Notes from the Quarantine: High Plains Classical Music Community Checks In

May 1, 2020

Learn how our classical community has been doing during lockdown.

Today, High Plains Public Radio presents a special edition of Sinfonia to celebrate the regional talent tucked in among the flatland prairies of our region. To accompany this showcase, we thought we’d check in with the artists being featured on today’s program, including representatives from  Chamber Music AmarilloAmarillo Master ChoraleHarrington String Quartet, and the Amarillo Symphony 

So if you’re wondering what’s been going on with our classical music community during the pandemic lockdown, here’s the scoop!

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Describe how you’re social distancing right now (e.g., are you working exclusively from home vs. going offsite, etc.). 

David Palmer—Artistic Director, Chamber Music Amarillo: Working both from home and at the Fibonacci Space.  Our Operations Manager and I alternate our time at the Fibonacci Space

Reagan Wilcox—Marketing Director, The Amarillo Symphony: Our staff has been working from home and only going into the office to check phone messages and a few other tasks that require people to be in the office for short periods of time. Our offices are closed to the public.  Obviously, all of our concerts and educational programming have either been postponed or cancelled, but we are continuing to engage in different ways. For our students in Youth Orchestra, our education team has made content that we shared with them digitally. We wanted to be sure that music remains in their daily or weekly routine.  Our musicians were asked to participate in our social media campaign by recording themselves playing their instrument at home or anywhere else they could respect social distancing. We then posted the videos on our Facebook and Instagram pages. We have also made parts of old concerts available on our social media pages.  As the guidelines ease, we have plans to perhaps make very small musical groups and have them play pieces under the direction of our music conductor. Details are still being worked out— and, of course, it will depend on if we can gather with a few other people and where we could make that happen because the Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts is currently closed due to the City of Amarillo regulations.

Nathan Fryml, Director of Choral Activities at Amarillo College/Artistic Director of the Amarillo Master Chorale: Working entirely from home, having transitioned all of my Amarillo College classes to online format and working on a variety of virtual ensemble performance projects. Rehearsals of the Amarillo Master Chorale remain suspended, but we continue to engage in a weekly email exchange kicked off each Monday night (our normal rehearsal time) and are making preparations for our own virtual recording project.

Evgeny Zvonnikov, Second violinist of Harrington String Quartet: I am working from home, reaching out online. I had a couple seminars for middle schools and high schools through Zoom. I did a couple Facebook Live videos where I discuss violin technique. 

Vesselin Todorov, Harrington Lecturer of Viola and Chamber Music/Violist of the Harrington String Quartet/WTAMU School of Music:  I am working entirely from home now. That is, teaching classes and viola lessons online. It is challenging, but it is very possible and I already got the hang of it. It also makes me very hopeful: that it isn't all lost, and that in times like these there are solutions to keep the school going. I feel privileged that I can still do what I do. Unfortunately, we had to postpone our last concert of the season with the Harrington String Quartet due to these horrific circumstances. I miss my colleagues from the quartet very much. I can't wait for this nightmare to be over so we can get back together.

Dr. Rossitza Goza, Harrington Lecturer at WTAMU School of Music / First violinist of the Harrington String Quartet / Concertmaster of the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra: I am staying home, practicing as usual and teaching through a computer screen. Giving music lessons online was one of those things I hoped never to have to do. Luckily, when pressed to deliver, one always finds a way. I just met with my students via Zoom for the last studio class of the semester, and we were even able to have guests: the incoming freshmen attended, and also former students joined the class, which under normal circumstances would have been unlikely, if not impossible. Teaching someone to play a musical instrument is a very old art and this new format, which we had to try because of the pandemic, seems to freshen up the traditional fare. 

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-What artists and/or composers have you been listening to as you self-isolate? 

David Palmer (CMA): Duran Duran and Kacey Musgraves

Reagan Wilcox (TAS): I have really enjoyed the creative ways that other institutions have figured out to bring us music and art. We have all kinds of music playing in my house, but I have really enjoyed the new way that music is being produced and shared like seeing musicians in their homes, unplugged or symphonies being brought together digitally.

Nathan Fryml (AMC): As part of the weekly email I send out to the ensemble, I try to include links to (and brief commentary on) musical  gems I’ve run across over the years. We’ve heard some Faure, Stravinsky, Ravel, and an art song I wrote a few years back. We’ve also enjoyed exploring the “Inspire Amarillo” entries together. We’re surrounded by so much local talent, it’s incredible. 

Evgeny Zvonnikov (HSQ): I am listening Metropolitan Opera Free Broadcast, different performances of the London Symphony, New York Phil, etc. 

Vesselin Todorov (HSQ): The one amazing thing about this pandemic is that all artists worldwide are making themselves widely available to the public via social media in most creative ways and people can see all that for FREE. I am not specifically focusing on who or what I listen to. I try to see everything and everybody. I try to put as many "likes" and "loves" on Facebook as I can to support these people. There are amazing performances we can see online now: The Met, virtual orchestra rooms, Best-of-the-Best performances of world famous groups, musicians, actors and dancers performing from their homes, etc. My advice to all art lovers would be: enjoy it while it lasts!!!  All these amazing resources are so easily accessible now.  My hope is that this will make audiences worldwide to be longing to come back to the concert halls and theaters after the quarantine is fully lifted. From what it seems however, it may take a while.

Dr. Rossitza Goza (HSQ): I have been listening to a lot of Bach on candlelight at night: Goldberg Variations and Well-Tempered Clavier with Glenn Gould.

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-What has been helping you get through this difficult time (i.e., self-care, distraction, practice, video chats with friends/family, cooking, etc.)? 

David Palmer (CMA): Doing some major organizing of the homestead, long overdue! Reagan Wilcox (TAS): Trying to limit the amount of “news” I watch/read. Spending more time with my kids watching family movies, playing board games, and cooking meals together. I have also tackled some home-improvement projects!

Nathan Fryml (AMC): Board games with family and friends via video chat, lots of yard work, virtual ensemble recording projects (which are very time consuming for all involved), and staying connected to church family through weekly services, small-group meetings, prayer meetings (all via online platforms), and investing much more time in my immediate family than I've been able to for years. 

Evgeny Zvonnikov (HSQ): I have a great amount of time to spend with my family, prepare programs for next year, read books that I never had a chance to read, talk with friends, take some online courses, seminars, cooking, and organise the apartment.

Vesselin Todorov (HSQ): Now I can finally catch up on some projects that I previously didn't have time for. Right now, I am doing a project with my dear friend, pianist Dr. Jessica Osborne, to arrange and record some pieces that are not originally written for viola. What's neat about it is that we are doing it from distance. She is in Houston and I am here in Canyon, TX. So we record individually and then put the two recordings together. The process is quite difficult but it is also a lot of fun.  I can also catch up with friends and family by phone or video chat now. I spend quite a bit of time everyday doing this. An occasional daily stroll or a trip to the grocery store (on foot) once or twice a week. My cooking skills are improving and I enjoy doing that more now. I don't eat out much these days. Other distractions: reading, binge watch TV shows, and most favorite of all: gardening. 

Dr. Rossitza Goza (HSQ): I am practicing all the music I’d been putting on hold, without the urgency of having it ready for a performance. This is teaching me how my brain works under no pressure. Surprising fact: the brain is working! Preparing short videos for the Philbrook Museum and the Tulsa Symphony kept me occupied for a little bit.  Fun-wise (and survival-wise!), I had to learn how to cook and stay alive after consuming what I’ve cooked; I taught myself how to handle baoding balls with each hand in both directions, and I put together a phoenix from 75 wooden parts. The bird is very pale right now, so the next project will be to give its mighty feathers colors worthy of its name. If someone would give me painting tips on phoenix plumage, I’ll barter them for tips on Paganini 24th caprice.   

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-How can HPPR listeners continue to support the performing arts during the pandemic?

David Palmer (CMA): I think a better question is how can we all take care of each other during these difficult times. The reality is, the line between organizations and individuals has never been more faint. Giving to a non-profit on Monday will be important, while taking groceries to our elderly neighbor on Tuesday will be equally as important, etc. Listeners are going to have to make important and difficult choices for the next several months. I know that the non-profits are very grateful for those listeners' words of encouragement and support. 

Reagan Wilcox (TAS): Our musicians are paid based on performing, so their income has significantly been impacted. We started the Musician Relief Fund where people can donate to help them through this time. Our Board and some key donors also agreed to match donations through the Matching Response Fund in order to continue funding our community outreach, education programs and our day-to-day budget needs. Information can be found on our website. 

Nathan Fryml (AMC): Keep in the forefront of your mind your plans to return to active performance (ensemble participation, etc.) as soon as we can safely rejoin. Remember that some organizations still have a certain amount of overhead despite not being able to actively perform for the community, so consider investing in the future of those organizations, which are incredibly important assets to this community. Consider reaching out to an arts director (whom you may not have ever even spoken to in person) and telling them something you appreciate about their organization, and perhaps even something you’d like them to consider doing in the future. Enjoy the wonderful resources available online, but don’t lose touch with your memories of live, local artistic performances, which will be back soon, we trust.

Evgeny Zvonnikov (HSQ): HPPR listeners can explore more about local arts through the internet, discover more local music groups, find recordings online, share it and help to promote artists in our community.

Vesselin Todorov (HSQ): Continue following your favorite artists on every possible media! If on Facebook, put a "like" or two.  They will appreciate the love.

Dr. Rossitza Goza (HSQ): Music opens up grand horizons and unites us. Live ensemble performances will eventually be possible again; but meanwhile we can only listen to what’s been done or sing alone in order to protect one another. Keep loving music, and build an appetite for live performances! 

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-Do you have a message for HPPR listeners across the five-state region?  

David Palmer (CMA): Never give up! The world will not be the same after this pandemic is over, but we will adapt and we will succeed!

Reagan Wilcox (TAS): Just to try and remember that this is only temporary, and music and art and all of those other things that we love will return. Sometimes it’s difficult to see past our current situation. 

Nathan Fryml (AMC): These times test not merely our strength, but also our ability to hope and persevere, without clear vision (or any vision!) of the future. We find many opportunities to despair, especially when cut off from things and people we love. But we also find many opportunities to grow in our spirits and see each other (and our world) ion an entire new light. This trying time will not last forever, and we are never without help along the way. As the old scripture says, “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall. But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will mount up on wings as eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk, and not faint.” Whatever we may feel, and whatever precious life around us is threatened, let us cling fiercely to the knowledge that there is one who sustains and guides us and who does not even let a single sparrow fall to the ground without folding it into a perfect and loving plan. So let us lift each other up and keep journeying homeward together! 

Evgeny Zvonnikov (HSQ): My message: It's a difficult time for everyone. We all worry about our families, health and jobs. On the other side, this is great opportunity to stop, take a deep breath and think. Think about ourselves, think about our plans, and our future. Find the answers to questions: What do I want to do? What would I like to explore? Do I want to try something new? This is the time to spend with our beloveds. Make a project together, go through problems together. One day life will become normal, and we will be back at our jobs and daily routine. But now we can use this as an opportunity to improve ourselves, our relationships and clean our mind.  

Vesselin Todorov (HSQ): Don't be afraid! Make every effort to stay strong and healthy! Be responsible and follow the requirements for social distancing. The more disciplined we are about this, the sooner we will get out of this mess. 

Dr. Rossitza Goza (HSQ): We are all together in this isolation, and we’ll get through it together. Be good, stay healthy!