Creating Beauty in a Pandemic

July 9, 2020

COVID-19 has presented innumerable challenges to the world; every continent, every country, every economic background, every age group. Social distancing has become a matter of survival, as individuals and as members of the society we inhabit. I am certainly not revealing anything to you here as you are probably thinking, “No kidding, Captain Obvious”. We all have become acutely aware of what our “new normal” is, even as we hope that this condition is short-lived and not permanent. We are all learning to find our way through this.

Joe and Karl when social distancing was not yet a “thing”.

The pandemic lockdown had an immediate and devestating effect on the musical community. Music making, particularly by orchestras, bands, and choirs, is a communal endeavour. These were now forbidden. Orchestras, choirs, theatres, were, and are, unable to even rehearse, much less perform before audiences. Program seasons of the arts community fell like dominos and with them, the organizations themselves. Lay-offs were issued. Stages went dark.

Something remarkable began to happen. The arts community is, by definition, a creative one and creative solutions began to spring up almost overnight. The internet lit up with “made-at-home” projects and collaborations that gave outlet to those creatives who made a living from creation.

It was very soon after the lockdown began that I received a call from Karl Stobbe, associate concertmaster for the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and concertmaster for the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra. Karl and I have a decades-long professional association which stems back to the days when I would be on the crew recording the WSO and MCO for CBC Radio, and more recently, recording albums that featured Karl in a solo role and a duet role with Gwen Hoebig, WSO’s concertmaster.

Karl had an idea for an online series of his own. He wanted to present a series of Bach Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin and wanted to know if I could help. Of course, I agreed without hesitation and loaned him a piece of equipment to help him get started and supported him with some advice along the way. Over the course of the next weeks of lockdown, he not only learned the music spectacularly well, which is a feat unto itself, but he coped with the technicalities of audio and video recording and editing. I believe that he acquitted himself quite well on all fronts.

He finished the Bach series which you can find here on his website, He was obviously on a roll so he presented another piece for solo violin by Michael Oesterle, called Stand Still, which I mastered for him.

We will eventually find our way out of the “new normal” when musicians and singers can make music and art together again. But for now, this may be the start of a whole new paradigm for musicians and recording engineers alike.

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