How Are You Coping?
During this period of adjustment and homestay, I thought I'd survey the music landscape and peer into the lives of fellow musicians and industry stalwarts. The responses of these Toronto female artists and biz players are compelling.
By Bill King
How are you coping? That's the question of the day!
During this period of adjustment and homestay, I thought I'd survey the music landscape and peer into the lives of fellow musicians and industry stalwarts. It's fascinating witnessing the uptick in activity from established and frontline artists and bands who are quickly engaging one another on Facebook - sharing home music videos and related information. No "bandemic" here!
There are numerous postings of solo performances played at various stages of development and full-blown recitals - from Neil Diamond to piano great Fred Hersch. Those feeling the strain of being shut-in are busting loose at home. You can't contain imagination or restrain ingenuity.
In this coming series, I'll be asking about and sharing the thoughts and daily activities of those most affected in our music community. The good, the bad, the scary, and those occupied.
Let's first hear from the women! How are you coping?
Patricia Silver, Co-Manager, SING! The Toronto Vocal Arts Festival
We are working on rescheduling our May festival. We are committed to the artists, audience, supporters, and sponsors, so we currently have no plans to cancel. The artists have been very flexible in working with us to move dates. It is a Herculean effort to find new venues and juggle, but everyone is on the same side. We hope to have an announcement shortly.
Fern Lindzon, jazz pianist
I go through periods of worry, despair, and hypochondria (though I am not a hypochondriac), and my heart goes out to everyone who lives hand to mouth. My heart goes out to anyone working in a hospital, grocery store, and pharmacy. They are the heroes. As for me, I have been getting hints of a strange sense of calm, as though the world has hit the reset button – a complete stop. It's like we're granted this extra time and don't squander it.
I'm working on so many things musically. I had been meaning to check out some of Geoffrey Keezer's courses, and I took advantage of Open Studio's PWYC and grabbed his class and a Brazilian piano course. They're both full of great ideas. I haven't practiced this much since I don't know when. I'm inspired and feeling grateful and working on a writing project of mine that was continually getting interrupted. I'm loving not having to think about the promo.
I'm enjoying the creativity and humour that is coming out of this tragedy. I pray we all stay safe and healthy and emerge from this stronger, wiser, more loving, and more generous to each other. We're truly all in on this together.
I also want to find more ways to give back. I'm doing my little initiative buying a CD by an independent musician every day. It's so much fun, and I have the time to sit and listen. Beautiful discoveries.
I pay attention to what is happening south of the border, and it's such a nightmare. Unbelievable. Hard to grasp that it's genuinely happening. I mean. The USA! I'm dreading what the next month holds for them and us. For now, I'm keeping my distance and only go out for walks and shop for food when I have to. I'm planning and enjoying cooking (and eating).
Jenna Nation - R&B/Pop Singer/Songwriter
In advance of COVID-19 being declared a global pandemic by the WHO (World Health Organization) and before travel restrictions had been imposed, I was fortunate to embark on a scheduled work trip to Nashville for my forthcoming EP. When I returned home, I was told by customs officers to self-isolate for 14 days. I immediately recognized the gravity of the situation.
The mandate to self isolate presented some challenges, but I was very fortunate that friends co-workers and neighbours reached out and offered to come to my rescue and bring me supplies or groceries or anything that I might need. I had three shows lined up the next week. I was now unable to take these gigs as was required to self-isolate, but the performances also cancelled as the venues closed. I was sad about the news, but I understood that this was for the best and everyone's safety. As much as this has been scary, especially watching the news and seeing daily updates and numbers climb, I have chosen to take a more positive outlook on the situation. I know a lot of people coming together and are connecting despite "social distancing." Thank goodness for the internet and social media.
I would say that we are more physically distancing than anything. I see people trying to lift others' spirits with funny memes or jokes online - musicians and artists sharing videos of cover songs or original music, fitness trainers, and athletes sharing home workout videos and trying to keep people motivated. Many are active with GoFundMe pages made for people out of work. Others are helping one another by offering to get groceries for their friends, neighbours, and people in need, and in my building, they even have a book exchange. I have seen lots of musicians and artists going "live" on Facebook and Instagram, taking requests and doing live shows from their living rooms or bedrooms, which I have thoroughly enjoyed watching and I am considering doing one myself.
A friend of mine is starting an initiative called "Quarantine & Sing," which will be a virtual series highlighting singers and musicians. And LIVE! on Elgin in Ottawa isn't letting COVID-19 stop their regular Tuesday open mic nights hosting it online (Instagram "live") for all musicians and artists. "It works much like a regular open mic, with signups and lottos for spots, but instead of waiting patiently for your turn while sippin' a Flash Collins, you're now setting up a camera, and waiting for a bunch of people to join your "insta live" performance!"
I recognize the music community has been hit particularly hard during this time as some of us don't have 9 to 5's and rely on gigs for income or additional wages, but I do know that the government has been trying to help. I know that they are asking for people's input and have released surveys to try to understand how people are affected and what type of support people may need. A friend of mine sent an email to the MPP of the Spadina - Fort York District, Chris Glover - NDP, and he responded, saying that they are looking into providing "financial support for Ontarians not covered by Employment Insurance - especially those working in the gig community." Not only is the government taking steps to help, but music organizations such as CIMA, FACTOR, and SOCAN have been doing the same. I received a survey from CIMA the other day.
It is interesting, however, that musicians and artists are often so undervalued by being asked to work and perform for very little or being asked to play for "free exposure/publicity" or a couple of drinks, but during times of crisis people turn to music and artists to help them get through these difficult times.
I have been using this time to be productive. I have been learning new songs and writing music, creating more online content such as cover videos and planning for my upcoming release. I hope that this brings us together more than separates us and gives people the time to reconnect - reconnect with their families, friends, and loved ones. In contrast to our typically chaotic and busy lives, I hope that this gives people more time to be inspired, inspire, and create. The world needs us right now.
As The Recording Academy so eloquently stated: "Creating is not cancelled. Music is not withdrawn. Songwriting is not cancelled. Singing is not cancelled. Inspiration is not cancelled."
Jenie Thai Nolan – Blues Pianist/Singer/Performer
The activity isn't crazy. I started with a letter to my MP last week explaining the direness of my (and others') situation and how many of us are in financial jeopardy. That led to an invitation to participate in a teleconference call with the Minister of Heritage, Sports, and Culture Industries. The conference call started with about 400 of us, and by the end, there were 1,000 listenings. What Minister MacLeod said was that she acknowledges that we got "hit" the hardest and most severe (other than the health sector), and she's working with Doug Ford to alleviate the stress. She seemed passionate and genuine. The bad news is that she doesn't (nobody does) have any straight forward answers/solutions, and being a freelance musician is one tiny, tiny, small portion of the people she's looking after.
That's where I'm at. If you're looking to get involved, I think it's best to email your MP and voice your concerns. The more of us sending letters, the more powerful our voices will be.
Elaine Overholt - Big Voice Studios
As a singer, pianist, voice teacher, and the owner of a small business, the initial shock of our "new normal" has worn off, and my other teachers and I are all working online with 100% of our energy. It takes a lot of time - often 16 hours a day to stay on top of the emails, getting backing tracks, payments, and social media. We have been teaching through Skype and Facetime (and now Zoom), so this is not new to us, and we ramp this up considerably. My teachers at Big Voice are all technically adept at setting up their home coaching spaces properly so that each singer can self-isolate.
In the first week of the pandemic, a lot of people were reluctant to give up their face-to-face lessons. Online lessons are still face-to-face! However, I think they have settled into the "new reality" and realized that it's a great motivational tool - not only to keep busy but to keep in shape for your home recordings and get some guidance on crafting that song, and prep that tour that will happen once this is over.
Of course, the recording artists, songwriters, self-employed people, etc., will not be able to afford a single voice lesson right now. They have lost their jobs, or are keeping a tight hold on the funds for the future. But then there are some, especially the families of the younger ones, who want to save some semblance of routine and 'moving forward' while in the household, and are finding out that indeed, online lessons can be fun, keep the education going, and help fill up the day.
In the past week, we have temporarily adjusted our fees to make lessons accessible to the people who are going through this challenging economic time. The critical question is, how much do we do for free and for the good of humankind in one of the most precarious moments in history, and how much do we do for a fee, to keep the rent and the bills paid?
For our professional clients, it's a great time to go deep into the voice, its stamina truly, and certainly, to keep the voice in shape while in your house. I'm encouraging them to use my "Elaine Overholt's Big Voice Warm-up and Workout" as much as they can.
Going forward, we are in the process of creating a video, with our teachers and some alumni, to spread a little joy and hopefully let people know we are alive and going strong.
I'll be giving my Big Voice Master Classes on Zoom, just like a regular master class, where everyone gets to sing. With those, we'll be adding classes for professional singers and some for beginners.
I welcome all the discussions!!
Laura Fernandez - Café Latino Jazz.Fm91
We are living in uncertain, unprecedented times. As an artist- and like many other artists - my life has turned on a dime. Many of us have had gigs and festival concerts cancelled or postponed and, of course, with that, income. As difficult as it is, there are a few measures put in place by the government that may help alleviate the financial burden this situation has put so many of us in. While we can lament and get into a negative and stressful mindset, I find that since there is little that we can do about it, perhaps there is a way to spin it into a welcome pause in our busy lives.
I have been self-employed for most of my adult life, so I am used to the feast or famine mentality. It has not been an easy life, but I have found that the freedom of calling the shots (for the most part) is worth the uncertainty. I always believed that security was an illusion, and this situation is proof of that. But I know this; during the most challenging moments in my life, I have maintained faith that somehow I would get through it. I have, and I have learned and become a better person and artist because of it. This time is no different. While there are negative aspects of this crisis, there are also positive ones.
We, humans, hate being out of control, but being an artist is all about letting go and allowing the divine muse lead you to unknown places and expressing those experiences so others can share and connect. If those paths lead us to fear and to uncertainty and sadness, that is what we communicate, but they can also lead to joy and the discovery that the human spirit can and will overcome hard times. Good things will come from this situation. People are making time to connect and share; the dolphins and swans have returned to Venice canals. We are given a pause in our treadmill lives. We now have space to reflect, to create, to write, to play music in our rooms for ourselves and others (albeit virtually) without the need to fill venues and market our shows -- time to create and let go. There is nothing we can do about it anyway. Use this time constructively.
Ordinarily, I have a very hectic life, and I rarely have time to dedicate myself to pure creativity and self-improvement. In these changing times, I am writing songs, going through recorded tunes, and listening with full attention. I'm painting and starting a new children's book project and catching up on business - taking a course that will make me better at what I do. I am practicing my instrument. I am connecting with people I haven't spoken to in a long while and enjoying every moment of it.
I am scared like everyone else is because uncertainty is scary. But it also teaches you that life has its path. We exist despite the money, despite gigs and security. We will get through this and come out "The Other Side." As I once wrote in a lyric from that song: the future will unveil its bride. The only thing sure in life is change, and surrendering to it, as hard as that can be, it will teach us and guide us to better places and new beginnings; of that I am sure.
Laila Biali – vocalist/pianist and host of Saturday Night Jazz CBC
The build-up to a new album release is long and carefully planned, and the investment of time, energy, and financial resources significant. Months were spent working alongside one's team to coordinate a release timeline, dates, and strategy. When everything got turned on its head a couple of a few weeks ago, it felt like all that work hung in the balance. COVID-19 became and still is the primary occupant of our minds and newsfeeds, along with big questions around health, safety, and livelihood.
Many friends saw the writing on the wall and suggested I postpone the release. But the themes behind the songs on my new album, Out of Dust, feel like they tie-in with the present moment. Yes, it was tough to lose an entire global album release tour as well as several significant media opportunities, but it's essential to keep things in perspective. People are worried and sad. Now, more than ever, music can be a vehicle for healing and catharsis, and if I get to be part of the good news in people's lives, I consider that a great privilege. We may not know precisely what the future holds, but we do know what we can bring to the present moment – and for me, that's music.
Jane Harbury – Jane Harbury Publicity
This pandemic has certainly had an impact on everyone everywhere. Speaking for myself - I am always careful not to start new campaigns while I still have very active campaigns for other artists. Of course, this does not always work correctly, but by and large, it's relatively active.
That said, I had it covered - we were just finishing off the International Guitar Night 20th Tour across the USA, and a small number of Canadian dates out west. I have three artists who were preparing new album releases, and for two of them, there will be dates in support. I have been working with a young woman from Germany, and that campaign was beginning to gel.
David Wilcox was revving up for spring and summer dates across the country. And of course, Hugh's Room Live has been buzzing along. We have some great bookings confirmed, and April and May promise to be excellent. Then the general manager and members of the volunteer board started to get very concerned the building's owners were not going to agree to the new lease. They have been working on this for well over a year, and March 31, 2020, loomed. The team had secured several venues that were happy to host shows as Hugh's Room Live Presents - the sites - carefully matched to the artists for each show. Then, in a perfect storm, along came COVID -19, and several artists pulled out of travel and performing anywhere. So, the decision was made to close Hugh's from March 16 on. There has been tremendous activity clearing out 2261 Dundas St. West, and I understand everything is now in storage.
From a personal perspective - I do not know anything more other than I hope to be hired back when we have the "all clear" - but that is not a given.
In terms of the three artists I was to begin campaigns for - I asked all three to write a letter of commitment for me to act as their publicist when we are all clear. All three had no problem doing so. For now - well, I have received several financial gifts, some delicious Italian Focaccia, beans, rice, lentils, fruit - and have eaten well. I have tried to get in touch with the bank, but - there's no response, and it's not possible to get anyone on the phone or email. So, why stress about this. I have the April rent! And in the famous words of Mr. Micawber, "something will turn up." Chance has litter and food. We're good for now, and I hope everyone is well and as lucky as I.
Avery Raquel – Singer/Songwriter
As an artist, and someone who is still finishing a semester of college, I'm coping by keeping busy, and when not managing online delivery of my courses, I'm songwriting. I think it's important not to let your mind stagnate. You want to keep busy, which helps pass the time faster.
Because I'm not alone but isolated from my friends, I've had to adjust my patience level and my work habits. I'm trying to spend each day, as if I was still in my own apartment, going to school, and performing.
One big change, with the closure of performance venues, is the cancellation of performances, and ultimately loss of income. I've had to change the way I perceive my career for the time being. As mentioned, I spend the time creating new material and live streaming concerts such that I can maintain my performance abilities and stay in touch with my fanbase.
Of course, on my downtime, I still stream Netflix, watch movies, chat with friends, social media, and sing, sing, sing.
Bif Naked - rock singer/songwriter
As far as coping with the current times, I believe we are all probably doing better than we think we are. There is a simmering undercurrent of weirdness.
I think any anxiety is reasonable, given these unusual times. We all have this collective, community anxiety that we are experiencing, and it feels like we’re all walking around with a heavy, wet bath towel over our heads. We don’t know where we are heading - we are fumbling through it all, trying to navigate this “new normal” right now, and it is incredibly bumpy.
The first part of my coping technique is just acknowledging that I feel really uncertain and secretly upset. And, I think that just quietly admitting this, to myself, is my first step in staying centred, and trying to keep my shit together basically. Then, I can peek around and ask my friends and family if they, too, are experiencing this uneasiness.
Yep. They all are.
Thus, this is something that makes me feel like my feelings are valid. I feel heard. It is a remarkable relief to know that others are feeling the very same way as me, and that gives me a sense of security- just to know I am not alone. It’s essential for us, as neighbours and members of our communities, to share. Our feelings, our fears, and our little victories every day. These small things connect us in a big way.
Listening to music. Things that make us happy, like songs from our youth or songs that just uplift us. Our very cells might begin to dance - or reading books or interesting articles. Reading aloud to someone else creates a treasured memory for the reader and the listener. And of course, sleeping in just a little bit. There’s something sweet about this small act of self-care, adding even fifteen or twenty extra minutes of rest, and our bodies will respond with being better able to navigate these days.
And we are getting through the days, bath towels over us or not, one day at a time, successfully navigating the mystery and bumps of this time in our history.