Classical 91.5

Across the Universe

Our musicians, our writers, our artists, the culture that comes to visit us, the Elvis impersonators, the stars. WXXI Arts & Life Editor and Reporter Jeff Spevak takes a look at the local scene each week in Across the Universe.

Perhaps the vehicle to lead us out of the coronavirus pandemic will be our cars.

The car. In which we are hermetically sealed. Unless we roll down the windows, which is bound to happen as summer arrives. One thing COVID-19 cannot stop.

Alan Zweibel hears voices in his head.

"All the time, when I'm writing -- and this goes on for many, many years -- the TV is on when I'm writing at home," he says. "The volume is down, and it's usually a show that I've seen before. 'Law and Order,' you know, 'SVU.' Something that's not going to take my mind off my work, but it's like a white noise in the background, there's an ambience to it. And if something does catch my eye, between sentences or paragraphs, I'll turn the volume up a little. But it is a constant companion."

If there is something positive to come out of this coronavirus pandemic, Greg Townson says, it may be in something once uttered by one of the minds behind Monty Python.

"Believe it or not," Townson says, "I think it was John Cleese who said, 'In order to be creative, you have to have at least three hours of uninterrupted time that you're devoting to your project.' "

Had it been a minute faster, or a minute slower, on a 2,825-mile journey, the Titanic might have been just another passenger ship that never met an iceberg.

That's the cruelty of timing. We're seeing it now in the arts, as musicians gauge whether they should release a new work in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, or wait until it's OK to throw a party.

Here's what the coronavirus pandemic is teaching us:

Slow down.

Monday morning, Facebook greeted me with this message:

You have seven events coming up this week.

Seven. That list used to run into the hundreds.

We don't know what to do with ourselves. Have we forgotten what the arts can do for us?

As a percussionist, Marty York is all washed up. On Monday evening, he was banging on the washing machine at his home, pounding out a rhythm, whacking a cowbell.

This is music in the age of coronavirus. Musicians confined to their homes, stripped of creative connections, driven to abusing large appliances. York is the drummer with Watkins & the Rapiers, a Rochester band stripped of its Monday-night residency at The Little Café. 

Imagine you're driving in a car through the mountains, and up ahead is a tunnel. You enter the tunnel, and immediately the sunlight disappears. You don't know how long the tunnel is, how long the darkness will last, or what you'll see when you come out on the other side.

That's where we are now.

Idle hands are the devil's tools. Unless we place a musical instrument in those hands.

The coronavirus pandemic has put virtually every musician in the country out of work. But many have responded by retreating to their basements. Recording a song. Then letting it run loose on the internet, where an innocent browser will uncover something beautiful. Such as the Rochester band Violet Mary, and its stunning version of Led Zeppelin's "The Rain Song."

For this moment, a dramatic response was called for. It was time to come up big. Matt Ramerman had what he calls a local "power roster" of musicians lined up and ready to go this weekend. He had sponsors. He had a venue, the biggest club in town, Anthology. The technology needed to stream the show live on the internet was ready. The message: We're down, but not out …

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