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—even as other sectors of the economy reopen, live concerts and classroom teaching are expected to lag behind.
This week, Grammy-nominated jazz and classical violinist, recording artist, and educator Sara Caswell—currently on faculty at the Berklee College of Music and the Manhattan School of Music—checks in from her apartment in Brooklyn, a New York City borough that in mid-April saw the nation’s highest levels of COVID-19 infections.
Tell me about your daily routine while quarantined.
Mornings are my time for mindfulness—I typically start my day with five-to-ten minutes of deep-breathing exercises and a quiet breakfast before turning on NPR for the morning news. On nice days, I’ll either go for a four-mile run or a long walk in our neighborhood before lunch. The afternoons are dedicated to music-related activities: teaching, recording, emails, and so on. Late-afternoons and evenings are reserved for practicing—my boyfriend is a musician as well, so we’ll each retreat to our practice spaces in the apartment and hunker down with our studies. Come 10 PM, we’ll pour ourselves a glass of wine, pop a bowl of popcorn, and watch a movie (63 films and counting), during which time I’ll typically cross-stitch or knit. We’ve also established a couple of weekly routines: take-out Saturdays and Sunday stress-baking.
What have you learned about yourself as a person and as a player while working and living in solitude?
As a person, I’ve learned I’m much more of a social creature than I thought. I couldn’t imagine enduring a two-month quarantine without FaceTime and Zoom. As a player, I’ve learned how essential music is in my ability to weather life’s challenges—it is central to my emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual health.
How are you staying connected with your audience/students during the quarantine?
I’ve been using Facebook and Instagram to share aspects of my daily and weekly routines, both musical and non-musical: videos of remote musical collaborations with friends, photos of my Sunday stress-baked goodies, footage of me performing solos I’ve transcribed, close-ups of completed cross-stitch projects, and so forth—a window into my quarantine life. I’ve also been using Zoom for private teaching. Though online music instruction pales in comparison to in-person, I’ve found this platform to be the best in terms of design and ease in use. My students have been amazing in their adaptation to this new way of learning—they’ve exemplified how to make the best of a less-than-ideal situation.
Why is it important to stay connected on social media?
During a time of physical isolation and distancing, finding ways to connect with friends and family is essential. It’s how we ride through rough waters, sad days, and frustrating situations. It’s how we celebrate joys, accomplishments, and milestones. More than ever, these online platforms are vital in enabling us to care for each other.
How have you selected your internet programming?
The content I’ve chosen to post is that which will hopefully bring joy and positivity into people’s lives, feelings we all need during times of anxiety and uncertainty.
What has the response been like?
People’s responses have been nothing but positive. I’ve noticed an increase in the number of folk commenting, perhaps their way of connecting in a more meaningful way than simply “liking” a photo or video.
What have you learned about your audience?
I’ve learned just how incredible my audience is—their love and support has helped ease me through what has been a challenging couple months. It is my genuine hope I’ve been able to do the same for them.
How do you rate your experience with virtual performance?
I haven’t given a live-stream concert as of yet, though I’m considering it. Having watched a number of virtual concerts, I’m inspired by the creative ways in which artists have managed to bring audiences into their living rooms. In spite of the physical separation, there is a unique connection that comes from the experience—the sense that we’re all in this together.
How will you continue going forward as a player? Will the quarantine change your path?
No one knows what the music scene will be like on the other side of this COVID shutdown: How long it will take for venues to reopen, festivals to be held, schools to resume on-campus rehearsals and performances. I therefore don’t know specifically how I’ll continue to move forward with my music. What’s certain, however, is that the journey will require flexibility, creativity, and determination. And for that, I’m ready.
Is there a message you’d like to share with our readers?
As most of the Strings readership likely knows, COVID-19 has hit the music community hard. Most of my friends have had their concert calendars wiped clean for the remainder of 2020, which has forced them to seek new revenue streams in order to keep their heads above water. To those of you who are able, please show your support for the artists you love by buying their albums, subscribing to their pages and newsletters, attending their online concerts and workshops, spreading the word about their artistry, and so on. The road to economic recovery in the arts sector will likely be lengthy and challenging, but within reach if we’re in solidarity with each other.