Capital Region musicians stay creative during COVID-19

They are cautiously optimistic during shutdown while acknowledging the "emotional weight" of it all
Richard Libatti and Melanie Krahmer of Sirsy.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Richard Libatti and Melanie Krahmer of Sirsy.

Categories: Entertainment, Life & Arts

All careers in the arts have their ups and downs. Even with the latest health challenge, musicians are still doing what they always do: be creative. Freelance musicians are especially tough cookies. Here’s some of their stories.

Jazz drummer 
Cliff Brucker

An award-winning composer, keyboardist, drummer whose six-piece band Full Circle recorded two discs, Volume I and Volume 2, and an award-winning teacher at the College of Saint Rose (14 years) and SUNY Schenectady (15 years).

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“The last week of March was the first week I started up again writing. I had been too pre-occupied with doing course schedules. I teach three courses at Schenectady now online. I also have seven private students that I teach over Skype. But I’ve settled into a groove and can take time to woodshed on the drums a couple of hours a day.

“I have a new band, New Circle, and we’d already started doing gigs and planning to record. And there was a regular gig at Provence and at the Van Dyck. This virus — it all came as a shock. Twelve gigs were canceled. I’ve lost a lot of money. And I don’t know if these places are going to re-open. 

‘For me the emotional weight is that it’s hard to stay positive when you don’t know when you’re going to be able to play again. I can get into a malaise. I wrote jingles for thirty years and had a reason to write. Then this apocalypse hit. But I’m holding firm. My wife is my rock.”

Opera composer 
Evan Mack

Considered one of the most gifted composers of his generation  — the Albany Symphony Orchestra gave a concert performance of his “Roscoe” with Metropolitan Opera soprano Deborah Voigt, he also is a professor at Skidmore College.

“Our economy is a gig economy and a composer is no better off than any performer. It’s devastated. But I’m hanging in there. I have greater compartamentalization. I have to home school my two kids, who are 5 and 3, because their mother is a family doctor who is on the front lines. I also do online teaching for Skidmore. So I write in between.

“I work with my librettist Josh McGuire. Before, normally, we had daily three to four hours, now it’s thirty minutes here, thirty minutes there. Our opera “Yeltsin in Texas,” which premiered in February, we’d begun to rewrite as a musical. Broadway producers were interested. And performances of our “Angel of the Amazon” were cancelled or postponed.

“As for the future, there are less new works. There’s no long-term planning for commissions. Organizations are holding on to their belts. They need reserve money to ride out the storm. There’s also more field testing now with a lot of friends that are not working developing demos. My hope is a month or two there will be a clearer picture.”

Melanie Krahmer 
of Sirsy

Part of a duo that includes her husband/guitarist Richard Libatti, Krahmer is a vocalist, drummer, keyboardist and flutist that groove in pop, rock and soul tunes they write.

“We’ve been touring for seventeen years and do about 250 gigs a year in North America. This virus stopped all the shows. Our three-month California tour was cancelled. So all that merchandise like T-shirts that you bring . . . we’re sitting on a pile of that.

“This has been life-changing. Fortunately, we’re self-quarantining together so we can still make music. It’s a lucky thing. We can record in our basement and can live-stream. We’re doing well and people are tipping us. So we’re living on that [and] it keeps the feel of that person connection.

“We’ve done eight albums and working on new material and new arrangements. Having more time is easier to find the time to compose. I’m a two-time cancer survivor, so this virus thing is bringing up those same feelings and that will come across in the music. One of the other benefits is that in touring you don’t get to see other musicians. But so many are doing live stream, you get to see them. It’s kind of neat. You can collaborate, too, on FaceTime. So we’re writing a song with friends.”

Latin bandleader 
Alex Torres

Long-time performer from Amsterdam, Torres is also the Schenectady School System’s parent/student advocate and district Spanish translator.

“I’ve not lost one gig. All our gigs were re-scheduled. We’re one of the most fortunate bands in the area. I thank my lucky stars. I’m very grateful. I get tons of emails. I also post a song from past albums on Facebook to give to my fans.

“As for writing, I’ve hunkered down. I needed a song for our 40th anniversary in October at the Saratoga Casino and the muses visited. I’m ninety percent complete and I’m ecstatic. This time has been a time to write. Usually having gigs and dealing logistically with twelve musicians to get everyone from point A to point B can be stressful. But I can’t complain. I compose on the guitar and love going into my studio where I’m surrounded by all those instruments.

“But I’m wondering how many of those venues that closed will come back. It’s a concern. I hope that with those venues that had traveling musicians will instead feature more local talent. And some of my band members have bands of their own and their gigs were cancelled. That’s also a concern.”

Ria Curley of the CurleyLamb 
Nu-Soul-Jaz Band

Working with pianist Chuck Lamb, Curley is the songwriter/vocalist of jazz, R & B and pop tunes with their debut album “Take Me” an international hit. 

“All our gigs were cancelled. It’s scary. The first two weeks we did the survival stuff and now we’re settling into a more acceptance mode and embracing it all. I’m doing a lot of song writing. We’d already been writing for a new album but time has inspired me to be with the music and write whatever is coming out whether positive or negative. Let the feelings flow.

There’s always someone who’ll need to hear it. The connection is in our humanity.

“The time has also forced me to finish unfinished material and allows me to focus. Chuck, who often works with the Brubeck Brothers Band and were to celebrate Dave Brubeck’s 100th anniversary [of his birth], had their tour cancelled. So he’s working on songs virtually with Jorge Gomez of the Alta Havana Band.

“But how to create value and income? I have a law degree but those connections have dried up. I’ve even considered teaching. . .maybe songwriting? Or tap dancing? I’m not sure. I’m focusing on the silver lining.”

Oona Grady 
and Jim Gascoyne

A fiddle/guitar duo known as “Drank the Gold” is well known on the Dance Flurry and folk circuit especially at Caffe Lena where they specialize in traditional Irish tunes they’ve re-imagined with toe-tapping pulses. They released their “Sipped the Silver” CD last year. Oona — with some added comments from Jim — had this to say:

“If there’s any upside to this is that we’ve more time to stay creative and write. All our gigs were cancelled. St. Patrick’s Day was our Super Bowl but that’s all gone. But Caffe Lena started a school for kids in learning types of folk songs. They moved lessons online and it was very fortuitous that we’re part of that.

“We’re teaching online: I have ten to fifteen violin/fiddle students; Jim teaches guitar and ukulele. He’s as busy as ever despite no gigs. We also take a walk every day. We use the time to be productive and find new ways to get the music out there. We’re also cautiously optimistic about the future.”

Sean Rowe

Known internationally for his gravelly, soulful baritone, the Troy-native has released several albums and currently can be seen and heard every Sunday live streaming his tunes via his website www.seanrowe.net/live-stream.

“I’m hanging in there. I’ve been pretty lucky. I can do online concerts — it’s nothing like being in person — but I can make some kind of income. I was already researching how to do this before all this happened. I had set it up before my California tour last month. It was easy to take the leap to do the house concerts. But it’s like the Wild West. I’m always trying new ways to reach fans. You have to do this even before this virus.

“I’m writing for a new record and I have a recorded album that is slowly getting a release date. There will be twelve songs. Many were written over the last year or others from long ago. It’s called ‘Darkness Dressed in Colored Lights.’  But I write here and there. I don’t just sit down to write. I usually try for a more reflective state. I don’t sit down to write on a special topic. 

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