By Jack Van Zandt, 1 May 2020
Like everyone else in most of the world, we remain under a mandatory social isolation lockdown here in LA as in all of California. It has been quite surreal with nearly empty freeways during rush hours, fewer planes in the sky heading for LAX and infrequent street traffic. On the other hand, many people are out walking for exercise and the sound of children playing at home has become common. The air is noticeably clearer and you can hear the sounds of nature, which LA is full of. Mountain lions, bears, deer, coyotes, raccoons, skunks, possums, birds of all kinds, and reptiles are often seen and heard in urban areas as well as the surrounding mountains and hills, now more so than ever. Not at all like the LA of two months ago.
For composers, social isolation and days on end working at home are pretty much standard operating procedure, so the situation is not that different for us now. But, like everyone else, many of us who depend on teaching gigs and masterclasses, performance royalties, TV and film production work and new commissions for livelihoods are finding ourselves without any of our usual income. Here in California, self employed workers and musicians can apply for unemployment benefit payments which can be backdated to the beginning of February. And we will be getting federal income subsidy payments, though these are only trickling out. So there is some financial assistance coming our way in the near future that will hopefully allow us to eke by for as long as necessary.
Even with all this, luckily I have been busier than ever with new projects. We musicians locked down in our homes are looking for new ways to get our work out to an audience locked down in their homes, and many composers are forming new partnerships and collaborations with performers and other composers all over the world. There are fundamental changes in progress that will alter how we practice our art for now and in the future. The live concert hall experience may not die completely, but I think it is going to largely be replaced by other modes of performance that rely on technology and our ability to make music across all boundaries of physical space and time. This in turn will alter the way we create as we will now be thinking of making music that can be presented in streaming formats and the like, and that can be made through cooperation with others remotely. I sincerely believe that we were already heading in this direction in the arts, especially music. I am now involved in several interesting projects that probably would not have happened before the pandemic, or would have been created on a completely different basis.
For instance, I am working on a major multi-piece project with my friend, composer and flutist Jane Rigler and Irish traditional (sean-nós) singer Máire Ní Chéileachair to create a set of multimedia electroacoustic works with voices, flutes and electronic instruments, all with computer processing. We are hampered by neither time nor space nor social isolation, passing ideas and audio files back and forth across The Pond in seconds. Jane, an American, was in Cork, Ireland this academic year on a Fulbright teaching fellowship when the pandemic came and is hunkered down there and Máire is a Cork native. Ireland is my second home and where my heart lies. Our collaborative compositions use a traditional Irish song as a centerpiece and inspiration to tell a story of Irish history and culture. The first of these Siúil a rún that tells the story of the Jacobite Wars in Ireland and the aftermath, known as the “Flight of the Wild Geese,” can be streamed here:
I am also receiving numerous requests for solo and duo pieces that can be recorded remotely by performers for online distribution, and have been making many arrangements and composing some new works for this purpose. This process is working out perfectly with my efforts to prepare my back catalogue of 45 years for publication by Composers Edition. One such project is one of many I am doing with members of the UK based Villiers Quartet. I have arranged a set of duo pieces for violinist Tamaki Higashi and violist Carmen Flores, for their ongoing project of recording their parts for select pieces remotely and sharing the results on You Tube. My multi-movement work Ceól na hÉireann (“Music of Ireland”), inspired by Irish traditional music, is available from Composers Edition in the version for violin and viola.
In the coming month, versions of Ceól na hÉireann for viola and cello, and for violin and cello will be published by Composers Edition. My string solo piece Ukiyo-e: Four Pictures from Japan will be published in three versions for violin, viola and cello. My set of etudes for viola Stoicheia already available from Composers Edition, will be published in versions for violin and cello. And finally, my El Oro de los Tigres with texts by Jorge Luis Borges for soprano, clarinet, harp and cello will be released during May. This miniature song cycle was to receive its North American premiere at this year’s Hear Now Festival of LA Composers on May 2, but has been postponed until the 2021 festival because of the pandemic.
While new models of performance have yet to be standardized, we must rise to the times and continue to create art for our fellow citizens of the world no matter what. We all need entertainment and enlightenment more than ever in these days of great uncertainty. Many look to us for inspiration as we look for the same in others. We composers and performers must keep working and making our art available for the worldwide public, many of whom are also out of work and hurting financially. In addition, those essential healthcare professionals and workers in the supply chain that brings us food from farm to grocery are continuing to perform their jobs responsibly at great risk, and we have to continue to do our work out of respect for them if nothing else. We must do what we can do for each other. No matter how and when this pandemic comes to an official end, and it will come to an end, we will all be in a different place having had a unique learning experience that will inform human culture in the future and change it forever. I urge all my musician colleagues to join me in channeling purely positive energy into creating and displaying our art and let’s work together as a community to help make our new world a better place for everyone.
Everyone, wherever you are in the world, please stay well and safe!
Composers Edition is proud to publish a range of works by Jack Van Zandt including several sets of songs and chamber works with an without electronics.