On a humid but otherwise beautiful evening, I performed for a dozen or so residents and one small dog) of a multigenerational cohousing community in Cambridge. I played for them in a small garden that was situated in a courtyard with buildings on three sides, and a jogging trail along the fourth side.
I offered the following program:
Suite in G (complete, with occasional repeats)
Allemande, from flute partita in a minor
Prelude, from Suite in d
After Bach by Netta Hadari (premiered November 2019)
Philip Glass, excerpt from Songs and Poems for solo cello
Prelude, from Suite in E-flat
Largo, from Violin Sonata in C
Bourrée I & II, from Suite in D (transposed to G)
The Swan, transitioning directly into
Prelude, from Suite in G (reprise)
After I finished, people were curious to know more about me, and our conversation including talking about the beauty of the piccolo cello and how some early music cellists are able to offer a five-string version of the D Major Suite.
When I sent the requested follow up email with suggestions for organizations I care about supporting, I received this response:
"This is an inspiring list. I am so pleased to learn about each of these projects. I shared the list with those who heard you play, and I will make a donation to each of these groups. Thank you, Heath. It was a tremendous break in our isolation from the arts, and a break from our relentless focus on disease and politics."
Would you believe me if I told you that a red-breasted grosbeak landed on my shoulder and stayed for a short visit during my reprise* of the G Major prelude as the sun set through the trees?
This evening's performance was for six people in a back yard in Lincoln. I was "gifted" to two older adults, including a gentleman who had lost his wife just two months ago amidst the pandemic.
I improvised the following program:
Suite in G (complete, with occasional repeats)
Beethoven Minuet in G ("composer, anyone?")
Dvorak Humoresque, after which, two audience members (siblings) shared the dirty lyrics that their father had taught to them many decades ago, and I accompanied them for the camera--great fun.
Intermezzo, from Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana
Allemande, from flute partita in a minor (with mute)
Explanation of Bach's ability to use a single-voiced instrument to turn melody into harmonic development, almost architecture.
Prelude, from Suite in E-flat
After Bach, by Netta Hadari (premiered November 2019)
Largo from violin sonata in C (with practice mute)
Gigue, from Suite in C
The Swan (muted), transitioning directly into
Prelude, from Suite in G (*reprise, and this is when the grosbeak decided to visit, just before the final few bars)
A neighbor, who the hostess had never met, stopped by on the sidewalk to say that he had enjoyed the music while eating dinner at his house.
More conversation, fond goodbyes
"There was something magical, transformative and healing about your gift of music to that small group in Lincoln that you performed for. I was moved and in awe of the power of music to transform so much at a time when our fears and worries cloud the gifts life offers us each day. Thank you so much for making many people feel loved and lifted by your musical gift, your voice and sense of empathy and understanding."
This post is to document my evolving programming decisions, as I begin to accumulate a wealth of backyard concert experience this summer.
"My dear friend _____ gave me your name. She said you are a wonderful cellist and came to her yard to play a concert a few days ago. It is my husband's 60th birthday this Sunday. I would love to surprise him somehow, and was wondering if you might possibly be free to play for a half an hour in our backyard? It's a very private space. Let me know if this would be at all possible. He loves the Bach cello concertos."
1. Prelude in G ("I'm sure that you know this one.")
5. Minuets 1 & 2
Conversation about any music education experience, jazz interest, daughter's flute lessons
7. Allemande, from flute partita in a minor (with mute)
8. Dvorak Humoresque
9. Brahms Waltz
10. Air, with mute and beginning with bass line
Explanation of Bach suites and importance of keys, preludes as fantasies
11. Prelude in E-flat
12. Allemande in d minor (with mute)
13. Gigue in d minor (with mute)
14. Largo from violin sonata in C (with mute)
15. The Swan, transitioning directly into
16. Prelude in G (reprise)
Further conversation, chatting with neighbors who had pulled up lawn chairs in their adjacent backyards.
17. Encore for dinner guests who had just arrived: Sarabande in D (transposed to G so I didn't have to deal with thumb position)
"Thank you again for that marvelous concert this evening. It has been a long time since I felt so relieved to hear music. Having you and your cello in our back yard, under the trees and the sky, with our neighbors quietly listening, and my husband so transported, I felt the terrible ache of the world recede. Not vanish, but recede. What you are giving to people by coming to their homes to play outside is deeply generous."
I'm throwing a bunch of people on this email who do wonderful work supporting musicians in community contexts through nonprofit organizations.
As some of you know, I've been doing a lot of reflecting and some writing about the important opportunity found in creating one-to-one connections, never more important than during a pandemic. Here's an idea that I think is important enough to disperse widely into the field.
Along with work for Emmanuel Music, I've been keeping busy supporting a number of colleagues, including myself, to experiment with offering both virtual and live one-to-one music-making. During this time of social isolation, creating human connections to combat loneliness (and the associated negative health effects) is a really important societal issue that musicians (all musicians, any musicians) are well-positioned to help address.
The summer months provide the perfect opportunity for orgs to deploy their musicians to connect in personal, meaningful ways with longtime supporters (board, volunteers, donors, etc), an essential constituency for each of our nonprofits. Also because we need to be concerned about the potential for things to get very difficult again in the fall/winter from a public health perspective.
I know that some are currently raising needed emergency funds for musicians. That's really the first priority right now. However, over the summer and into next year, it would be wonderful to have a way to continue to pay interested musicians for an ongoing performing activity that simultaneously bolsters the org's relationship with its community of supporters.
There is tremendous potential for finding additional philanthropy to support such an initiative. Consider one idea: offering an option of "gifting" musical visits with isolated grandparents, relatives, friends, elderly neighbors--either online (less $) or in person (more $). This is something that we can all appreciate, as we all know people who are vulnerable and cut off from useful human connection.
Importantly, this is not only a caring thing to do that provides some benefit to the recipient. Rather, it deepens the org's relationships, and it is also the beginning of experimentation with two kinds of performing that may well be essential skillsets for us to be honing for the foreseeable future:
1. virtual performing over Zoom/FaceTime (what makes it successful as a "live" music experience, how do you create empathy digitally?)
2. in-person, socially distanced performing in outdoor spaces (e.g. driveways, front yards, sidewalks)
It is also, I've found, a pretty significant way of helping musicians feel more optimistic, valued, and socially connected themselves during this time.
I've been reflecting the most on the challenge of creating "live" musical experiences during this time. There's plenty to think about. Happy to think more specifically with any folks about this. Feel free to circulate within your professional networks.
I hope everyone is staying safe while making the best of such strange times.
Prelude: This scenario is rooted in a philosophical belief in the importance of relationships and acts of generosity (rather than transactions) as the foundational orientation that will allow an enterprising musician to thrive in this new reality. After all, everything is based on relationships.
During the pandemic, there are still opportunities for musicians to create an income stream through performing, but now the platforms for performing “live” music are different: FaceTime, Zoom, driveways, sidewalks, and backyards.
In your immediate vicinity, there are likely hundreds, if not thousands, of isolated individuals. In the coming months, everyday life will be going on around them as they strive to stay safe by adhering to strict social isolation guidelines, especially if they have an underlying vulnerability.
Meanwhile, life continues. This includes birthdays and anniversaries, among any number of reasons why people may wish to gather and share a meaningful experience together. And if they can’t, a musical performance, specifically created to connect with, recognize, or honor an individual, may provide something of significant value and affirmation.
How might this work?
In Sun Valley, for instance, Deborah has a local network through her daughter’s school. Each of the other families that she is connected to has their own birthdays and anniversaries to celebrate, along with parents (grandparents), friends, and neighbors who they care about.
Deborah offers to play ten minutes of Bach on her violin for her friend’s neighbor who is elderly and isolated. Her friend connects her with the neighbor, and they set up an appointment. One sunny afternoon, Deborah drives over to the neighbor’s home and sets up her music stand on the driveway, while the neighbor sits on the front steps, twenty feet away (and Deborah’s friend peers over the hedge—or whatever people use as the dividing line between properties in Sun Valley).
Deborah chats with the neighbor, acknowledging the unusual situation, asking her a little bit about her life, her family, her musical interests (if any), how long she’s lived in Sun Valley, etc. [See Nina Simon’s The Art of Relevance for why this kind of empathic connection is important to establish before engaging in the artistic experience.]
Next, Deborah chooses from several pieces of music that she has prepared, responding, in part, to what she has learned about this individual audience member. Of course, any piece of music can be relevant simply by being offered up as a beautiful aesthetic gift, but there is also the possibility of forging a more specific connection now that Deborah knows something about the individual who is listening.
Deborah asks her friend (who is still peering over the hedge) to take a photo with her iPhone that, with permission, Deborah and her friend can share on social media.
After performing for the neighborhood and exchanging a few pleasantries, Deborah returns home. Meanwhile, the neighbor is on the phone with her personal network telling them about the beautiful, uplifting experience that she was privileged to enjoy—just for her!—that afternoon.
The next day, Deborah receives two requests from people she doesn’t know (friends of friends), asking if she could do the same thing for a grandfather, an aunt, a wedding anniversary, a neighbor who is living alone…
Deborah decides to send the photo and a short message out to her person network, including all of the families in her daughter’s school that she has gotten to know in recent years. It might read something like this:
Your move, Deborah.
* Alternatively, should this become something that catches on and there is increasing demand for your services, asking for a voluntary contribution, for those who are able, to your personal bank account by PayPal or Venmo is the next step. I recommend that you 1. begin by offering this service freely in order to make clear that it is about the mission (not the money) and then 2. build a “suggested” fee structure once you have gotten started and begin to see that there are going to be continued requests for performances.
A really nice thing to be able to do would be to always offer the option of a freely given performance, should someone need music who can’t afford to make a donation. Perhaps online performances can remain available for free, if necessary, while an in-person visit—clearly the more labor and time-intensive version—has the expectation of a fee.
Sharing project documentation and examples of student thinking, and my own.