As told to Greg Cahill
Keep Connected chronicles the ways in which string players are staying in touch with their audience or students during the global coronavirus pandemic and its lingering impact on live concerts and classroom education. Even as society struggles to reopen, virtual performances and social media outreach programs have kept performers in the public sphere, since concerts, festivals, and other large gatherings remain largely unsafe.
Strings spoke to Baroque violinist Augusta McKay Lodge, who recently released Corelli’s Band: Violin Sonatas of Carbonelli, Corelli, Mossi (Naxos). The album features rare works by composers affiliated with Corelli and a world premiere recording. Lodge was quarantined in Paris from March until May, when there was limited concert activity. “In June, I performed a couple of Vivaldi concertos with Les Arts Florissants at William Christie’s festival Dans Les Jardins de William Christie,” she says. “It was one of my first opportunities to make music again with all my wonderful friends and colleagues after the shutdown—an emotional moment!” However, in late October, French President Emmanuel Macron imposed a new four-week national lockdown to combat a fall surge in coronavirus cases.
Tell me about your daily routine while quarantined.
One week before the coronavirus shutdown hit the world, I was in New York, giving the final performance at Lincoln Center before it closed. During that time, I was lucky enough to record two movements of Bach at Skillman Music. Just after the sessions, I grabbed a flight to Paris to return home before the shutdown. At first, I threw myself into a frenzy of activity during quarantine, as I was not sure what to do with the free time. I worked closely with Voices of Music, a West Coast based orchestra [and winner of the 2020 San Francisco Classical Voice Audience Choice Awards for Best Instrumental Performance], in creating high definition 4k video content from home. I basically set up a recording studio in my tiny apartment bedroom complete with LED lights, microphone, tripod, black backdrop curtain, and so on.
I would spend the morning practicing, the afternoon recording, and then, from about 6 PM to midnight, I would transfer everything to the computer and edit in Adobe Premiere Pro. I had to learn how to do all of this from scratch—it was not easy! Voices of Music patiently walked me through the process and answered all my questions. My days were completely consumed with this project—it was so much fun. And now I know so much more about recording.
After a couple of months, I began to relax into the quarantine free time. I was, of course, watching a Netflix series with my boyfriend, and also taking daily French language lessons.
What have you learned about yourself as a person and as a player while working and living in solitude?
I learned that I love being home and having time to myself, time with my partner, time to call my family, and that I also greatly missed being on the road touring and playing music with my friends. I think that going forward, finding the balance between these two things will be very important to me.
What are you thoughts about how the pandemic will change the string world in the future?
It has been very difficult for all of us musicians and artists not to be able to share our passion in the traditional sense. I was lucky to be able to perform in the summer, and even in concert halls! But every day is uncertain and I am aware that many of my friends and colleagues are not so lucky. This is hard, to have this ripped away from us. But I believe we are resilient and we are savvy, and we are discovering every outlet possible to continue our work. Whether it is in creating video content, or livestream internet performances, or Zoom events, either way this pandemic has only increased our and our audience’s thirst for music and for art. I am confident that we will continue to perform no matter what.
How are you staying connected with your students?
Using Zoom I continue to teach my private students. Recently, I gave a performance talk for the Hawaii Youth Symphony, and a master class on Baroque improvisation at Rowen University [in New Jersey]. With my students, I find that it’s necessary to exchange short videos outside of the Zoom lesson, in order to hear the full sound quality and to express practice tips. I keep up-to-date with my audience on social media, and I am also a big proponent of taking the time to email or call your audience, students, and/or supporters just to talk and catch up. It’s important that we all stay connected.
I think everyone is different, and social media is either your thing or it isn’t. Personally, I love it, because it helps me to stay connected with the music community even during a global shutdown. It has also been a great way to see what content is available. During the quarantine, I have listened to many online concerts given by my friends and colleagues, and social media was a great way to discover what was out there!
What have you learned about your audience in this difficult time?
That they are as involved as ever, and want to hear music. I am so grateful to our audiences for being there, for being supportive, and for being patient. We are all in this together.
How do you rate your experience with virtual performance?
I was surprised how nervous I was for my first livestream concert, which I gave on the Violin Channel. It definitely comes with a whole new set of challenges. But at the end of the day, it’s a great way to continue to perform and share our music. I’ve experimented with live streaming and with pre-recorded material, and I think either option is fine.
Is this something you will continue even as venues reopen?
I think so, yes. Ultimately, it’s still a great feeling to put on a concert, no matter what the format or venue. I’ve enjoyed the times there were Zoom events afterwards to speak with the audience—I love doing Q&A type things, and even if we can’t be all together in person, it’s still nice to connect over the music and speak about it.
Any tips for other string players considering this path?
Make sure you have a good mic—it makes a huge difference. I use a Shure MV88+ that Voices of Music recommended. Having good lighting can’t hurt either. And if you can, lock your exposure and focus. It’s these little details that really help provide a more polished performance in this digital world. After that, try to forget about the technology and just play your heart out like you would normally!
What other projects are you working on?
I’ve been participating in online streaming concerts, such as for the Violin Channel and Recital Stream, and creating performance videos with my friends and colleagues. My sister, Georgina McKay Lodge, who is a violinist and violist, and I perform together via video. And we created a poetry and music initiative, the latest result [featured above] combining Bach and Ursula Le Guin.
Is there a message you’d like to share with our readers?
Stay positive, stay healthy, stay inquisitive! Let’s continue to grow together, and to shape the future of music.