Musicians Across The World Face Daunting Situations

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For Collin, a landscape he described as “beautiful and desolate” provides all the inspiration he’ll need for the foreseeable future. “We’re influenced by our environment,” he said. “There are so many emotional and intellectual associations connected to everything that surrounds us.”

Sharing Collin’s perspective, vocalist and composer Lisa Marie Simmons composed material for NoteSpeak (Ropeadope) from the tranquility of Lake Garda, northeast of Milan, Italy. Simmons has lived along the lake’s shores for the past 12 years with her musical and life partner, Marco Cremaschini. Since the lockdown, however, neither has left their home studio without a printed government document detailing the nature of their outing. Most painful for the pair is knowing that their bandmates live in neighboring provinces, but have no means of coming together—not even inside someone’s home studio.

“By law, we have to have a meter-and-a-half between each musician,” said Simmons. “So, with six musicians, we’d need a much bigger space than our studio allows.”

Despite social and economic instability, and a shaky future for her canceled CD-release tour, Simmons has remained in high spirits. She continues to help Italian artists craft lyrics in English, while Cremaschini focuses on his online session work.

“Those two things really help us to keep things going,” Simmons said.

WHILE MANY ARTISTS are learning to meet the new normal with resilience and hope, others struggle to make it home. Countless world tours have ended mid-hit, and Pat Metheny’s was no exception. His band arrived in Argentina on March 11, when all stops on their South and Central American itinerary were still green-lit. The following day, chaos.

“Things really started getting out of hand,” said drummer Antonio Sánchez.

National decrees limiting the size of public gatherings dominoed across regions. The artists held vigil in Buenos Aires for days, awaiting news. First Lima, Peru, tumbled, then their two dates in Brazil. But promoters in Santiago, Chile, were hanging on.

“Santiago really wanted to do it,” the drummer said.

Against all odds, the band’s tour manager arranged for them to fly directly from Argentina to Chile. “As soon as he was able to change everybody’s ticket, he got a text saying ‘Chile’s out,’” Sánchez said.

Bassist Linda May Han Oh mourns the lost Metheny dates for her bandmates—and for crews behind the scenes.

“I know how hard everyone has worked to put together these shows,” she said. “One promoter even flew to Buenos Aires to make sure everything was OK.”

When the band received word that promoters had canceled their last date in Mexico City, the artists finally returned home. Detailing how flight attendants in Singapore, Argentina and Auckland, New Zealand, had infrared thermometers on-hand to screen travelers for fever before they boarded, Oh described a markedly different experience re-entering the U.S. from Argentina.

“Coming home to JFK [airport], there were no thermometers—nothing except for a customs officer asking, ‘Have you been to China or Europe?’” she said.

STILL, THE IMPULSE to come home amid the crisis prompted honeymooning couple vocalist Emma Frank and multi-instrumentalist Pedro Barquinha to choose between remaining in Mexico or risk flying back to New York. The allure of swiftly dipping hotel prices in Tulum forced them to consider extending their stay. Ultimately, though, they chose to come home.

“I don’t have my instruments with me,” Frank said, “and a large part of me just wants to be in the comfort of my own home.”

For another pair of honeymooners, the choice was easier, but the route seemed nearly impossible. Tenor player Noah Preminger and spouse Neira Pekmez were among the Americans stranded in Morocco.

“[U.S. embassy officials] told us, no matter what we heard, we did not have a flight the next morning, and to [await] further instruction,” said Preminger, who was in Casablanca.

So, they waited. The next morning, they learned their flight had taken off.

“The U.S. government did nothing to help,” said Preminger.

The couple eventually caught a British Airways charter flight to London and then to New York.

In an email asking for clarification on protocol during emergency situations, the consulate in Casablanca declined to answer specifics about events during the past week, and instead noted that as of 12:30 p.m. March 21, flight confirmation from its office no longer was necessary.

“The U.S.A.—the greatest country in the world—didn’t lift a finger to help their 3,000-plus citizens in Morocco,” Preminger continued. “The embassy in Rabat and consulate in Casablanca told us to give our names and shooed us away when we went there in person. We were abandoned by our own government.”

AS A RULE, touring musicians experience countless unforeseen changes in itinerary. That’s the gig. They’re equipped to handle venue cancellations, missed flights and early-morning lobby calls. But as COVID-19 continues to demand sweeping global adjustments, even the most resilient face life-altering decisions.

In the middle of his interview with DownBeat, Collin received a text message from a friend alerting him that all flights to the U.S. from Iceland had been canceled.

“I’ll have to wait and see,” he said. DB

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