The entire world has been greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. This reigns especially true for those who are self-employed. The province of Ontario has seen it’s ups and downs in 2020, and closures and restrictions have been rampant on small businesses such as restaurants and bars. Not only are the owners of these establishments feeling the impact of the pandemic, but so too are the people that depend on these establishments to make a living: people such as live musicians.
As we know, live musicians drive a large portion of their income from performing live at restaurants and bars, so in a world where these opportunities are not present, how do they get by? Not only is this an important question regarding their source of income, but it should also be noted that performing live is something these artists deeply enjoy. Being able to express and share their passion to an audience is very rewarding, so how are they able to cope in a world where this expression is forbidden for the time being?
Ontario has gone through a complicated timeline of closures and reopening’s, for a further understanding of what not only musicians, but the entire province has had to deal with, here is a timeline of the most significant decisions made by the Ford government in 2020.
We were able to sit down with Bernadette Connors, a voice coach at Connors Music in Keswick, Ontario and also a professional singer. Despite the tough circumstances this year, 2020 was an important year for her music career, as this year she was given the opportunity to write and perform her very own upcoming album titled “Monarch”. In this album she was given the opportunity to work in collaboration with John-Angus MacDonald, lead guitarist of Canadian band “The Trews”.
“In these times when we don’t have a lot of opportunities to perform or share our talents, to work on something that I think is something I am going to be proud of for many years, it’s quite the privilege.”
Connors explained that COVID-19 drastically changed the way her group went about recording the album. To begin the process, she met with her group of writers through evening Zoom calls, where they would discuss ideas for songs and touch up lyrics. When it came time to record the album in studio, Ontario restricted a maximum of five people to be together in one room, so Connors had to bring in band members
separately to record their individual sections of each song. “We had to keep the number of band members down so we didn’t actually record it the way we had envisioned, which was more live off the floor. We could only bring in certain people to record together, so that was a challenge,” said Connors. The pandemic forced the work to be split up into different sections entirely so that everyone working on the album could remain safe.
Making the best of what you got…
With all of the various closures and restrictions put in place within venues in Ontario, it was incredibly hard for live musicians to find work. “I definitely had a few opportunities, way less than a normal summer. I would’ve normally performed two to three times a weekend and I think I probably performed a total of 10 times all summer,” explained Connors.
Connors stated she only performed in shows where she was assured that herself, her band, and the audience would remain safe. “I definitely appreciated the invitations to a few socially distant gigs where we were set up six feet away from the audience. I had one where we had plexiglass involved, but the one that I was most excited about was actually an opportunity I had to create,” said Connors.
This opportunity, created by Connors and a group of her friends, involved her and a live band performing on a pontoon boat. They cruised around the bays of Lake Simcoe and performed songs from her upcoming CD, in hopes that fans could enjoy some live music while maintaining a socially distant environment outside. “That was exciting and a learning-curve. It was definitely a fulfilling experience and people appreciated it.”
“At the end of the entire experience I had a woman come up to me and tell me that she had actually lost her mother to COVID, and her sister and her were in Toronto trying to create new memories and heal. She said this really made her weekend, seeing a band on a boat. I didn’t think we would help people heal from loss that they experience through COVID, that notion didn’t cross my mind,” said Connors.
The “boat band’s” destinations
The first stop was at Sibbald Point Provincial Park in the Sutton area. Then, they made an appearance at De La Salle Beach in Jackson’s Point. The band then traveled across Lake Simcoe on their way over to Barrie through Kempenfelt Bay. They then made their way over to entertain the patrons at Friday Harbour in Innisfil, with the last performance taking place as a ticketed event with food and drinks at Ramada Inn back in Jackson’s Point. Below is a map of all five of their destinations:
How music made us smile in 2020
When asked about how music helped not only herself, but others get by in a rough 2020, Connors talked about how thankful she was to be able to interact with people online during her vocal lessons. “For myself I teach about 30 students, so the notion of isolation wasn’t really a big part of my life, but I realize that it is a big part of their lives. So I was able to make my students feel less alone, so I think that was pretty special.”
Nobody really has a clue how this pandemic will change the world going forward. As for musicians, “I think that audiences will
appreciate their music more and I think musicians will appreciate their audiences more,” said Connors. “The second I get to perform for an audience live and I get to go out in the crowd with my wireless microphone again and hop on a table and belt a note, I feel like that crowd, they won’t think twice about responding. I miss doing that.”
As is often said, you don’t know what you got until it’s gone, and it is Connors’ belief that when live music becomes the norm once again, whenever that day may be, people will be able to appreciate the gift of togetherness that much more.