.

Even the fireplace was constructed with sound in mind. The poured concrete structure has a rounded surface to help deaden the echoes.

Exposed wood is a feature throughout the 1,200-square-foot main floor, with the living room floored with a Brazilian cherry wood.

“I love the look. It’s so rich,” Muiderman said.

The living space also features a permanent stage where the family piano can be rolled into a corner during performances. A hidden panel reveals a direct box where a performer can plug in, leading back through the floor to a soundboard in a custom-built rolling cabinet made of American cherry.

Above and in front of the stage a crossing beam holds a $4,000 sound and light system.

“It’s an amazing home sound system when it’s not game day,” Muiderman said with a smile.

His brother, a sound engineer on the West Coast, helped him install the gear and make the space concert-ready.

The wood theme carries on just off the living room where Muiderman’s shop is located. While some men tinker on projects, he has hand-crafted custom guitars for 17 years. Now his children, 17-year-old Jenna, and Hayes, 15, have started their own projects.

“They started helping me in the shop, and now they do amazing work,” said the proud papa.

The shop holds guitar bodies, forms and necks from various models Muiderman is working on. It’s a popular stop when first-time guests take a tour, but the homeowner doesn’t want to put a hard sell on visiting musicians.

“When players come, I’d never be the guy to say, ‘Hey, want to see my guitar shop?’ ” he said. “Every now and then they’ll play one in concert, and not infrequently a player will leave with one and that’s always fun.”

Muiderman’s website features testimonials from guest performers-turned-customers like classical guitarist Michael Chapdelaine or folk singer Willy Porter.

Hours before the recent concert, singer/guitarists Peter Mulvey and Josh Harty were like kids in a candy shop, marveling at the room, talking shop in the shop and swapping notes about great guitars they’ve known.

“This is as cool as home brew,” Mulvey exclaimed as he played one of his host’s prototypes.

Shortly afterward, Mulvey was in the kitchen, sipping a home brew.

Muiderman’s friend Doug Grissom brews a specialty beer for each show and brings a keg to share. On tap that night was Mulvey Amber Ale.

“I come to every show,” Grissom said.

He’s not alone in his dedication to the concert series. A number of patrons that night were returning guests, paying $20 for the roughly two-hour concert. Guests also brought beer and wine, and Amy Muiderman prepared a number of dishes and snacks for the performers and guests.

Performers stay in a guest bedroom that doubles as a green room just off of the kitchen. The artists take all proceeds from the ticket sales and whatever they can sell in merchandise.

Muiderman says the events have developed into a real community endeavor. A couple friends will volunteer to help him set up before the show and others will help take down the folding chairs when it’s over.

“This is my favorite place to be,” said Patrick Anderson, who estimates he’s been to 10 shows there over the years.

His enthusiasm was shared with that evening’s performers after they played to a crowd of 70-plus.

“It’s like a concert without all of the politics,” Mulvey said. “He’s doing things because he wants to. It’s a pure concert experience. No one’s worried about making money.”

“It’s frickin’ amazing,” added Harty. “It’s the only place like it I’ve seen in this country. It’s like a personal concert hall.”

And the word is spreading.

“It’s amazing to me who will come and play,” Muiderman said.

Past performers include jazz fingerstyle picker Adrian Legg and former Wings guitarist Laurence Juber. Last March, acoustic master Leo Kottke packed the space. Seven months later he played to about 400 more people at the Fargo Theatre.

“He loved it,” Muiderman says of Kottke’s visit. “Particularly the sound of the room. To me, that’s wonderful.”

If you go

The next show at the Muiderman Theatre will be on Feb. 22. The University of North Dakota Student String Quartet will perform Mozart's “String Quartet No. 4 in C major,” Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst’s “Polyphonic Etude No. 1,” Henryk Weiniawski’s “Variations on the Austrian National Anthem” and Alexander Borodin’s “String Quartet No. 2 in D major.”

The 8 p.m. show is free and open to the public.

ONLINE: www.muidermanguitars.com


Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533