High School Choir goes virtual amid COVID-19

I have written a few stories about how artists have been forced into pivoting how they share their art with the world as they experience the lack of a live audience. Many have been creative and embraced using technology.

A Michigan high school embraced technology early on to create a beautiful video as most of us entered into self-isolation.

Detroit Country Day School Choir Director Ron Weiler released this video on YouTube which has over 11,000 views and growing.

O, Love‘ is a song composed by Elaine Hagenberg. Prior to COVID-19, the choir was supposed to rehearse and perform this piece in public.

“I originally chose this song for my Concert Choir a couple of years ago (it was my first exposure to the incredible work of Elaine Hagenberg). At the time I was dealing with some personal challenges and the piece spoke to me on that personal level, but the students also immediately connected to the text” said Weiler.

Weiler has been the Director of Middle and Upper School Choirs at Detroit Country Day School since 1998. During that time, his choirs have received numerous First Division, Excellent and Superior Ratings at MSVMA District and State Choral Festivals. A Traverse City, MI native, he was mentored by both Russell and Melvin Larimer from 1988 – 1996. He received his Bachelor of Arts in Music Education and Keyboard Performance with Honors from Albion College in 1995.

Detroit Country Day School – “O Love” by Elaine Hagenberg (VIRTUAL CHOIR)

“When things rapidly began to change and schools were closed, and the reality of what was happening began to sink in, I knew immediately that this piece and it’s text was a perfect message of hope. Portions of the text that really spoke to me during this dark time of COVID-19: “O Joy, that seeks me through the pain” That the joy of our music could be a source of strength to see us through the pain and fear of what we were facing. But here’s the one that really got me: “I trace the rainbow through the rain, and feel the promise is not vain, that morn shall tearless be”. In the midst of the rain, we can see the promise (the rainbow) of love and joy and know that there will be a tearless morning. Such hope communicated so brilliantly by music and text”.

The song is indeed beautiful and appropriate for the current times we are living in, the video produced is equally magnificent.

To produce this video took commitment and a lot of “know how” on the technical side. Over 50 hours to put together, the bulk of which was right before COVID-19 hit Michigan.

“I am a career music director, but I am also a big tech nerd. I do professional video editing both for my school and as a personal side business, and I knew this was a perfect way to combine the two passions of mine. This year, I knew that I wanted to do something like this, so we began laying the groundwork for this virtual project in the first semester. The recordings that the students made were their mid-term exam in choir in January. Just before school was closed I had been able to show them glimpses of what it might look like and play the final audio for them just before we parted. I could tell that the students thought it was cool. The reactions as it played on the news channels and gained so many views on YouTube” said Weiler.

“Well done!” This was Elaine Hagenberg’s reaction after seeing this video.

“We are in the process now of going through the same steps to produce another video that will be a “virtual world premiere” of the piece that we commissioned from her in 2019 called “Welcome the Dawn” which also has stunningly appropriate text for the situation we find ourselves in. I’m hoping that the dawn will soon be here and we can release that video to welcome it!” said Weiler.

I rounded out my interview with Mr. Weiler to ask about his students and how they are currently coping with the pandemic. “I think that this seems to have been a particular source of pride for our seniors. Many of my seniors I have had in choir since they were in 6th grade, and for years they have had such goals and aspirations for that final semester, senior year, in the choral program. That final State Festival performance. That final POPS concert where the seniors are recognized for their years of contribution and dedication. So many things that were in a heartbeat taken away from them through absolutely no fault of their own. In some small way, this video, and the overwhelmingly positive reception from the world, has been a small victory for them. A way to have another performance. I am extremely proud of my students and how they’ve handled it. We have many more projects in the works to be released as the year ends, now that we know that we will not be physically together before the school year ends, though we remain together in the virtual classroom”.

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An annual observance – 105 years later

I find it difficult to write about the Armenian Genocide each year, but I feel that doing so is a personal obligation that I have in order to acknowledge the atrocities of April 24, 1915.  

The reality is that as a musician, I outwardly commemorate the Genocide in most of my performances. When given the opportunity to perform in a concert, there is a storytelling component that I have incorporated into those performances. No, I am not a historical expert by any means, but I can related personal experiences woven with some historical elements while playing Armenian folk music. As a matter of fact, I feel that I am performing at my best ability when given the opportunity to talk and interact with my audience while providing insight into the Armenian culture.

My children showing the Armenian villages their great grandparents were from prior to the Genocide.

Storytelling, an important tool can be one of our most powerful means for conveying important topics. My storytelling focuses on the struggles and triumphs of the Armenian people. After these types of performances, I can’t help but feel a sense of achievement. This is not meant to sound arrogant, but when given the opportunity to share ones culture with a group of people that may be hearing about it for the first time – there is a sense of pride you feel for providing this enlightenment.  I have never experienced an audience that was unappreciative of this concept of performance. So many, for the first time, get a glimpse of what is an Armenian. I think this is all of our (as Armenians) obligations to teach others and share stories to a non-Armenian world.

Ironically on April 24th, I had an opportunity to be interviewed by the niece of a friend of mine (non-Armenian) who was working on a college research project focusing on different ethnicities. We had a wonderful conversation and I was able to share with her some historical information but also provided her with my personal thoughts and impressions of our rich culture and background. This had more to do with educating her about the Armenian people as supposed to me as an Armenian. This, proves my point of the gratification I feel in sharing those experiences.

105 years later, we are a strong people. Our memory has not wavered these many years and I pray we will never forget.

On this day, I especially think of family. My parents, grandparents, and their ancestors that gave their life for us to continue our own.  On this day, please share your story.

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Artist organizations responding to COVID-19

Over the past several weeks, we have seen many relief funding mechanisms come together for the small business community throughout the United States. These have ranged from mini-grants to larger scaled loan programs. It seems that many of these funds started to grow once the Federal stimulus package was created.

Doing my small part to bring awareness to the Michigan Relief Fund to help full time artists in dire financial distress.

Artists are businesses too. They have the same needs as other small businesses, but sometimes are not taken as seriously because of the nature of their business. These artists solely make their income from displaying or sharing their art in person. Whether it is a music playing a festival or event or a painter showing their work at a gallery, these artists are dependent on the personal connection and since COVID-19 has halted any gatherings, the livelihood of this industry has also been silenced.

Temporarily or not, any disruption an artist experiences can be a severe one as many artists are normally underpaid and therefore some have to live from gig to gig. It is the reality of being a full time artist.

Fortunately, the artist community is responding in many different ways.

Artists are forcing to reinvent themselves by moving to a virtual platform and offering concerts, both solo or with video conferencing with other isolated artists. We are seeing musical concerts from local musicians to world-renown musical acts. Many musicians are playing for free and some are asking for donations so that they can continue their efforts.

Artist organizations around the country are trying to do their part and help those same artists that may be experiencing dire financial issues. Check out some of these resources as well as what some of the bigger foundations are doing in response to COVID-19:

The Joyce Foundation

Michigan Artist Relief Fund

Artist Relief
(Read more about about this nationally organized fund)

National Endowment of the Arts

Ford Foundation

Artist Relief Tree

COVID-19 & Freelance Artists

The American for the Arts has created a survey for gathering critical information of each artist so that they can share their story so that they can be supported through this crisis. Click here to access the survey.

 

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Experiencing COVID-19 as a musician

In the past several days, we have all been experiencing surreal moments in our lives pertaining to the corona virus pandemic. This hits hard for each of us in different ways and how we react and respond will indicate the length of a stranglehold this virus will have on humanity.

IMG_6218Each of us are probably already on overload when it comes to listening to the news detailing the consistent updates and the severity of COVID-19. Each day when I wake, I cant help but think “I wonder how bad it will get today”. In a matter of one week, many of our lives in the US have turned upside down with working from home (for those of us that have that option) and watching business after business closing down to help #flattenthecurve. I am only venturing out to obtain the essentials and I have going into several grocery stores just to find the basics and I am met with empty shelves, social distancing markers on the ground and even individuals in full HazMat outfits. Each day brings me to a point of limiting those trips. It’s real and scary.

As a musician and as it relates to COVID-19, I recently had an experience that promoted this writing piece.

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Visit the DPTV website for more information about that evening at: https://www.dptv.org/programs/armenian-heritage-night/

This past week, our local Public Broadcasting Station (DPTV) had organized their annual Armenian Heritage Night where they have aired different Armenian documentaries over the past twenty years. Each time, I have been involved with these events. Initially it started with short performances between pledge breaks and then in 2015 (during the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide) it included the airing of my film documentary Guardians of Music. On Friday, March 20th, amid the pandemic, Armenian Heritage Night was scheduled with live interviews and performances. The plan drastically changed the day before for the safety of all involved. The live interviews were replaced with taped segments and the live performances were also excluded from the evening. However, within hours of the airing of Armenian Heritage Night, a few of us improvised and in partnership with DPTV, I added a Facebook Live performance and promo prior to the airing of the documentaries. This was cross promoted by the station.

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A screenshot from my home-based performance. To view the performance: https://bit.ly/33BZ5ME

It was a mad panic on my end to get everything set up and to have a makeshift studio in my house ready to go live at 7pm. Running around and trying to get the lighting right, sending out an email blast to my subscribers, a slide presentation and dressing up (for the camera!) in my own house to play music and talk to a camera was a unique moment in my musical career. All the while I was running around I kept thinking “I cant believe I am doing this”.  Of course, the expected technical issues right before we were supposed to go live didn’t help and my wife ended up holding up my iPhone and filming it instead from my laptop setup.

I played music, promoted the event and briefly talked about my experiences with Armenian music. In my head I was still amazed this was happening and couldn’t help but think how this is our new norm for awhile. In the end, the event went well and so did Armenian Heritage Night at the station.

Our new norm will rapidly change and for those that make their livelihood as full time artists, I applaud your resiliency and can only hope that this will soon pass and you will be able to get back to promoting your art in front of people.

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Artists Respond to COVID-19 Crisis

We are currently living in unprecedented times as the world deals with the COVID-19 pandemic. As it gradually makes its way throughout the United States, it became a reality for Michiganders this past week. Government emergency mandates, school closing, and small businesses becoming affected by patrons being told to social distance themselves.

covid19COVID-19 affects all of our lives and daily routines have been disrupted and how we operate both for work and home have been altered. As more Michigan tests results become public, I feel everyone is trying to do the best possible in managing the situation.

Every industry will be effected by this crisis, some more than others. The performing arts world is such an industry that will now need to learn how to pivot in order to stay alive.

Musicians that make their primary livelihood performing in public are met with cancelling gigs or venues shutting down for the foreseeable future. This type of lost revenue for a musician is difficult to replace as securing these gigs happen months ahead of time.

College and university music students that have been preparing for onsite recitals as part of their final exams are in a state of uncertainty.

Community theatre productions have been cancelled.

Public art gallery showings are being shut down or delayed. The Detroit Institute of Arts has closed during this crisis.

However, even with this crisis right in front of us, I am witnessing the resilience of the arts community, especially in my home state of Michigan. These artists are using their natural creativity that they use to present their art in adapting to this crisis. I have witnessed some great online approaches for performing artisans in Michigan.

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Screenshot from a recent online concert that included musician Michael Shimmin

Musicians are hosting free/donation-based live concerts online. It may not increase their revenue, but it does keep musicians relevant and provides great entertainment for those on lock down in their homes. This is especially useful for many of the senior care facilities that are accustomed to live musical entertainment and are not shut off from any visitors. Michigan percussionist Michael Shimmin recently performed a concert on Facebook. “It was a success. Due to PayPal and Venmo donations from people watching, the musicians actually made some money. And we treated it like a real concert. We probably played for 90 minutes” said Shimmin. We should encourage more of this type of activity.

I am noticing many musicians are also moving to an online platform for teaching their students. Certainly this is an area that can be an increased revenue source for any artist that teaches others.

Increased email communications will be important for artists. I am getting more notifications from artists that include more ramped-up e-commerce efforts. Encourage friends and family to support the artists through purchasing of artwork online. Musicians are often found online at Spotify, iTunes and Apple Music. Consider listening to their music online as musicians (albeit very small) do receive royalties for both downloading and listening.

The bottom line is that as we adhere to guidelines we are given from local governments, and health divisions as we maneuver through new waters with this crisis, lets also keep in mind all of the professions and businesses adversely and innocently affected by COVID-19.

Doing our part doesn’t mean abandonment.

 

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Nina Stern & The Crane

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Nina Stern

I am a frequent user of the online music app, Spotify, which has allowed me the ability to experience a broad range of musical artists and genres. As a matter of fact, I have discovered more artists using this app than any other online musical source. Recently, as I was searching for some specific Armenian compositions, I came upon an artist and her recordings that I have since enjoyed listening to several times and would like to share with you.

The Crane is a collection of Armenian folks songs which are beautifully arranged by musician Nina Stern. Stern is a classically trained recorder and clarinetist residing in New York and her work has predominantly been classical music and specifically Early music.

NINA_CRANE_COVER.DIGITAL_78e0ae96-7dee-4f4d-9528-5e7cce91e155_1000x1500Stern started performing on the recorder like one might think, in elementary school along with other children and immediately fell in love with the instrument. She even took the recorder to her piano lessons so that she could play alongside the piano. Finally her piano teacher told her parents that she should focus on the recorder as it was clear of her passion for this instrument. The passion grew and as she got older she decided that she wanted to have a career in playing music. She even received a degree in performing Early/Medieval music.

Classically trained in Western music, eventually this love of Early music opened the door for Stern to become interested in other forms of roots music or world music. Doing so, she was able to learn about other places from around the globe. Her research eventually led her to find Armenian and Middle Eastern music.

“I fell in love with the music. It has aspects that I have played, many similarities. There is a simplicity to it that at the same time is complex. I am blown away by the melodies created in Armenian music with so few notes” said Stern.

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Tamer Pinarbasi on kanun

The Crane has many wonderful Armenian folk songs. The introductory track, Aparani Bar is masterly done by kanunist Tamer Pinarbasi performing a picture-perfect taksim with the ensembles rhythmic backing. Master Armenian oudist, Ara Dinkjian is featured on this album and you can hear his smooth and thoughtful performance throughout the album. His lead into Bardezum is superb along with his rendition of Groong (The Crane) the title song for this album.

Many of Stern’s song selections definitely have an undertone of influence by Ara’s father, singer Onnik Dinkjian, even though this is an instrumental recording. True collaboration occurred between Stern and Dinkjian on choosing songs that ultimately led to this album.

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Ara Dinkjian on oud

“Nina comes from a western classical world, and although I graduated from a western classical conservatory, that is certainly not my forte. I always want to expand my musical experience and knowledge, so I welcome the opportunity to work with artists such as Nina Stern, who is a world-renown recorder player and educator” said Dinkjian.

Both musicians share a mutual admiration and respect for each other’s talents and abilities. “Ara is one of the most generous musicians I have ever worked with. He is happy to share the knowledge and music.” said Stern.

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Nina and Ara

The Crane is not the only time she has recorded Armenian music. ” I fell in love with Armenian music ten years ago. Since then I have recorded two or three Armenian songs and dances on my albums” written by Stern on the back credits of The Crane CD.

The Crane features Nina on recorders and chalumeau (a single-reed folk woodwind instrument of the late baroque and early classical era), Ara Dinkjian on oud, Tamer Pinarbasi on kanun, Shane Shanahan on percussion, and Hans Bilger on bass.

The Crane is a great recording and I encourage you to listen to it. Nina, knowing the positive response she received, is potentially interested in working on another volume of Armenian music. I am looking forward to that release.

  • The Crane can be heard on Spotify as well as iTunes and Good Child Music. 
  • As a way to give back to the community and to share her knowledge of music, Stern formed S’Cool Sounds close to twenty years ago. This nonprofit organization allows the sharing of music-making to children throughout New York City. This is still a big part of her life and she loves the ability to share music in either the USA or overseas.
  • Learn more about Nina Stern on her website.

The above video features Nina Stern and Ara Dinkjian performing together in 2013.

Posted in Album Review, Armenian, armenian genocide, Middle Eastern music, music, oud | 3 Comments

Year in Review – buh-bye 2019…hello 2020!

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(August, 2019) Performed in Holland, Michigan for the first ever international folk festival they held. Great crowd and beautiful city!

As a general rule, I have never really been fond of these year end type of blog postings as they always seem to be self serving and dare I say – boring. As I grow older (I hit the big ’50’ this year!) my writings on this website have moved towards a focus on other musicians and musical stories as supposed to my own achievements. The articles have been purposeful and not just random thoughts. In the past year I wrote 15 articles and all on a variety of subjects I wanted to cover for readership. These stories have been enjoyable to write and it has allowed me to flex some of my journalistic background. (BA in Journalism over 25 years ago!)

As I reflect on this past year, here are some of the stories I was really happy to have put together:

The Exciting Sounds of the Mal Barsamian Band
The Next Generation of Armenian Musicians
Chick, The Blue Collar Musician
A Savior of Greek Music

I would like to give a shout to the Armenian Weekly for allowing me to submit two articles this past year focusing on musicians that had pending album releases.

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(October, 2019) Doug Shimmin and Mike Shimmin and I got together to play some music in Ann Arbor, MI. I miss playing with them!

Back to the recap of 2019 that I initially said doesn’t interest me (ha!). Even though that is true, I do want to thank ‘the year’ for all that it has afforded me both personally and professionally. So many great things have happened in my life this year that I am very thankful about and do not take them for granted. As a musician, I have had the opportunity to perform at some great venues and for great events..but most importantly, with some great musicians. Any performance where I can educate the audience about the music is a great win in my book. now, I am not professing to be a musical scholar nor do I go into deep history of Armenian music at my performances but I do share my experience and the audience has always reacted favorably.

As many that know me, I enjoy playing with an ensemble. Whether its a trio or larger, I feel that the added performers only enhances the experience for the listener as well as help drive me to perform better music. Sure…I could do solo music performances, and sometimes I do, but whenever you can play with a group of great musicians, it can be magical.

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(October, 2019) Performed in Chicago with friends Mark Gavoor, Leon Janikian, John Paklaian and my new friend, duduk master, Mher Mnatsakanian. 

As I prepare for 2020, those great gigs will hopefully continue into the year. You will see an increase in my social media activity but you may not see an increase in my blog postings. As I mentioned, I am going for quality, not quantity and generally it can take some time to compose some of the stories I have posted.

Finally, thank you to all that read my posts, follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I sincerely wish all of you a very happy and healthy new year for 2020. Here are some fun words to live by – don’t sweat the petty stuff and dont pet the sweaty stuff! 🙂

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