It has been so many long months since March 2020, when (at least in Germany) it seemed like the world halted. The day after the first “lockdown” was imposed in Germany, I met with Claudia Meier for a photoshoot, outside and keeping 1,5 meters of separation between us, both of us unsure of how the next few weeks (we thought, naively) would pan out. We discussed what we would be canceling or missing: my wife and I had been planning to visit my grandmother for her 85th birthday in the USA in April – no chance for that, especially once President Trump closed the borders to Europe, and anyway it would have been too risky.
So everybody stayed home. I made some videos and recordings of cover songs, enrolled myself in an improvisation course with Eugene Friesen, and was kept busy with remote recording orders through Fiverr which I could do from home. April, May, and June were full of learning, collaborating, and practicing, as well as some wonderful canoe tours in Berlin and Brandenburg (only one household on a two-seater!) as the weather got warm again. In June and July the world outside of our apartment started back up, and for a few brief summer months things were almost normal, but with masks – a new reality which was still fresh and new, and its newness made it exciting enough not to feel too depressed about it. In those summer months I furiously prepared my CD release with the help of Mina Dordevic, meeting virtually and personally outside to plan website overhauls, social media strategies, cover design, etc. August, for me, was incredible – I had my CD release as planned with an actual release concert: four cellists and a cajon player at the rooftop bar in the heart of Neukölln, Berlin, Klunkerkranich, with perfect end-of-summer weather and a spectacular sunset, and also literally six other concerts within that one month. I felt like things were looking up, getting better, and September also flew by with a couple other live stream performances. There were new concert concepts, like the pop-up concert location Hazel Iris organized where we, the band, were inside of a small art gallery and the audience sat or stood on the street and watched us through the window, as well as live stream concerts with just the camera crew, or outdoor concerts with a live audience which were also live streamed (with Sebastian Krämer and Bowhéme Berlin), and also indoors with masks on and the windows open. September came to an end, and October began, with little to do, but I was still hoping that November might bring a few more gigs or recording opportunities.
Camel Song from the release concert
However November brought bad news. Germany's infection numbers were rising rapidly again, and the government decided to go back into lockdown – a harsher lockdown than we had experienced so far in Berlin. We thought it might help December's numbers, but December came along with little or no change in the rising case numbers, so the lockdown became even harsher. Some parts of Germany had curfews, all of the shops were forcibly closed unless they sold essential goods... of course, concerts were already a thing of the past.
I had a Christmas celebration with family in Stuttgart before which we all took a Covid test. We set up a Zoom call with my mom and sister in Canada, where we had dinner in Europe, lunch in Toronto, and breakfast in British Columbia together. New Year's Eve was also spent over Zoom, on a call with friends. From our respective couches, we put together some paper party hats with construction paper, got all of the noise-makers we could find, and counted in 2021 together. Zoom blocked out most of the noise-makers, thinking they were background noise. Outside, a few fireworks were audible, but nothing like the usual celebrations in Berlin. The next day the streets only had a little evidence of any celebration, as opposed to years past, where half of January consists of slowly but surely collecting all of the trash from fireworks people set off in one night.
I started the new year with the least amount of purpose I think I have ever had in my life. I love reevaluating my goals in January usually, motivating myself to reach greater heights and try new things, but this year I saw a lockdown that was probably going to be extended, fewer opportunities to meet with other people, little to do except remote recordings and private lessons (most of which are still happening online). I tried to mitigate this by redoing my website again, and I've been going horseback riding too, even more than ever lately. Being outside with the horses, keeping my distance to all of the people but at least avoiding the masks for a bit helps my soul feel some normalcy. Taking care of the animals, making sure they are fed and watered and properly exercised, makes me feel useful. When I go home, the world seems to revolve around my laptop and my cell phone – even practicing seems to be difficult. What am I practicing for anymore anyway? There are no concerts. Remote recordings have slowed down as the financial stress of the pandemic makes its way through the independent singer-songwriter scene I am a part of. And we don't see each other – no open mics, no gigs, no ways to get together to jam or get inspired by each other in person, which really, despite my attempts to convince myself otherwise, cannot be replaced by a video call. The motivation just isn't there.
Still, I make myself a schedule every week. Many of the things I schedule for myself get pushed over to next week. Others, I manage to accomplish. Paperwork from 2020: check. Translating and proofing my redesigned website: check. Upload some new sheet music I had made last year to be sold: check. Answering emails: mostly done. Practicing at least 4 times a week: well, I did twice. Sending booking emails or making new YouTube videos: I just didn't get to it this week, maybe next week. Or the one after that. Or the one after that.
Today I was on Facebook, in a cellists group, and I saw some posts I was interested in. I got excited and answered questions, agreed with other cellists about teaching methods, instrument choice, sheet music... and I remembered my missions from 2020. From January 2020, as I had, full of hope, created some missions to live by for the year. It was a short list, just three things: CD and solo music, YouTube videos, and Cello Trio. Those were the three things I wanted to really, really focus on in 2020.
I was only really successful with the CD release, I suppose. Most of the work had been done in 2019 anyway, all of the recordings and mixing and mastering, so 2020 was about releasing it and though I had planned the release for May and it happened in August it really happened just the way I would have wanted it to, except for the detail that my audience was limited and wearing masks. Apart from that, though, it was precisely the way it would have been with or without a pandemic, and I am super incredibly thankful as well as proud that it worked out that way.
The YouTube videos goal was also fairly successful, as I had quite a bit of material that I released on YouTube in preparation for and after the release. I even managed to film a new music video, which had also been postponed from May but happened in August.
The last goal was not so successful, the cello trio goal. My biggest achievement was in August, having the cello trio with me on stage at my release concert, which was really amazing. But I had wanted to make lots of concerts with them. I wanted to put all of our arrangements onto my website for sale. I wanted to entice other cellists to want to play with us. I wanted to have the Cellogy cello trio become just as well known as 2Cellos.... well, maybe that wasn't exactly my realistic goal for 2020, but I definitely wanted to be on that path.
That goal got postponed. It wasn't possible in 2020 to gain fame and recognition with concerts. It might take most of 2021 before that can happen again, in fact. What that cellists forum on Facebook really gave me, apart from reminding me of my 2020 goals, was a reminder of how much I love cellists.
Cellists together. Cellists being nerdy about cello things. Cellists playing cello music. Cellists playing in cello ensembles!
At the end of 2020, I managed to organize a Zoom-style video of “Hope” by Apocalyptica performed by past, present, and future classmates from SUNY Potsdam's Crane School of Music, where I got my Bachelor's degree. We had performed it back then as students together and I suddenly missed that feeling terribly, so I got in touch with a few of my then-classmates on our Alumni Facebook group. I immediately had 9 interested classmates and alumni, several of whom I never even had met before. We managed to record it and film it, one of us put the material together, and once we posted it more Crane alumni got in touch, sad that they had missed it. I told them we can just do it again and everyone who had participated in the first video was already back on board. We'll see what we do this year.
"Hope" by Apocalyptica, performed by Crane School of Music Cellists
“Hope” is a good theme for 2021. Hope that things will get better. That governments will listen to scientists, citizens will care for each other, concert halls will be able to reopen , and eventually musicians will be able to start rehearsing together again in tiny expensive rehearsal rooms, sweating new songs into life.
I'm reducing my list New Year's resolutions for 2021 to just one thing: Cellists. For me, that will mean meeting cellists, forming connections with other cellists, learning from other cellists, performing with other cellists, creating music for cellists, performing cello music, and bringing my Cellogy trio back to life as the situation allows. It will hopefully mean a new album, new songs for cello ensembles, new YouTube videos about cellists, cello music, cello playing, and other cello topics. And this blog.
So I say, “cello” 2021 – how you doin'?