Of Pianists and Pandemics
By Sheree Sano
The pandemic has affected all of us in a multitude of ways causing us to find new ways of doing the things we’ve always done. My fellow NYC piano players are no different so I reached out to ask a few of them how the pandemic affected their work and what they see as the “next phase” with clubs starting to open back up. Here’s a sampling of some of their coping mechanisms, work-arounds, clever hacks.
Despite disrupting ordinary routine, confounding connection to family and friends, and limiting freedom, the sheltering-at-home during the pandemic had its “silver lining.” With a surfeit of time, my partner, Tim Cahill, and I were able to hone a show we’d originally planned to perform in fall 2020, ONCE YOU HAVE FOUND ‘IM. It has been interesting to watch its evolution; to rethink that which we’d initially determined. We’re certain it will continue to grow as we’re able to work with our director, Lina Koutrakos, again.
We look forward to being back in the clubs experiencing live music again. Most of all, it will be wonderful to reconnect with our friends in the cabaret community.
This last year has been a painful reminder of how vulnerable we are as freelancers, but also how resilient we can be, learning new skills to keep putting music out there. I’ve been recording at home and working with Zoom groups, but it’s no substitute for playing with other musicians and the energy of a live audience.
It’s encouraging to see venues reopening. At first we’ll be conscious of close contact, crowded spaces, etc., but New Yorkers like to have a good time. I hope we can re-think some of our behaviors and move forward in a healthy way.
Since the great pause Marissa Mulder and I have been doing monthly FB events. We have one this Friday on her FB page at 7PM and I’ve had a few live gigs: one in the middle of a field with Jenna Esposito and her band last July, and Saint Paddy’s Day with KT Sullivan at the West Bank just a few weeks ago.
Scott Barbarino has graciously had me on Piano Bar Live several times and I’ve been teaching voice virtually and practicing (not enough!) some Bach and Mozart to remind me that I need to keep my fingers moving. And…OH!! I’ve composed a one act opera! It’s based on a graphic novel by Ande J. Parks called ‘Capote in Kansas’ and imagines Truman Capote meeting the ghost of Nancy Clutter while writing ‘In Cold Blood.’ I’m very proud of it and there will be a lot more to tell very soon. I’m currently orchestrating it for a twelve piece chamber ensemble and taking orchestration lessons which is fascinating, fun and very challenging!
I’m not sure what the world or our city will look like when all this is over but I think people will need to be entertained more than ever and that, no matter what, New York will always bounce back!
Once I realized the 2 week quarantine was probably going to be a long-term experience, I went back to connecting with the people I was working with, only now we had to navigate our communication in different ways.
- Most of my income came from creating tracks for singers to practice and perform to. I made over 500 tracks.!
- I was the behind-the-scenes MD for a few streaming shows, where I had to create fully orchestrated produced tracks, so I’m glad I had the time to dig into learning Logic Pro, which is a program I didn’t know so well until the pandemic. Now I have that additional skill.
- I also performed in a handful of live streaming shows, where my musical partners and I were in the same room, but there was no live audience, so we either streamed the show, or just created videos.
- I did a lot of co-writing songs.
- I did a restaurant gig, where I was playing behind glass.
- And, in Jan 2021, I had one REAL gig! In Fayetteville, Arkansas, with Bret Shuford. The audience was socially distanced, as the 1200-seat theater was now a 150-seat theater. It was an incredible experience once again sharing musical emotions/bliss with an audience, after a year of not being able to do that. I don’t think I’ll take that feeling for granted anymore!
I believe this next phase will slowly go back to some semblance of normalcy, eventually. By the summer, we will have outdoor shows. (I’ve already booked a few). The indoor shows will probably start with smaller audiences. Although, it seems that people are continuing to stream shows. I’m just going to go with the flow, and do what needs to be done.
Since March 2020 I, like most other pianist, singers, actors, dancers and all of us creative types, have been on a long unwanted hiatus the likes with which the entertainment community has never had to deal.
But like us all, it has stimulated me to be creative in a new way. For me, having last performed live in early March at a weekly gig, well, it was definitely a shock and one for which we were not prepared.
During this time I have done some Zoom sessions with singers which has been creatively fulfilling but as one who plays and sings before a live audience….well nothing replaces the energy and feedback from that. I just hope all the venues with live music in all of its various forms reopen in time.
As for me, I was amazed at how much can be accomplished at (or near) home. I live in a building that’s jam-packed with singers (also actors, writers, dancers – tons of creative performing artists) so I was able to share my musical skills with
neighbors via zoom and even sometimes in person (with masks and after testing negative).
I sang and played my keyboard outside when the weather was nice – people had really been missing LIVE music. I played a zoom Christmas party for the Chelsea Reform Democratic Club (that was different) and I started volunteering as a “Visiting Artist” for the Louis Armstrong Foundation – still playing for LAF – very gratifying.
Something a bit different – and work I’m really proud of and grateful for – were all the clever and comical parodies I sang and produced for Fred Landau. They are mostly about Broadway or topics in the news (think, “Vaccinating Rhythm” to the tune of “Fascinating Rhythm”). I got to use so many skills: singing, playing, recording, video editing…really kept the little gray cells busy.
I expect I’ll continue with the types of the work I’ve been doing over the past year and I look forward to playing for real live people as the clubs, bistros, boites and hotels begin to open up.
If you are a pianist or singer searching for information on the “how to” of online music collaboration, including synchronous technologies like “JamKazam,” please check out Cabaret University’s online classes.