During the pandemic, we created several virtual projects which helped us feel connected to each other and contributed to the community. Our holiday concert of 10 songs was played on local cable programming directed to isolated seniors during the holidays. We collaborated with the digital student artists at Freestyle Academy in the Mountain View Los Altos High School District to do the music mixing and video editing. The musicians had to learn to follow my conducting over the internet and videotape themselves playing their parts alone at home. I had the enormous challenge learning to videotape myself conducting into thin air.

While these virtual projects served to keep people playing music, connecting us to each other using the tools of modern technology, they also made us feel more aware of how apart we were, our isolation and distance from others.

PLAYING MUSIC TOGETHER CAREFULLY                                                                                    On the other hand, string players were able to keep playing together. They could mask in people’s backyards, under heat lamps, in small trios and quartets through the pandemic months. A group of TACO string players, ‘taquitos’, varied from 4 to 20 musicians, got together every other week in Ortega Park in Sunnyvale through the last year and a half. They played quartet music in a Sunnyvale park, weather permitting. Blankets, masks, gloves, and huddled in a circle, they were determined to keep up their ensemble musical skills and fulfill their love of playing together.

Finally, in the spring after enough musicians got vaccinated, we could begin to plan for live orchestra gatherings. I gathered an experimental group of 30 musicians to play in a neighborhood cul-de-sac to see how everyone felt being together again with woodwind and brass instruments.

WE’RE BACK!                                                                                                                                        Once reassured that people were ready to start playing in a full orchestra again, I began planning for a big gathering on the 4th of July. We made up for the cancellation of the San Francisco Symphony at Shoreline by playing outdoors at the MVCPA, covering their traditional Stars and Stripes Forever. We played the aspirational song by Woody Guthrie, This Land Is Your Land, arranged for orchestra by Bruce Chrisp, trombonist with the Oakland Symphony. And we filled out our set-list with other popular patriotic songs. Our musicians were delighted to be playing together again. The audience was appreciative of the opportunity to hear live music. There was lots of good humor making for a delightful afternoon.

In September we kicked off our fall season with two more gatherings of 40 musicians each, in two different neighborhoods, with live audiences of neighbors. A cul-de-sac of neighbors welcomed us for an open rehearsal, where we played for three hours with a brief social break. A second group played in the lovely park-like backyard of a local artist, where we rehearsed, happily filling three hours of work figuring out the music, until we could play it through well enough, while the afternoon sun set.

WHAT’S NEXT?                                                                                                                                    Now we’re planning for a big orchestra gathering on Halloween at the ParkStage at MVCPA on Sunday, Oct. 31 from 2 to 5 pm. We will work on six fun Halloween themed songs. And we’re planning to host a Holiday Sing-Along in the Community Center Plaza, date to be determined. We’re looking for other outdoor venues to play unmasked together into the new year.

Everyone is so happy to be together in person, doing what we love most:  playing music together, hopefully ending on the same note, and enjoying the humor and goodwill of community.

cul-de-sac open rehearsal gathering


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