When we weren't able to convene at NEC in June, Building a Chamber Music Residency moved online this summer, including three evening general sessions in July and a sequence of consultations with each of the three ensembles across July and August.
I requested participant feedback, including 1. What, if anything, about this learning experience feels most relevant (matters most to you)? 2. Is there a specific instance that you can cite in which something that we talked about has catalyzed a change in your thinking or behavior? 3. What energizes you about this work? Here is a sampling of their written responses.
"Our individual group meetings have been very productive. It's been nice to have a 'moderator' dissect our ideas and discussions that lead us in productive brainstorming."
"I feel like the word 'relevance' and your introduction and then reading Nina Simon’s book has really changed my thinking of what we are wanting to offer as an ensemble. That and the discussion of vulnerability and how to use that to our advantage."
"I'm inspired by the variety of ways that musicians interpret or think about residency work. There are so many incredible ideas out there and it's amazing to hear people speak about the things that they are most passionate about!"
"Our conversations always push me to think differently! I think a major change for me has just been to get really organized with our communications. I used to just 'come up' with something, but now I'm starting to see an overarching scope and how all the pieces might work together."
"We are in the process of designing programs that can be utilized during the absence of live performances and that the importance of relationship building and cultivating was expressed throughout."
"As much as I love the general conversation and brainstorming, I tend to get overloaded in settings like this. I've particularly enjoyed moments when we've gotten really specific, like the marketing calendar, fundraising goals, and breaking down our budgets really help me to feel like we are moving forward. The concrete steps feel important and good."
"As helpful as the discussions were about the logistical side of having an ensemble, like development, fundraising, and admin work, I think the most helpful and interesting work we did together was based off of language and how to have a solid understanding of our ensemble before going into logistics. I think our ensemble is a lot more complex than the typical chamber group, so I’m happy we had these 'therapy”' sessions where we all worked together to make sure our foundation was strong."
What if after every concert, audience members wrote letters of gratitude to the performers? I suppose that applause can be an acceptable stand-in for something more personal and explicit. However, I have found that, during the pandemic while I am performing in the intimacy of backyards and gardens, I have loved receiving written appreciations. Is it a formality of good hospitality? Sure, of course. Beyond that, these notes also affirm for me that what I have been doing this summer really matters, and that it goes beyond simply providing entertainment for a brief while.
Here are some of my favorites, accumulated over the past three months.
"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. You are a wonderful musician. What you are giving to people by coming to their homes to play outside is deeply generous."
"Your playing was magnificent. As I said at the time the visual experience of watching you playing, particularly in the Bach, added an emotional dimension that cannot be gained from a recording. t was amazing! Bob was greatly touched by your dedications. Again, all of us who were there had a unique experience. It could not have come at a better time."
"I cannot thank you enough for the extraordinary gift you gave on June 16th at my home in Lincoln. Listening to your beautiful cello concert in the backyard on a beautiful June evening was indeed a special gift unlike I have ever received. We were all deeply moved including neighbors and the rose breasted grosbeak! Your musical talents not only touched our spirits, but the spirit of a little bird. I do believe she gave you a highly well deserved complement.
"Thanks so much for this extraordinarily special day. My father-in-law said it was the best birthday present he ever could have asked for. This is such important work you are doing, Heath. I sat on the grass today and the was transported. We all cried and we all left feeling a deeper sense of our selves and connection to each other."
"Heath, I think I would be representing everybody’s emotions and response by telling you that there was something magical, transformative and healing about your gift of music to that small group 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.
"My neighbors are still talking about you. It's amazing how something simple changed the whole day. Two of my neighbors had never met- they have lived two houses apart for 25 years!"
"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."
"We can't thank you enough for coming to my back yard and performing the wonderful concert that you did for us on Saturday! We ALL enjoyed it so very much. I even had a special phone call Saturday evening from my 17 year old grandson, after he got home, to let me know how much he enjoyed it. It's a bit unusual for him to make this kind of phone call, so I have a strong feeling that he REALLY REALLY enjoyed it!! And we're all still talking about it . . ."
"Just to tell you again how much we all enjoyed the concert. It was really lovely. I must tell you that, to my great joy, [my husband with early-onset Alzheimer's] enjoyed it immensely. He was smiling the whole time and later told me what a pleasure it had been for him. So the whole event was a great treat for all of us (even for [our dog] who I am glad to say behaved very well. I had feared he might start howling, but clearly he appreciated the music and the company)."
Yo-Yo Ma, in a July interview for PBS News Hour, on practicing the one-on-one principle: "our job is to move one person at a time."
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."
Sharing project documentation and examples of student thinking, and my own.