By Daniel Neely
NEW YORK, March 15 — We are living in interesting times. We, as a country, have a very bumpy ride in store for the foreseeable future and it behooves us all to recognize the very real threat coronavirus/covid-19 presents. Everybody will be affected in some way and we will need to come together and offer each other support when we’re able.
In order to best understand what this means, we also need to be aware of covid-19’s practical, social effects, and since this is a column dedicated to traditional music, my focus this week will be on what the consequences have been to our community thus far, and to offer some ideas on what traditional music lovers might be able to do to help artists out while the “social distance” necessary to protect the public safety and their personal best interest.
Social distancing isn’t always an easy option for many, particularly those for whom interacting with large groups is essential part of their income. I think of folks in the gig economy such as food service workers like bartenders & delivery people; supermarket cashiers; personal trainers & yoga instructors; doormen; actors and stand up comedians; and so forth.
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Irish traditional musicians fall squarely within this group, and the abundance of gigs at this time of year represent an important revenue stream. For professional musicians, St. Patrick’s season gigs are an important part of their annual income, so a string of cancellations becomes especially meaningful. Further, some of these musicians come from Ireland and have invested a significant amount of money and time to be able to perform in the United States – given America’s strict immigration laws, this investment is likely lost.
St. Patrick’s season gigs also provide an important boost for part-time musicians who use them to supplement more regular income and to help ease all manner of financial burden, from rent, to student loans, medical costs, and so forth. You see these musicians all over the shop during the season. Although it might seem insignificant to some, these gigs take on incredible short term importance.
This year, the season ended on Tuesday. It was a long one, and held a lot of promise. Unfortunately, the “gigpocalypse” changed everything. Corona-related cancellations – from simple bar gigs to major tours by internationally renowned bands – began to avalanche across the board in the middle of last week. Broadway shut down. It was madness.
And yet, not every gig was called. Over the last few days, several New York bars remained open, crowded with emboldened people who “risked it.” (Skyrocketing New York City rents prohibit the important income these bars make during the drinking season.) Some of these bars did not cancel their scheduled Irish music, which put musicians in the awkward position of having to gamble with their health for fear of losing a gig.
There is much talk about with respect to alternative revenue streams, and it’s important for readers to keep in mind there are things they can do to help artists. For example, the cost of two pints would purchase an artist’s CD or album download. (This, in contrast to listening via a streaming service, which you should do too, but with the understanding this is not a significant revenue stream.) Readers are encouraged to sort through my articles on irishecho.com and rediscover a choice selection of artists who have recently released high quality albums – can’t go wrong with any of them. In each article, I provide a link with how to buy new work from the artist directly. Those interested in browsing what’s available or who want to buy older releases can visit an independent seller like ossianusa.com(U.S.) or custysmusic.com (Ireland), both of which have excellent selections.
If you’re a musician, you could, for the cost of a few more pints (or so, depending), take a virtual lesson with a top player. Almost every musician who teaches is willing to meet students online using apps like Skype or Facetime. Taking virtual lessons is effective ways for teachers to be in touch with students in real time, and more critically, it benefits all involved.
On Saturday evening, something interesting emerged. A new endeavor called “Tune Supply” (tune.supply) was launched, offering consumers much of what I’ve outlined above in a one-stop shop. Spearheaded by fiddle player Caitlin Warbelow and button accordion player Chris Ranney, both of the Grammy Award-nominated Broadway musical “Come From Away,” Tune Supply is billed as “bespoke traditional music + dance performances and instruction delivered digitally for the quarantined world.”
It’s a very interesting and novel idea. Through the site, once can purchase a solo set or duo of tunes, a song, a dance set, a slow tune for students, a lesson, a solo or duo mini concert, or a custom composition. Proceeds for these purchases go to the musicians involved in the collective, a tide helping to raise all boats. Because each of the musicians associated with Tune Supply are all superb, young world class professionals – the kind most seriously impacted by this corona circumstance – patrons can rest easy knowing they will receive unique, top quality product for their Patrick’s Season dollar. (Going over who was already on the list as I write, and having some sense of who will have come on board by the time this article goes to print, I’m quite impressed with the idea, the artistic calibre, and the speed with which the plan came together. This is people helping people, and I sincerely hope the idea catches fire.)
So interesting times indeed. Hopefully, the curve flattens and the virus’s impact is as minimal as possible. Perhaps some novel work may even come out of this, after all, it’s said that Shakepeare wrote “King Lear,” “Macbeth,” and “Antony and Cleopatra” while quarantined during a bubonic plague outbreak in 1605/06. But let’s not lose site of the reality that musicians – and honestly, many other types of workers who work gig-to-gig – are living through, and be mindful that it’s going to be a struggle, perhaps for quite some time. But there are options out there to help – give one or two of them a look!