Presenting Programs During a Pandemic
By Brian Dallow
MFAS Executive Director
Along with the rest of the country, New Jersey was closed down for COVID-19 in mid-March of 2020. By the middle of March all programs were brought to a close. This presented us with a series of challenges. The residents of facilities where we performed on a regular basis were suddenly without our programs. Our musicians, dependent upon performing, were suddenly without income. The first challenge was to figure out ways in which our programs could still be delivered to our facilities without endangering either facility residents or our musicians. The second challenge was to apply for a PPP loan/grant in order to continue operations through the summer.
After much discussion with our musicians and with the highly cooperative staff of our facilities, creative solutions were found. Our musicians recorded extremely positive and interactive videos for us to distribute among the various facilities. It is a tribute to the quality of our musicians that these programs have become extremely popular with the residents and much in demand. Our thanks to all our musicians who spent a great deal of time and creative energy producing these videos, which took a great deal more time to produce than the regular programs.
In addition, two facilities, one in New York and one in New Jersey, had situations where it was possible for the musicians to perform in open courtyards and the residents to listen and interact with the musicians through their windows overlooking these spaces. A facility staff member in New York wrote the following: “The approximate 100 families at our facility enjoyed the fantastic mix of melodies on accordion and trumpet. The 200 – 250 people on-site took in the three sets and gave feedback by clapping from their windows. The weather was perfect, and staff and residents alike were smiling from ear to ear thanks to the live music.”
We were also able to do a few programs for seniors in parking lots, with the attendees listing from their cars, or seated on lawn chairs, wearing masks, and at least ten feet away from others.
The musicians selected for our programs are the primary factor for the project’s success. Music For All Seasons performers are professionals who represent a broad variety of musical styles. They are graduates of major conservatories, selected on the basis of their performing ability and their ease in relating to those in institutional settings. MFAS musicians perform in many different genres including: classical chamber music; vocal music from classical to jazz and Broadway; jazz ensembles; popular; rhythm & blues; rock; ethnic music of various regions including Andean music and African dance, voice and percussion. Each series is designed for its intended audience and features from one to three musicians.
The Voices of Valor program, songwriting for veterans, is dependent upon a different kind of interaction between the participants and the musician/facilitators – the participants bring notebooks filled with their experiences during the week and share these with all present. These experiences are discussed and the facilitators assist them in turning their notes into a group song. When COVID-19 hit, a unique kind of program had to be developed. Initially we tried a combination of Zoom and in-person, with in-person participants in the parking lot of a diner, all wearing masks and socially distancing. Those on the Zoom side of the call felt somewhat separated from the rest of the participants. A decision was made to keep all of the program “in-person” in the parking lot of the diner. While this had its challenges, it proved to be the most successful resolution. Everyone stayed healthy throughout the process.
The success can be seen in an article written in the Philadelphia Inquirer at http://inquirer.com/life/female-veterans-camden-church-voices-of-valor-philly-recording-studio-20200814.html