BY BECKY LLEWELLYN
We would like to welcome Becky in her first blog as a CutCommon contributor!
Ah, 2021 – living through a global pandemic. Some of us have been doing it easier than others, but everyone in the performing arts world has had huge challenges to navigate.
They call us ‘creatives’ for a reason. We have skills and the ability to make our choices. And we have flexible ways of being. With concerts off, theatres shuttered, and commissions in abeyance, normal avenues for creativity were blocked. For musicians, the chance to sing or play together in large ensembles regularly was off the cards. A loss keenly felt.
So how to respond artistically to the altered cultural landscape of lockdowns?
Why not use the incredible tools available in our mobile phones and computers?
Living in hope, I decided to set a short Bertolt Brecht lyric, In the Dark Times, for women’s voices and piano even though choirs were off the stage. I showed the work to my friend Jeannie Marsh in Melbourne, who loved it and offered to sing it with her Icon Trio.
I’ve long been inspired by the gutsiness of the pre-WWII artists in Germany, in particular Brecht who wrote lyrics for cabaret music with his friends Hanns Eisler and Kurt Weill.
Then came lockdown. Not to be deterred, Jeannie and her fellow singers Vivien Hamilton and Justine Anderson each sang their parts at home on their iPhones using a click piano track played by Robert Chamberlain.
The resulting files were audio engineered by James Hodson – and hey, presto, we had the makings of a premiere.
Held in December 2020 via Zoom, it was the first time the singers had heard each other as an ensemble, and the first time I had heard it at all. Even after a year of Zoom, this iso-recording launch held all the excitement of a normal concert launch, with invitees and fascinating conversations around the recording after it was played.
I feel very privileged to have had a performance of a pandemic piece in 2020. Not many composers did. These risk-taking professionals put their stamp on their performance individually from their lockdown and only later heard the whole mix.
In April 2021, with the pandemic for the time being controlled in Australia, they also gave a live and streamed performance of the music. So, now there are ‘before’ and ‘after’ versions of In the Dark Times – one distanced, one together as an ensemble. A fascinating study in the possibilities of both forms.
What are each of us doing with our creativity in 2021? No matter what, it will be interesting! We have lived through a pandemic, discovering that we can pivot and find ways to express ourselves.
Both versions of the Icon Trio performance of In the Dark Times available on beckyllewellyn.com.
Images supplied. Becky photo: Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.