How we’ll learn to sing together when we’re far apart
“Appropriate music was played by a small orchestra to synchronize with the actions on the films,” explains a story of Wasilków, translated from Yiddish. Over 100 years ago, action and music could only merge in person, not on screen.
Today, since we cannot merge in person, we try to synchronize remotely from our screens.
Instead of balalaikas, violins, guitar and mandolins, the now-geographically dispersed musical group Pearlsteins plays guitar, piano, and sings from homes in Los Angeles and San Francisco. The performers are between 11 and 75 years old, and we often discuss where to find toilet paper or last night Saturday Night Live before someone shares a song. My cousin Frank puts on funny glasses before sitting down at the piano to put on an Elton John; my brother Rob, who play guitar in a band, tends to play Jack White or blues guitar. Frank’s brother, David, could play a boogie woogie in New Orleans, my Aunt Dorie could offer Andrew Lloyd Webber, and I’m going to sit at the piano to dig into a Chopin Nocturne or the Maple Leaf Rag. Sometimes David improvises on the piano with my brother on guitar, or my brother and I will sing our dad’s favorite song from Willie Nelson, “I Gotta Get Drunk”. But we can’t keep proper eye contact, so it’s hard to signal when we need to skip the last verse, and we’re never perfectly in sync.
Our weekly Zoom gatherings can only mimic the jam sessions that usually wrap up holiday dinners, when my parents’ living room can accommodate a few people on the piano, my brother on guitar, and my 99-year-old great-uncle, a drummer, patting. on her knees, while my son and nephews sneak an extra dessert into the kitchen. But virtual dating always gives our family a chance to connect and allow my parents to see their offspring. I’ve been hanging out with my cousins for practically more in the past few weeks than I have in person in the past year. Last week we invited our family overseas to join us. On Saturday morning, 25 people in a dozen homes – in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Tel Aviv and Capetown, South Africa – gathered on Zoom to reconnect or, in many cases, meet for the first time. The call ended with my cousin David jamming on “Shalom Aleichem” with our cousin Schmulik on an electronic wind instrument, 7,500 miles away.
For consumers of digital culture, the pandemic is not a total wash. Parodies, news shows, and door-to-door fundraisers can be great. But this is a disaster for most creators of culture, and even those who are able to bring their craft to the small screen may not find this outlet lucrative or satisfying enough. Performers at Marie’s Crisis Cafe, a sing-along piano bar in Manhattan that is my favorite place on earth, moved to Facebook Live, singing and playing the piano for Venmo advice. People who love Marie’s love musicals, and that ridiculous but delicious moment where all the characters suddenly know the same words, the same music, and the same choreography. In a grungy New York bar, the analog of this moment is when half the room starts playing the part of Marius in “One Day More” and the other half sings the part of Cosette. I might be able to log in and sing in my kitchen, but I have to sing all the parts myself.
The feeling of singing with a band, whether it’s crowded in a West Village basement or a drafty church in San Francisco, satisfies in a way that singing in your kitchen doesn’t. Maybe when I rehearse Mozart Requiem Next week, I’ll find that wearing great headphones and seeing the faces of my fellow choir members on my computer screen will magically trick my brain into thinking I’m standing next to them. Maybe the audio latency will not be this wrong in adult chat site.
If I’m disappointed, I won’t tell Picklequack. He is not yet complaining about his change in musical circumstances. I’m not sure when or if Yzarc will return to his precise form in BC, given that concerts are probably the last type of activity to resume after quarantine. I haven’t told him that yet. For now, let him do the Zoom collaboration and make up some fun stories with his group mates. He’ll play his part with a scratch track, while wearing a blanket as a cape, and maybe discover a new kind of joy.
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