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 quarantine.
This week, Strings connected with Russian-born violinist Nataly Merezhuk. She spent her childhood listening to her grand-parents recount their experiences of living in the 1950s Soviet Union. Merezhuk was fascinated by tales of jazz bootlegs at a time when Western media was illegal in the USSR. Merezhuk embraced the role of the violin in jazz following her classical training at both the Moscow and Peabody conservatories. She now combines her fresh improvisatory style with jazz music from the ’50s to create her own unique sound. Merezhuk is sheltering in place at her home in Baltimore, a row house she shares with three roommates. She has hosted a Live from the Living Room session for the Music Center at Strathmore, and is using several other websites to jam with other musicians.
Tell us about your daily routine while quarantined.
I have significantly adjusted my routine. I used to be out of the house all the time playing gigs or teaching. Now, I start the day by cooking a healthy breakfast, most likely a New York Times recipe. Then I start practicing. I make an effort to call a family member or a friend every day to check in and stay connected—usually I combine this with a walk in the nearby park. It really helps me to switch my attention between different tasks, and I read, knit, or chip away at an online course in between practicing music.
What have you learned about yourself as a person and as a player while working and living in solitude?
I have learned that the violin and music, in general, are a bigger part of my life and identity than I ever realized. Working in solitude is something that I’ve been trying to move away from for many years by finding a community. Adjusting to the new way of things has been a slow and difficult mind shift.
How are you staying connected with your audience during the quarantine?
I have been staying connected through live-streams and video recordings. I am working on making use of real-time jamming sites such as Jamkazaam, Artsmesh, and Sofasessions, but we shall see how that works out!
Why is it important to stay connected on social media?
I believe staying connected on social media can give all of us hope for the future.
How have you selected your internet programming?
I have been looking at repertoire selection from several different angles, particularly as a classical musician and as a jazz musician. Classical violin repertoire is quite straightforward, the jazz repertoire has required more work in terms of composing and recording backing tracks and making sure everything is in sync and works well.
What is the response like?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive on the solo-violin front. The backing tracks still require some tweaking and I have received some constructive feedback on those. I am new to mixing and mastering tracks, so I am learning a whole lot!
What have you learned about your audience as a result?
I knew this already, but the live-streaming experiences have confirmed that they are amazing, kind, and supportive people that enjoy listening to the music I produce.
How do you rate your experience with virtual performance?
Positive overall, though it is quite different performing when you don’t see the reaction of the audience. That is something I’m still adjusting to.
Any tips for other string players considering this path?
Make sure you’ve tested your whole setup before live-streaming—that’s the main one! And have an assistant available who can interact with the audience and let you know if something is not working.
How will you continue going forward as a player? Will the quarantine change your path?
I will continue practicing, I will continue learning. Those are the only constants I see at this point. I hope that in a year or two a live-performance career will be viable once again, but until that happens I plan to learn as much about the digital world as possible.
Is there a message you’d like to share with our readers?
We will get through this! Stay safe and stay healthy!
Watch Nataly Merezhuk perform “The Quarantine Special” and other original tunes.