Last Friday I curated a Tiny Dorm Concert for San Francisco Conservatory of Music. While I had been looking forward to my only performance opportunity for weeks, I didn’t realize how heartening and healing it would be to work with my friends and musical heroes. As cellist Christine Lee said after the concert was over, “This was the most social thing I’ve done in weeks!”
We (performers, recording engineers, and concert emcee and mastermind Aubrey Bergauer) congregated for a Zoom dress rehearsal on the afternoon of our concert day. It was such a relief to have professionals to hold our hands through this very new medium of a livestream concert: Jason O’Connell and Kelley Coyne patiently walked us through how to get the best sound out of whatever mics we had. Aubrey, who is a hero in the classical music world for her visionary administrative leadership at the California Symphony, led us through the concert’s structure. I was struck by her perfect blend of poise and accessibility- the admirable ability to engage the audience while still maintaining the refined quality of classical music performance.
Something very special happened, however, as we each took our turn playing in rehearsal: we connected. Our gratitude for each other’s beautiful playing began gushing out in the chat, with comments like “wow, you sound amazing!” Or “I can’t wait to hear this performed” or, as is my normal response to Pei-Ling Lin’s playing, “ahhhh you melted my face!!!”
This connection and mutual support only increased as we waited in our “virtual green room” as Dana Fonteneau dubbed it. As a professional performance coach and therapist (and former concert cellist), Dana somehow knew exactly what messages would help us play our best. She said, “This is like the best family reunion”, making us realize that while it felt sterile to play alone in a room to a camera, we were all there to bask in each other’s glory.
Many performers and speakers will talk about “feeling” their audience- we know when an audience is engaged in our performance. This is usually impossible while streaming- it’s a one-way communication to people’s screens. But since we were all video conferencing into zoom for the entirety of the performance, I could see my friends and colleagues in their little windows while I played.
In a normal situation, it might have made me extremely nervous to see Liz Dorman and Jean-Michel Fonteneau and Pei-Ling watching me play. Somehow, this feeling of camaraderie and teamwork neutralized that anxiety. We were all doing a new, scary form of performance and we wanted the same thing: to put on a great show.
And it was a great show! I was surprised by the number of times I got chills while listening to the concert. Even though I wasn’t in the room with the other performers, they were able to project the emotional impact of their music through screens and cyberspace.
According to the YouTube live comment section, the audience was feeling it too. I wish I thought to copy/paste the comments because some of them were amazingly positive responses. One of my favorite moments was when the comment section exploded during Pei-Ling Lin’s performance about her awesome bookshelf. I mean just look how cool it is!
This experience reminded me not only why I love performing, but why I love playing with other people. First of all, because music generally sounds better when more than one player is involved, as we heard in Sam Weiser and Shaina Evoniuk’s performances with electronics. I also never realized how much I depended on rehearsals and concerts for social interaction until they were all indefinitely postponed. Having the opportunity to work with all these wonderful people was so joyful and healing.
I can’t wait to play in the next one. Currently, I’m working with former classmates from Yale School of Music to put on a Yale Alum-themed livestream later this month. I couldn’t be more excited to see (over zoom) and work with Felice Doynov, Florrie Marshall and Jon Salamon again after two years (!!) since moving from New Haven. Stay tuned! Hehe.
Here’s the playback of the live performance!