The following piece is republished with permission from “The Red Gate Will Open Again,” a project for USC Annenberg’s Arts Journalism program.
Amidst heightened toilet paper insecurity around the country, USC Thornton School of Music graduate student Juan-Salvador Carrasco boasts an ample supply — though his usage proves to be slightly unorthodox. “I thought [using a toilet paper roll to play the cello] was funny and a fun challenge,” he said. “For this performance, I wanted to strike a tone of playing informally for family and friends, as opposed to pretending I was in a large arena.” The performance in question was his submission for Thornton’s new “Live! From Somewhere” project, a video series featuring performances by students, faculty and alumni who no longer share a home base due to COVID-19 shutdowns. Posted every few days on the Thornton Instagram and YouTube, these videos attempt to compensate for musicians’ inability to perform live and encourage them to continue creating.
“... the idea that despite the circumstances, we have to keep creating, performing and sharing our art, is really important."<br>Nolan Juaire
Though remote learning circumstances have greatly disrupted Thornton’s performance-based curriculums, “Live! From Somewhere” offers students an outlet to continue their creative processes. “It’s a great platform for students to share what they’re working on during this time, and to give us some sort of performance situation to work towards,” said Max Opferkuch, a clarinet performance major.
Many students jumped at the opportunity, itching not only to perform but also to bring light to the community. “I knew one thing when I started … and that was that I wanted to spread joy,” said Hazle Thunes, a jazz voice major who sang “What a Fool Believes” for the project. “The original Doobie Brothers version of this song has been a staple in my family since I was a kid, and it has always brought me joy,” she said. Classical guitar performance major Nolan Juaire took a similar route, performing “Felicidade,” a song that translates to “happiness” and has always lifted his spirits.
As a viewer, however, what brought me the most joy was not their song choices, but their pure, unadulterated passion for creating music. With each meticulous staccato, suspenseful swell and precise rest, their love for their craft was striking and palpable, and in this time of turmoil and uncertainty, their performances inspired me to sing, dance, paint and engage deeply with the creative sides of life.
Even so, the students said they believe that video recordings are not comparable to live performances. “The reason I love performing is that it enables me to connect with an audience as well as those I am making music with,” Thunes said. “Creating videos allows me to reach an audience in some way, but both sides of the equation are deprived of the musical connection that can only be created in person.” Opferkuch agreed, adding, “When we perform live, we’re more focused on communicating with our audience and finding meaning in the music; the music only exists in that one moment. When we record, it’s easy to get caught up in technical perfectionism and getting it ‘right’ because we know it’s going to be played again and again.”
As someone who cherishes live performances — and has performed both live and through video — I initially agreed, until Carrasco convinced me otherwise. “Video performances can still carry real magic,” he said, arguing that they can actually promote musical innovation. In Opferkuch’s case, technology allowed him to play both parts of Bach’s “Invention No. 8 in F major” — a feat that is impossible to achieve live. “I took both videos from the same camera angle, moving only the chair between takes, and split the video down the middle using a video editing application.” he said. “There appears to be two of me, even though you’re really seeing two separate videos side-by-side.”
Despite being deprived of a live musical conversation, this kind of creative innovation cultivates distinct feelings of admiration and awe that can only be achieved through virtually enhanced performances. Though the audience may not be in the same physical space as the performer, these technologies draw audiences in in ways that live shows may not, creating a way for viewers and musicians to coexist emotionally and spiritually despite a virtual barrier.
As the series grows, its impact on the community does as well. “I was pleasantly surprised by how many people reached out to say that they appreciated hearing my music and that it brightened their day,” Opferkuch said. “For me, it’s been a reminder of how crucial the arts are in times of uncertainty.” Juaire echoed this mindset, saying, “I think the idea that despite the circumstances, we have to keep creating, performing and sharing our art, is really important. Especially being locked up inside, hearing music and seeing people continue to thrive in all different environments is really inspiring, and I really just wanted to share some music that I get joy from with anyone who might need it.”
These videos have certainly spread light to the USC community, as proven by the continuous comments from people voicing their appreciation for the project. As we patiently await the next video in the series, it brings me great hope to know that though concert halls may have fallen silent, the music will always play on, and “Live! From Somewhere” will carry the melody to anyone willing to listen.
Top Images: Hazle Thunes performs “What a Fool Believes,” by the Doobie Brothers. | Courtesy of “The Red Gate Will Open Again" and the USC Thornton School of Music