Last summer around this time I completed my first song cycle.
This song cycle was years in the making, first coming to my mind in 2014 when my composition teacher at the time suggested I write some songs for voice and string quartet. I decided to set love poems written by women and began scouring public domain poems on the internet, copying and pasting ones I liked into a document file. At that time, I wrote one song, wrote the melody for another, and sketched one or two others. But then I put it away.
In the fall of 2018 I decided I wanted to submit it to a song cycle competition which was for voice and piano. I reworked the first song for piano instead of string quartet, used the second melody to finish another song, and wrote four more. It was an 18-month long project. I finished the last song in June 2019 and gave it to a singer. We rehearsed and recorded in the fall, and I submitted the project to the competition in December 2019. (I didn’t win, but that is neither here nor there for this story.)
Last June, I began planning the first official concert of my own music. I originally wanted to premiere the song cycle on Valentine’s Day; they are love songs, after all, and Valentine’s Day was a Friday in 2020 – perfect! However, my husband convinced me to wait until summer when I wouldn’t have to risk canceling the concert due to snow. Plus, I also discovered that one of my closest friends who I only see every few years would be in the states then. She has an amazing voice and was willing to sing.
I chose pieces to fill out the concert program, gathered musicians I know to perform, found a venue, set a date for July, and was about to put down a deposit. Who would have thought that we would have no snow during February 2020 and something much worse than a snowstorm was heading our way? In March, Covid-19 hit and canceled everything.
As much as I have missed attending rehearsals and performing in concerts, having my own project and premiere put on hold indefinitely is a far greater disappointment.
A month or so ago I learned that New England Conservatory and Harvard University were closing their big auditoriums, Jordan Hall and Sanders Theater, respectively, to outside groups during the 2020/2021 school year. My first reaction was to ask, “What are all those groups going to do?” These halls are constantly being used, multiple times a day, just about every day of the year, by the school ensembles as well as outside ensembles that rent the spaces for performances. Performance spaces that can fit a sizeable group and a sizeable audience are hard to find. Performance spaces are difficult to get even for smaller ensembles. Many smaller community performance spaces, like churches and especially libraries, lack good pianos or have restrictions such as disallowing tickets to be sold.
I didn’t think that I’d face the same problem in my small town where concert venues are used relatively infrequently. When I learned that the governor of Rhode Island was going to begin allowing concert venues to have audiences equal to 66% of the capacity starting in July, I was hopeful. Maybe I could have this summer concert after all! I only have seven performers, including myself, and a maximum of four would perform at any one time, so social distancing wouldn’t be a problem. I never expected an enormous crowd, anyway. The audience could easily stay within the 66% of capacity limit, and I plan to live stream as well. So I reached out to the venue to ask if I could reserve a date. I expected to hear a “yes.” I figured an organization with a hall like that sitting empty all this time could use some money. I figured that musicians all over would be eager for some live music, and my little concert would be a baby step in that direction.
Instead, I learned that they are not renting the hall for the remainder of 2020 and possibly longer. The secretary said, “I am so sorry we cannot host your concert.” I appreciate her sentiment, but she has no idea.