Musicians Across The World Face Daunting Situations

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In a remote cabin about 20 miles from the nearest village, pianist and composer Romain Collin hunkers down.

Weeks before COVID-19 swept across the world, the Brooklyn-based musician flew to southwestern Iceland for a month-long solo retreat. Now it looks like he’ll be there for an indeterminate amount of time.

When President Donald Trump announced his European travel ban on March 11, Collin immediately booked a flight back to New York, an adjustment that would have shortened his stay from one month to three weeks. His bags were packed; his car was loaded. Then Collin sank into the loveseat next to his bank of keyboards.

“I thought, ‘You know what? No,’” he said. “‘I have work to do.’”

He canceled his flight and booked another for one week later—March 18—then canceled that one, too.

“When you’re in total isolation, there’s something very nurturing that feels very safe,” Collin said. “When I set up my home studio, it felt like I was making music for myself. Only now, I face the worry: Can I actually go back home?”

Artists across the world are asking the same question.

When COVID-19 forced countries into lockdown mode with major air-travel restrictions, touring musicians were among those affected.

Organist and composer Ondřej Pivec—who’s entering his second week of self-quarantining in Prague—was on tour with Gregory Porter in late February when band members heard whispers of gig cancellations. By the time they hit Zurich, the artists encountered a harsh shift in tone.

“The [venues] told us they were limiting the number of people to 1,000,” Pivec said. “There were cops counting heads.”

In Germany, promoters initially instructed band members to leave their luggage on the backline truck, while they flew to Paris for an on-camera appearance. They planned a return to Germany the following day. “The night before, the promoter told us, ‘You should probably take all your stuff because chances are you’re not coming back,’” Pivec said.

Narrowly avoiding the lockdown in France, the Brooklyn organist elected to stay in Prague—where leaving home without a protective facemask has become a ticketable offense—while his bandmates flew back to the United States. “With the current administration, it’s honestly a little scary to be in the States,” Pivec said. But a chilling question comfronts those artists who remain abroad: Will they be able to fly home?

Drummer Alix Goffic and saxophonist Benjamin “Míng” Chin are one-half of the New York-based quartet QNA. After a show marking the release of their single “FuckM,” the pair flew to Singapore to play a few gigs with rapper and songwriter Masia One. The emcee is currently across the Malaysian border. They never connected.

“It’s all about borders here,” said Chin, who contends Singapore residents are more concerned with mobility than with the viral outbreak.

Still, the situation changes on a daily basis, and like their counterparts in Iceland and Prague, the two artists face an unknown future, particularly amid the release of their debut recording, Above The Law.

“We have to monitor what’s happening in Europe, the U.S. and here,” Goffic said. He and Chin had booked return trips to France and the U.S., respectively, for March 24. Both flights have been canceled. “There’s no way we can plan more than a day in advance,” Goffic continued. “It’s always changing.”

AGAINST THE PULSE of uncertainty, Collin and Pivec monitor rapidly changing circumstances with critical interest as well. But they have come to embrace the unknowable as a tool for inspiration. A digital piano and MIDI setup offers Pivec an outlet for cooped-up creative energy. On Thursday, he partnered remotely with Grammy-nominated duo The Baylor Project, creating full production via Instagram around “Sit On Down,” their original #coronaviruschallenge tune.

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June 2021
Vijay Iyer
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