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Quarantine Harping in the Philippines

JoAnn Cerdenia

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought one of the most challenging trials of our time. We find our lives suddenly interrupted by the suspension of things we took for granted: transportation, eating out, going to cinemas, attending concerts, or simple outdoor exercises. We have been faced with the fact that going outside one's home endangers not just the person but also the people around. Previous insignificant things like canned goods, tissue paper, and alcohol have been rationed and grocery shelves have been empty. Falling in line when buying things is now a normal part of the day. Police and military checkpoints has become a normal scene. Even breathing has become an expensive thing, with masks becoming a part of daily life. In the Philippines, as is around the world, scores of businesses have shut down, with many more expected to shutter in the next few months. Artists in the entire spectrum of the art world have been hit hard, with concerts and events cancelled for the foreseeable future. Many musicians; singers, conductors, instrumentalists, have ventured in diverting their creative energies elsewhere, producing baked goods of all kinds, and cooking food to sell online.

How we survive: Harping the pandemic

Six years ago, my husband co-founded a coffeeshop in Quezon City. The place became a beloved part of our daily lives and has been a haven for many students, artists, and professionals. March 2020 was our 6th year anniversary. It was also the month when the lockdown started in the Philippines. We expected to open in a few weeks time, but as the days wore on, we were faced by the looming realization that we may have to close the business fully.

My husband working on the vintage-looking burlap and acrylic signage of HillcrestCafé.

HarpRoom was also not exempted from the effects of the pandemic. We had to cancel several events in quick succession, with some event already being fully booked and suppliers paid for. Physical classes were also not allowed, putting the very survival of HarpRoom in question. But as the days went on, we found that some changes in approach, the use of whatever available resources, good-old-fashioned never-give-up attitude, and an ample dose of faith can make music thrive in this strange new world.

Online Lessons

Pre-pandemic, I never thought of doing harp lessons online, despite my husband suggesting it multiple times. Aside from making great coffee, he's a web designer by trade so he keeps on pushing me to tech-up. I'm a bit old-fashioned though when it comes to teaching harp: I like to see and hear students live and in the flesh. With everyone at home though, I have been forced, begrudgingly, to now "tech-up." And I must say, the results are pleasantly surprising, though not without its own challenges.

Thank God for Skype!

The Philippines is not yet that advanced in terms of internet connectivity despite us being the social media capital of the world. With speeds regularly fluctuating and more people being online at the same time, it was a challenge to teach a musical instrument at times. Connection speeds would differ, sometimes substantially, both at our end and at our student's end, producing video lags and audio distortions. Sometimes, some students' connections would be so slow that we would have to reschedule a class. There has also been a change in the flow of the lesson to adjust to the limitations and features of technology: To limit the effects of speed fluctuations, I have to thoughtfully manage the information in a virtual class so that bandwidth gets used efficiently. Screen sharing has become an invaluable tool to discuss parts of a piece. Making study videos to aid some students have also been a crucial part of teaching. Surprisingly, students have thrived and improved considerably through online classes. With schools being suspended, students have more time to practice and have lessons. We also added a supplemental music theory course for kids and adults where they meet online as a group.

This pandemic has forced us to do things that we otherwise would not have done in order to survive. Survival demands adaptability and resilience, and the treasures one finds along the way make venturing out of one's comfort zone worth it.

Even I started taking harp lessons online from my harp teacher in Germany, Fabiana Trani!

Virtual concerts

Not even a pandemic can stop musicians from making music. From balcony performances to virtual choirs, this pandemic made us see how far we can stretch 'concert' as a word. We are at the point in history where technology connects us all, albeit sometimes too much, but nevertheless has the potential to bring music to untold numbers of home-locked people in almost all corners of the globe. For several years, we have produced regular harp concerts that give an opportunity for up-and-coming harpists to play in public. With events and public gatherings being cancelled, we moved the stage online: utilizing Facebook and YouTube as venues to hold our virtual Harpreciation concerts. These events are marked red in our calendar and are looked forward to by our students, their families, and harp enthusiasts. One would think that preparing and producing these virtual concerts would be easy and stress-free, but it does take quite a lot of prep work and practice for the students. On concert days, it can be a roller-coaster ride: both exhilarating and a bit frightening. Just like a real concert.

Musicians of all shapes and sizes abound online these days. And that is a tremendous blessing for a world that is hurting. With so much bad news and hate circulating daily in social media, musicians should drown out the vile and vitriol by playing more and playing loudly(except when the piece says pianissimo, of course).

Joyride: A harpist's response to the pandemic

Food shortages, job losses, lives lost. Occurrences that are becoming more common daily. At first we would drive around the city once a week to break the monotony of being stuck inside the house. As we went around, we noticed that there were more people on the streets begging for food. People who maybe mere months ago had jobs and homes, but lost both due to the economic effects of the pandemic. We decided to give away food packs during our weekly drives, and have made our online concerts a way to spread awareness that helping people is easy nowadays, because there are so many people who need help. Friends have already started to help us procure food items, and through their help, we've managed to make these drives a regular thing. We know that giving a few days' worth of food will not change lives or alleviate poverty, but it may just give someone a chance to fight another day to have a better life.

Packing the food bags.

This is a strange and brave new world we live in. And by the looks of it, more challenges will be coming in the days ahead. It is up to us to decide to have faith, to be resilient, to make music that makes the word better. To harp on.

To find out more on Joyride, click here.
To help out, click here.

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