Feature

Jonah Traub, Co-Editor in Chief 

Last March, Coronavirus (COVID-19), in its halting of the regular order of the world, pumped the brakes on almost every branch of the entertainment industry and forced actors, content creators and musicians alike to settle in for months of isolation. However, many artists both big and small did not let COVID-19’s chains hold them down. Within two months of the first wave’s onset, famous musicians such as Drake, Justin Bieber and The Weeknd had all released projects they had been working on. Musicians demonstrated resilience and have continued to put up a strong fight for the duration of this pandemic, allowing the music industry to avoid complete shutdown and continue to create escapes for people who desperately need it. But the idea that the industry has remained completely unchanged is considered false by many listeners and artists alike. While they influence different spheres and operate in different ways, both the global music scene and the local one in Maplewood-South Orange (MAPSO) have experienced adjustments during this pandemic. Numerous aspects of MAPSO have changed as community members attempt to safely halt the spread of the virus, and the music community within it is no exception. But how much change has MAPSO’s music scene really undergone?

The Power of Free Time

Multiple musicians within the MAPSO community, including Sophia Campione, ‘21, have observed COVID-19’s positive implications on their craft. Campione, a member of multiple bands, has availed herself of increased practice time thanks to the disease’s talent for schedule-clearing and its reworking of the school day. Campione stated, “During a normal school year, I barely have time to practice my music for more than 30 minutes a day, and now I have so much free time that… I can practice as long as I need.” Ty Rances, ‘21, confirmed this. While he has not personally experienced a change in how long he spends practicing his lyrical work, he agrees that “for someone who is playing an instrument they own” or singing, COVID-19 has provided “ample time to practice.” 

Art by M. Shapiro

With the breaks in her schedule that COVID-19 has provided, Campione has been afforded a greater chunk of practice time, which has spilled over into her music in multiple ways. Campione’s increased rehearsal time has not only allowed her to expand her proficiency with her instruments of choice, piano and drums, but it has also allowed her to start “learning a new instrument, the guitar.” In addition to picking up a new instrument and further mastering her signature ones, Campione’s increased free time has gained her an invaluable reward, a greater love for her work. “I just really like to play music… [and an] increased amount of free time has made me want to play more,” Campione said. Campione feels that with the extra time allotted to her by the pandemic, playing music is “more enjoyable, and feels more like a hobby [than] a chore.”

A solo artist within the MAPSO community, Sofia Lopez, ‘21, has also been able to take advantage of the free time provided to her by the pandemic. Thanks to COVID-19, Lopez, like Campione, has more room in her schedule and has had “more time to focus on recording new music and preparing for” a number of live shows at which she has performed. Lopez has also been given time to “focus more on [her] production skills,” which has been both informative and enjoyable. However, in a similar fashion to Campione, this free time has provided Lopez with more than just increased time to record new music and practice production. In Lopez’s mind, one of the best things to come out of the pandemic is that people have had time for reflection and “look[ing] at [their lives] in a different way.” This self-reflection has helped her work through the writer’s block she sometimes experienced while being stuck in the house for long periods on end. In tandem with the thoughts about her life and her future that have emerged while she continues working through her various college applications, this inner-thinking “has really been affecting what [she] write[s].” Recently, she feels she’s written “some songs that [she is] really proud of.” “[During quarantine,] while I don’t write [as many songs] as I used to… the quality of the stuff that I write and the meaning behind it is something that I have seen increase.”

For Campione and Lopez, similar to others around the country, the pandemic meant a significant wiping of the schedule and the provision of a previously elusive resource: free time. While it might not have revolutionized their work, this increased free time, and thus increased practice time, has helped to broaden the horizons of Campione’s musical ability and worked to revitalize some of her passion for making music, while pushing Lopez’s song writing ability even further and giving her time to work on her passion for production. This was surely a welcome development in a relatively pessimistic time.

Practicing As a Group

However, while artists like Campione, Lopez and Rances have experienced or observed some positive effects of the pandemic on the music industry, their situation is certainly not ideal. Even though COVID-19 opened up opportunities for MAPSO musicians to spend more time engaged with their music, it has also limited many music collectives’ ability to meet up and rehearse.

Photo of Mark Murphy                                  Courtesy of M. Murphy

The process has been difficult for Campione, and she has experienced multiple setbacks along her journey to engage in face-to-face time with her bandmates. One such setback was the suspension of one of her bands: “The band I was a part of at Mark Murphy’s Music was cancelled for both the fall and spring session[s].” Because of the potential health problems that could arise from meeting in person, Mark Murphy’s Music, a music school in South Orange through which Campione formed her band and continued to perform, has had to undergo significant changes to adapt to its new virtual format, one of which altered the program that Campione was enrolled in. However, not only has Campione experienced the complete shutdown of one band, but in order to comply with the safety protocols that have been recommended for slowing the spread of COVID-19, the other band that she is a part of has had to move their practices outdoors. While this may seem like a relatively small issue when compared to the cancelation of her other band, this too has posed a significant challenge to Campione’s ability to meet up and practice with her bandmates. Being able to meet outside is better than not being able to meet at all, but the cold New Jersey winter has caused the band to struggle with holding practice, as “most days are too cold.”

Rances, while being in a different situation due to his involvement in a music group that is based around releasing music electronically rather than conducting live performances, has also experienced limitations on what his group can do. Because Rances’ group is more free flowing and prefers to “create lyrics and a beat,” and then put them together on the spot in a freestyle-like manner, they “don’t make a huge deal of practicing.” However, because Rances’ group has also chosen to record their music outside to protect against COVID-19, their recording process has experienced some interruptions, specifically because they lack the steady access to electricity that they have grown accustomed to. For Rances’ group, “All of the recording equipment typically needs a charge,” making the process of recording outdoors “way more difficult.” During the pandemic, whether it is a direct result of the disease or not, Rances’ participation within the group has also been affected, and while “songs have been put out” by his group, his involvement within the group has dwindled, stating, “Personally, I haven’t been able to do anything,” in response to a question about whether he still practices, records or produces music.

Performing
Photo of Sofia Lopez                      Courtesy of A. Loubier

When it comes to the performance aspect of the music industry, there is not a uniform way in which the pandemic has changed it for the musicians of MAPSO, as it differs depending on the style of the artist. While groups like Rances’ have been able to publish and distribute their music in a way reminiscent of how they did before the pandemic, live performers like Campione and Lopez have felt changes to the performing process in multiple ways. For Campione, very few opportunities to perform have opened up. “The venues I would play in my band at Mark Murphy[‘s] aren’t happening this year, and all of the open mics run by students have been cancelled as well,” which has certainly limited her band’s opportunities to perform and potentially “spread their sound.” However, Lopez has had a different experience than Campione; “I have done two live shows since the start of quarantine. They’ve both been outside during open-air markets.” But in similar fashion to Campione and her struggles with the weather, Lopez has not “been able to perform [during the winter months] because the outdoor gigs are getting sparse.” To counteract this general lack of gigs, “there [have been] some virtual events,” such as open mics and talent shows, around MAPSO, but because of personal preference and her feeling that her music translates better and is more impactful when played in person, Lopez has chosen not to participate in them.

The Fans

It’s not just musicians who have been affected by the pandemic. When trying to determine how the last 11 months have altered the music industry, it is equally vital to learn about the experience of the fans, those avid music listeners that have borne witness to a unique set of changes to how the music scene functions. 

One such fan is Buchi Amobi, ‘22. With his free time during quarantine, Amobi has taken a deep dive into the world of music. For Amobi, music is an escape, a place where he can lose himself and “distance [himself] from a lot of the problems that are going on around [him].” In throwing himself into the music world as a get away, Amobi has found himself listening to music in bulk: “I love listening to lots of music while I jam out in my room, and I feel like this pandemic has made me want to listen to as much music as humanly possible.” In doing so, Amobi has come across more artists that were outside the mainstream, as he said, “I think that I’ve been listening to so much music as of late, that it was basically inevitable for me to come across a new artist.” Lopez confirmed the wide-spread nature of this increase in exposure for lesser known artists, and attributed it to the expansion of the general public’s free time and the accompanying mindset of, “If everybody is trying to find new stuff to do, why wouldn’t you listen to some new music?” Ray Feinleib, ‘21, echoed Amobi’s and Lopez’s message, saying that during quarantine, “I’ve been having the time to branch out [musically]. I’ve always liked listening to multiple genres, but I’ve been really getting into indie and R&B as opposed to just hip hop.” Feinleib also noted that the pandemic has witnessed an increase in the number of platforms he uses to access new music, now having the time to “listen to sessions with artists and Tiny Desk Concerts on You[T]ube,” rather than just listening through typical music streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music or Soundcloud. 

The Willpower of an Entire Industry

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought difficult times to communities across the world. Hundreds of thousands of people have died from the disease, and countless lives have been permanently altered. Many aspects of society have been forced to undergo modification due to the super-spreading nature and deadly effects of COVID-19, including the local music community in MAPSO. However, despite the changes, whether they be an increase in free time or decreased interaction and collaboration among artists, the members of MAPSO’s music community, just like the MAPSO community as a whole, are strong. They have adapted to change while making the best of their situation and finding a way to pursue their passions. This sentiment is present in MAPSO’s musically-oriented businesses, like Mark Murphy’s Music, which, according to the school’s owner, Mark Murphy, “spent countless hours talking about how to make the experience feel like us” after businesses were forced to turn virtual last spring. They spent hours working to ensure the provision of an authentic and musically enriching experience that makes sure “that music is deeply rooted within” each student, despite all the compromises the students and staff had to make so that classes could be continued in an online format. This is present in the music listeners of MAPSO, with Feinleib and Amobi taking advantage of the positives that the pandemic provided to expand their musical palates and celebrate the work of their peers and other musicians from around the country and world. And this is present in the musicians of MAPSO, who have used COVID-19 as an opportunity to better themselves and their work, and dig deep within and express themselves through music or rediscover the passion that pushed them to start playing in the first place. “For me, music is the thing that keeps me going, it’s very cathartic,” Lopez stated. “You can see [music] as an escape, something that can help you get away from your problems, or it can be a way to help you heal and confront problems that you are going through in your life… [Music] is what I love, [music] is what I’m meant to do.”

Designed by: Jack Kalsched