2020 – The Good and the Bad – A Year of Reinvention


2020 started with the best of intentions, but rather quickly devolved into a prolonged misery, which will be historically recalled for countless reasons, almost none of them pleasant. This isn’t the note that I wish to end the year on.

Looking back, I have had reason for thankfulness and even optimism. 2020 started and ended in ways unexpected and with challenges that forced change and renewal. Personally, it presented me with opportunities to learn and to reinvent myself; to work in new and expanded areas for new clients, and to work with past clients and friends in new ways. In these ways, it has been challenging but also rewarding.

So, here goes… This is what 2020 looked like for JDRS.

The new year got off to a quick start with small project of tidying up a sound system in a downtown Winnipeg church. I had many occasions to use it when providing tech service for a choir that rehearsed and performed there. I was noticing that it was becoming more dysfunctional with each encounter I had with it, and I suggested to a member of the parish that there was a solution that I could provide. They had the fear that it would involve a wholesale replacement of the system, which they could scarcely afford. I told them that all that they needed was to reorganize what they already had and then to provide training for their technical volunteers so that their system could retain its new-found functionality. So I spent several days testing, soldering, labelling, and generally creating order out of chaos. The system became fully functional. Then I set up a short training course for the persons who regularly performed technical duties for services and parish functions. The result was a group of people who went from dreading this task to a confident group of volunteers who understood the tools they were using.

Order from Chaos

2020 was promising to be a busy year, with several album projects in the works, one of them involving travel outside the province. March 13 put a stop to all of that with the announcement that COVID-19 was now a global pandemic. This is the “bad” in the title of this essay. All performance activity stopped immediately with the entire entertainment and music industries effectively shut off. Even almost 10 months in, at this point, things are looking dire for professionals in these industries with no immediate end in sight. Vaccinations for the virus have begun and this is offering hope, but it will take a while to bring normalcy back to the people who work in this industry.

With everything and everyone in lockdown, there was not much to do but hunker down. I chose to update my knowledge with online courses to improve my own skill with the tools that I use to do my work. I had loads of time and I tried to take advantage of every moment. I have to say that I enjoyed being able to dive into courses of how to use various editing and recording platforms and devices which I normally needed to beg and borrow time for. I even broke out the guitar every day and developed a renewed interest for playing music, too.

I wasn’t the only one looking for self-improvement and reinvention. The whole musical world looked for ways of continuing to grow and reach audiences with their art. One of these was a long-time associate, client, and friend, Karl Stobbe, who is a concert master for the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, as well as the associate concert master for the Winnipeg Symphony. He decided to reach out to an online audience but needed to learn how to record himself at home. So I lent him a spare audio interface and some guidance and he borrowed some microphones and he was off to the races. I continue to mentor and offer advice and to master the recordings he makes with equipment that he owns himself. Karl is truly impressive, considering he has learned not only to record his audio, but video as well and to edit everything, creating a concert series that you can find on Youtube.

Here is one of Karl’s offerings, a piece called Stand Still for Unaccompanied Violin by Michael Oesterle https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6A7Ovonlrk

The work faucet was completely shut off in March, but gradually a trickle started. Mainly, it was phone calls from churches asking advice on how to stream their weekly services as the lockdown prevented congregations from meeting in the usual way. Again, another opportunity for reinvention – for them – and for me. I dug into learning what I could about the topic and was able to help by advising those who called in how to get started and to help improve their presentations. I even did this in real time by monitoring online services and suggesting tweaks to the operator by phone or by text message.

It wasn’t until mid-July that I got a call that resembled work that I would normally do, to record a series for the Jazz Winnipeg Festival. Again, reinvention was the watchword. The series would be two days of recording under strict COVID lockdown protocols, with 3 bands per day and a reset in between for sanitization of equipment. The series was offered online, live to Facebook and then to YouTube. I have to say, I was a bit nervous about it after having been in isolation for four months at that point, but we took all the precautions we could and got a fun series out of it. It was also fun to be working with colleagues, Michael Wolch, the series host, Angela Heck, the executive director of Jazz Winnipeg, and videographer, Ivan Hughes. Here are some photos from the Live From The Alt series:

Check out YouTube for all the Live From the Alt series. Here’s one show we did with Sheena Rattai https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=besi6wg4Jzs

Nuit Blanche is an outdoor art festival which normally takes place at night in late September or early October, and it draws large crowds to exhibits around the city. This year, the last thing anyone wanted to do was to draw a large crowd, so it was Nuit Blanche’s turn for reinvention. In one case, an outdoor music and light presentation was told to pre-record their presentation for it to be shown online as the restrictions around large gatherings were being tightened up due to rising covid numbers. So this was a last minute change that needed to be accommodated or it would be a lost opportunity for presenter and pianist Madeline Hildebrand and a group of 5 other pianists that were to present with her. I got a call to a residential back yard where the performance was to be recorded, that more resembled a park. And the weather cooperated spectacularly, for late September in Winnipeg, so this turned out to be a very fun evening.

Here is one of the pieces we captured. This is Sensitive Spot by Kate Moore. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HQSL7odcN6k

Clearly, audio for video was becoming prevalent in the year of online concerts. I was asked to record a one hour virtual concert for the Canadian Online Jazz Festival, which featured acts from across Canada for a week at the end of October. Winnipeg’s entry was shot at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and featured Kelly Bado. We recorded the concert in the museum’s “Garden of Contemplation”, which had beautiful late afternoon light shining through the windows surrounding us.

Kelly Bado and Band

Kelly and her band did Manitoba proud with their show, which you can see here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aEsoZruP0bs

As 2020 was nearing its end, the normal spate of Christmas concerts would not be a part of the season’s celebrations this year. Instead, choirs were also reinventing themselves and ways of reaching their audiences. One Winnipeg choir, Hoosli Ukrainian Men’s Chorus, literally phoned their parts in. Each member recorded themselves on their phone and sent the files to a central choir account. From there, I downloaded their individual parts and reconstructed the audio, as did the video editor with the video. They sang two Christmas songs, one of which is still being edited to be ready in time for Ukrainian Christmas in early January 2021. The other was released for December of this year. This is the traditional Ukrainian carol “God Eternal” or “Бог Предвічний”.

Polycoro, also of Winnipeg, produced another Christmas video that I worked on. They recorded each singer in isolation and then used the mix to create an emotionally moving video that spoke to the isolation that they, and in fact, all choirs felt this year. Scott Reimer, one of Polycoro’s tenors, wrote this gorgeous arrangement of “In The Bleak Midwinter“. The video was conceived by Laina Brown.

And so, as bleak as 2020 was, in many ways it served to shake us up and forced us to find ways to reinvent and to create beauty despite the straits in which we found ourselves. I wish all of you a healthy and happy new year, and I look forward to 2021 with renewed energy and optimism for us all.

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