Music in the Time of Coronavirus: The Show Must Go On

The drummer and bassist lock in, providing an undeniable swing: “the Baltimore Bounce.” Each player listens and reacts to the others as the song moves continuously forward through dynamic peaks and valleys. The rhythm section drives a horn player into another gear, building an arc of a brilliant solo. This could have been a moment in a concert at any of Baltimore’s jazz venues. This week, it took place on my front porch.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, venues have closed, schools are virtual classrooms, restaurants are carry-out only, and large crowds and festivals are not permitted. That leaves no work for musicians unless they can adapt to this uncertain economic landscape.

Musicians and venues across the globe have turned to live streaming for virtual audiences. Viewers generously send financial support to artists while broadcasting the performance on a TV, computer, or tablet. Baltimore’s An Die Musik is one of the only local venues providing this service to audiences for a small contribution of $5. Owner Henry Wong is committed to featuring local artists, opening his doors (and his grand piano) to our favorite Charm City performers. This has undoubtedly been a huge help for struggling musicians; however, there still seems to be something missing–the human connection.

Performing live with other musicians is an irreplaceable sensation. The spontaneous interactions on the bandstand are remarkable, a sentiment shared simultaneously by performers and audience members alike. It does not feel the same to have “likes,” “hearts”, or even an applause emoji show up on a live feed. Live comments offer some gratification, but these are usually viewed after a stream is finished. The point is that none of this feels like performing live.

One solution seems to make sense: physically distant concerts (performed by musicians in the same space but keeping a safe distance). The Creative Alliance sponsored Sidewalk Serenades for a short time with excellent results before Governor Hogan enacted a “shelter in place order.”  New Orleans trombonist Charlie Halloran has been doing live performances from his front porch. Porch concerts, drive in shows, and sidewalk serenades are all possible during the quarantine. As the weather breaks, I anticipate many more musicians will find ways to perform live at a distance in addition to live streaming from inside their homes.

I’ve been hosting my own series, Charles Village Porch Concerts, featuring Baltimore jazz musicians collaborating with me on upright bass. Initially, the idea was to host live streams in place of my weekly gigs at two local restaurants, Nori Sushi and Greg’s Bagels. However, one weekend had particularly nice weather, so we played on the porch. The neighbors applauded graciously, and after weeks of performing to a virtual audience, the feeling was surreal. The concerts have evolved into a wonderfully positive gathering from a safe distance with local residents donning masks, standing yards apart, and dancing on the sidewalk. Charles Village Porch Concerts are held on Wednesdays at 5pm on 28th and Calvert Street and Saturdays at 11am on 28th and Hunter Street. The schedule is subject to change, so please follow Ed Hrybyk Music on Facebook or @edhrybyk on Instagram/Twitter for any updates, as well as access to the live streamed concerts.

Please continue to support local artists, venues, and small businesses. A small contribution goes a long way for a community struggling to find income. Many are experiencing infuriating delays from both government stimulus checks and the state unemployment office. Stay positive, spread joy, follow CDC guidelines, and hopefully we will emerge from this crisis stronger than before.

[Concert on Hyrbyk’s front porch with Clarence Ward III – photo by Kimberly Bambarger]

Ed Hrybyk is an upright and electric bassist, composer, and arranger residing in Baltimore, MD. Ed is a passionate educator and recently returned to his alma mater Baltimore School for the Arts as the jazz instructor. Hrybyk’s debut album of original music, “Bright Moments” is available on all online platforms with physical copies available through www.edhrybykbass.com.  

For more about Music in the Time of Coronavirus see David Crandall’s article Word from the Digital Frontier.

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