As told to Greg Cahill
Keep Connected chronicles the ways in which string players and organizations are supporting and keeping in touch with their audiences or students throughout the global coronavirus pandemic. Even as society reopens, virtual concerts and social-media outreach programs are a phenomenon that have kept performers in the public sphere, since concert, festivals and other large gatherings remain largely forbidden.
One string player meeting the challenges is Alisa Rose. This violinist and composer is former member of Quartet San Francisco and the Real Vocal String Quartet—with whom she served as an ambassador of the U.S. State Department—and she has performed at Carnegie Hall, NPR’s Weekend Edition, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and Song of the Mountains on PBS-TV. As a composer, she uses American folk techniques in conjunction with classical forms. This style can be heard on her album of cross-genre virtuoso works for solo violin titled Fiddle Caprices and Pizzicato Pieces. Other recent compositions, such as “Nocturne for America” for the RossoRose Duo, and “Six Solo Cello Suites for Wilmington,” written with Swift Rose, tell stories of our time. Rose teaches privately as well as at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Her latest album, Curios, pairs Rose with mandolinist Tristan Scroggins. She quarantined at home in Oakland, California.
Tell me about your daily routine.
My daily routine involves walking, practicing, or composing, teaching Zoom violin lessons, doing business related emails and work on the computer, and cooking. During the quarantine, I’ve also dabbled at neighborhood bird watching, water coloring, and practicing claw-hammer banjo.
What have you learned about yourself as a person and as a player while working and living in solitude?
I’ve learned how much I draw inspiration from connection. The connection with musicians and audiences is what brings meaning to practicing, rehearsing, composing, and to the music itself. It’s been really hard not to be able to play music with or for people, except online.
How are you staying connected with your audience and/or students?
I performed on Classical Revolution’s Livestream Music Festival and also have been presenting online CD release shows with my duo Scroggins & Rose through Groupmuse and Trinity Alps Chamber Music Festival. My duo-mate, mandolinist Tristan Scroggins, is based in Nashville. While it is impossible for us to perform together, we are presenting a program we’re proud of, featuring solo performances from both of us, and split screen videos we’ve created in quarantine for our album Curios.
During the quarantine, it has been great to maintain the connection with my students through regular Zoom lessons. To build a sense of community, I also started having Zoom studio classes, at which my students perform for each other. Studio class has been a silver lining of teaching during the quarantine, as it is inspiring and motivating for students to hear each other. I was able to have two wonderful guest master classes through Zoom studio class with Baroque violinist Alyssa Wright, and my fabulous former teacher from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Bettina Mussumeli, who is now at University of Miami.
How have you selected your internet programming?
My program includes solo repertoire that blends classical music with other genres. In the program is Piazzolla’s “Tango Étude No. 3,” originally for flute, a very rhythmic and expressive piece incorporating tango style. I’ve also been performing the first movement, “Plain Blues,” of Blues Forms, which integrates the blues in a wonderful, dramatic, violinistic way, by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson. Also on the programs are a selection of virtuosic caprices I wrote that blend American folk-music techniques into concert pieces: “Fiddle Caprice,” which uses fiddle bowings; “Percussion Caprice,” which explores chops and other fiddle percussion; and “Pizz. Piece No. 1,” which employs varied pizz techniques.
What is the response like?
The response has been positive! While it is hard to feel the response during an online performance, I’ve enjoyed connecting with audience members through Zoom after concerts.
Why is it important to stay connected on social media?
At the beginning of the quarantine, I did Tristan Scroggins’ #quarantuneschallenge to write—and share on Instagram—30 tunes based on prompts in 30 days. I didn’t make it through the whole thing, but I wrote about 18 tunes that you can see on my Instagram feed @arosefiddle. It was a fascinating challenge that forced me to follow my first instinct for a tune, and not get too ensnarled in over-editing. I’m also delighted that it has been a way to build my audience online, including reaching many folks who it is unlikely I would have the opportunity to meet in person.
What have you learned about your audience?
Audiences on Instagram seem to respond especially to extremely rhythmic tunes, or pieces with a clear character and emotional intent.
How do you rate your experience with virtual performance?
I am grateful to get to perform, however, I really miss creating sound with other musicians and being in the same room as an audience. Sound waves are physical, and I feel virtual music performances are not an equivalent substitute for live ones.
Is this something you will continue even as venues reopen?
When venues reopen, I don’t foresee performing at too many shows that are exclusively online, but I will continue to try to reach new audiences through Instagram, Facebook, and live-stream shows that are taking place in person. It’s really wonderful that technology allows us to connect to listeners all around the world and I hope to continue to do that!
Any tips for other string players considering this path?
It’s worthwhile to invest in an external microphone to use for online performances!
What are your goals going forward as performance venues reopen?
I can’t wait to play music for and with people again! I’m worried about the venues in the Bay Area surviving, but I look forward to performing for people in whatever spaces are possible post-pandemic—living rooms and concert halls alike.
How will you continue going forward as a player? Will the quarantine or limitations of the virus change your path?
Until 2021, I will primarily focus on teaching and composing. I hope to self-publish my sheet music and continue to work on connecting with new audiences online.
What other projects are you working on?
I recently received the San Francisco Individual Artist Commission Grant, which will allow me to write and premiere a concerto with the Bay Area Rainbow Symphony based on interviews with members of Bluegrass Pride. Bluegrass Pride is a wonderful new organization dedicated to making bluegrass welcoming for everyone. I’m very grateful to be embarking on a composition project in a time in which I cannot perform with others. As a composer, I strive to tell personal stories and give voice to those who are not always heard through music. I believe music helps audiences experience the emotion within a story and the interconnectedness of human experience.
Is there a message you’d like to share with our readers?
While this is a very hard time to be a musician, I believe music is more important now than ever.