Ladies and gentlemen, the show is about to begin. Please leave your cell phones on full volume and unwrap the noisiest candies you have. Throw on some pajamas and pour yourself a “quarantini.”
If this is the new normal for the Outer Cape music aficionado, it’s a welcome compromise. As stay-at-home mandates and social distancing render it impossible for audiences to congregate at live performances, musicians across Cape Cod are live-streaming on the internet in order to share their talent.
In Provincetown, for example, Jon Richardson is hosting “virtual piano bars” on weeknights and Saturdays at 9 p.m. (Go to the Facebook page of Jon Richardson Music, check the schedule, and join the fun.) As viewers request songs in the comments section, Richardson, who is a veteran of the Provincetown piano bar circuit, regularly playing at Tin Pan Alley and the Crown & Anchor, engages his audience so artfully that he nearly erases the technological barrier. And though piano bars are seldom frequented by children, Richardson says he has tweaked his approach for the stay-at-home crowd.
“Piano bars are about creating community through music, and the goal of them is for everybody to sing along together,” he says. “What I am trying to do is create a similar atmosphere among people that are sheltering in place together and with their families.”
Other Cape Cod musicians streaming live on their Facebook pages include Peter Donnelly in Provincetown, Sarah Burrill in Eastham, and Sara Leketa in Hyannis. (Check online for times — virtual gigs tend to be announced fairly close to when they happen.) The Cape Cod Chamber Orchestra is hosting several streaming events on its Facebook page, including down-to-earth lectures with its conductor, Matthew Scinto, classical music-tinged games of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and a prerecorded concert of works by Joseph Haydn and Ralph Vaughan Williams.
On Martha’s Vineyard, the husband-wife duo Seán McMahon and Siren Mayhew, who perform as Workman Song, are hosting “Social Distance Sings” from their living room. (Go to Workman Song’s YouTube page, scroll down to “Uploads” at the bottom, and you’ll find a selection of live-future and past-recorded streams.) Untethered to a microphone, the pair perform with energy and enthusiasm. At touching moments, their young daughter sings along or dances with the abandon of someone truly unaware of her audience. “The dynamic you see onscreen is very much our authentic family dynamic,” McMahon and Mayhew explain via email.
It’s not only concerts that have gone virtual. The Cape Conservatory, which serves over 1,200 students of all ages, has switched over from in-person to online music lessons. Interim Director Jackie deRuyter says that despite some initial skepticism, the undeniable success of virtual lessons has inspired them to offer one-off lessons to new students. If you’ve been dying to learn the cello, now might be the perfect time. (Register at capeconservatory.org.)
While the Cape has much to offer musically, one of the pluses of streaming is that geography is less of an obstacle and we are more connected to the wider world than ever before. National Public Radio is a great way to explore; it has a comprehensive list, updated daily, of streaming concerts of every genre from around the globe. You can find it at npr.org; on the website’s home page, search for “list of live virtual concerts.” NPR also offers concerts of its own, streaming live and recorded. To sample them: on the home page, click on “Music” and, in the drop-down menu, “Live Session.”
Limited access to high-speed internet across the Cape makes these concerts and lessons inaccessible to some. There are issues for performers, too: coronavirus has sent a financial shock wave through the musical community, and though many of the musicians mentioned here use a virtual tip jar, it is challenging, if not impossible, to make streaming concerts as economically viable as live ones.
In response to this issue, American roots musician Monica Rizzio, who founded the nonprofit Vinegrass Organization (vinegrass.org), has started the Cape Cod Gig Relief Fund. The fund is intended to provide weekly relief — the equivalent of one lost gig — to musicians and audio engineers affected by the pandemic. Within hours of launching, the fund received over a dozen requests for assistance. During Rizzio’s streaming kickoff concert, “Tune In Shut Down,” on March 26, the organization raised $1,600 to add to a starting pot of $5,000. Expect more virtual concerts from Vinegrass in the coming weeks.
Many would argue that live performances possess a gravitas untranslatable when conveyed electronically. But at a time when human connection is hard to come by, virtually experiencing live concerts can offer a feeling of closeness and genuine intimacy. All from the comfort of your couch.