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 restricted.
Strings caught up with Israeli-American cellist, conductor, and pedagogue Amit Peled at his home in Baltimore, Maryland. Peled, who teaches at the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University and serves as the music director of CityMusic Cleveland, found that the stay-at-home orders provided new opportunities as an educator.
Tell me about your daily routine.
Since my children don’t have camps this summer, I took the responsibility of coaching them in my favorite sport: basketball. I start the day at 6 AM with two hours of [cello] practice, breakfast with the family, then two to three hours of basketball practice. During the second part of the day, I practice more, study scores, and give lessons and performances online.
What have you learned about yourself as a person and as a player/teacher while working and living in solitude?
My life before the coronavirus was much too hectic. I hope that post-corona I will learn to pace myself much better, which means more time at home, learning the meaning of the word “no,” and basically to slow down everything so that I can appreciate the journey and not just the destination.
How are you staying connected with your audience and/or students?
I established an Online Cello Academy that I ran the first time in May with 22 participants from all over the world. I will hold a second session in August, since we had so many interested applicants. In fact, the quarantine has opened many virtual doors connecting me with students that normally wouldn’t have the possibility to play for me. Moreover, through social media, I have been enjoying producing videos and talks on a weekly basis. Many more people from places in which I have never played pre-virus have started following me, enjoying the videos that I have been making. I have established four locations in the house that fulfill my artistic desires: my basement, where I can peacefully practice my scales without embarrassing myself in front of my family and the world; our music room, which became sort of a technological studio with a big TV screen and my computer with an external microphone for Zoom; our garage, which we turned into a cool performing space that I use for all the live streaming performances (we found that the acoustics there are quite beautiful); and, lastly, our front yard, which became a popular weekend gathering place for the neighbors (socially distanced, of course) with an iPhone and a mic for my social-media followers.
How have you selected your internet programming and lessons?
Even though Zoom does not have good sound for live classical music, I find it to be the best platform for lessons and master classes. However, for live streaming, I use Facebook and YouTube Live.
What is the response like?
The response is surprisingly positive. I believe that people crave music and human interaction and at this moment in time, the best way to fill this need is via social media. I believe that live performances on social media are much better than the prerecorded ones, because the people do want to feel that you are playing for them even though there is a screen separating us.
Why is it important to stay connected on social media?
It is not as much a matter of importance as it is a matter of a musician’s nature to want to share our art.
What have you learned about your audience and students?
Both sides, the performers and the audience and the students, are very flexible with the new situation, since the lockdown came to everyone as a huge surprise. We all have the urge to continue doing what we love.
How do you rate your experience with virtual performance and education?
I wouldn’t say that it is worse, but it is very different. My work with the students is magnified by more technical work and actually many of them are progressing at a much faster pace than before!
Is this something you will continue even as venues and schools reopen?
I will definitely continue to hold virtual sessions. For instance, keeping in touch with my Peabody class during the summer was always a challenge pre-corona, since I was traveling so much, and they were at so many festivals. Now, we have a weekly Zoom meeting that we call Cello-Gym and we progress with the First Hour scale method in a much faster pace than during the year!
What are your goals going forward?
My goals are to find ways to take the good aspects from both periods and to make it a new reality that will benefit from those eras.
Any tips for other string players considering this path?
Considering is not the right word, because we are forced to create now! Some of the current changes will stay and some will not. I believe we should all embrace the situation as an opportunity and not just miss the old days. Acknowledging it faster will bring one’s artistic freedom back earlier.
What projects are you working on?
I have just released a CD with the Aviv Quartet with Schubert Cello Quintet on the Naxos label that was a dream come true. I recorded a video with my sister’s art in her Baltimore Studio, established the Online Cello Academy, and am looking forward to conducting the Mount Vernon Virtuosi.
Is there a message you’d like to share with our readers?
Music has sustained so many ups and downs through history and has been proven to be bigger than us! I am sure that this period will pass as well and that we musicians will always find a way to keep making live music and will always find people that will listen to it!