A Working Musician in the Pandemic

A Working Musician in the Pandemic
Kim Barlow

Andrew MacKelvie is an award-winning saxophonist and improviser living in Wolfville. He has performed across Canada and abroad with acts like Jerry Granelli, Lido Pimienta, Aquakultre, Erin Costelo, and Roxy & the Underground Soul Sound. His group, New Hermitage, is releasing an album on the third of July titled Unearth. He is currently studying at Acadia University, and will likely perform live at least once this summer, as part of the tiny outdoor concert series being organized by the Music In Communities Co-op. Here we discuss impacts of the pandemic on working musicians.

Kim Barlow (KB): What has changed in your day-to-day since lockdown?
Andrew MacKelvie (AM): Things really slowed down for a while. Months of planning was thrown out the window as all of my gigs disappeared. I get a lot of notifications from my calendar about gigs that should be happening. So, I am home much more than I should be. Which is kind of nice, but I am missing being out on the road making music. It has led to periods of manic creativity, which is cool.

KB: How have you been managing? Has it affected your well-being?
AB: I find my mental health is a bit of a roller coaster. Some highs and lows. I am really lucky to have a practice to keep me focused. Having a purpose is really helpful. The time has been good, it has allowed me to follow my curiosity. I’ve been exploring new ways of making sound through electro-acoustics and that has been really fun.

KB: How are you adapting your work to fit the new parameters?
AB: With New Hermitage we have been “rehearsing” every week, trying to figure out ways that we can improvise together and respecting social distancing. We have been making a series of videos with dancer Susanne Chui from Mocean Dance that explore spontaneous composition and community through a digital medium. It’s exciting work. We’re premiering the videos on August twelfth across a series of platforms. We are hoping that this work will become the base of our live performances when the restrictions are lifted. Of course, who knows when that will be and what that will look like.

KB: Do you think it has harmed your music career in the long-term? Helped it?
AB: Honestly, I have no idea. I hope it has helped. I know I am going to come out of this with a bunch of skills I didn’t have before. I have been mixing a lot more of my own stuff and exploring other aspects of my creativity, including making videos and exploring MAX 8, a graphic coding language that manipulates audio and video, but we (New Hermitage) should be touring right now, which is a massive disappointment. I have been able to book some gigs. I have done some video work for suddenlyLISTEN and am about to do a video for the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation, but most things have disappeared or are uncertain. I have a commission for Upstream Music Association that was partnered with Symphony Nova Scotia, but now SNS has cancelled their season, so that commission will look very different.

KB: If live music becomes rarer, if venues and attendees are fewer, how will you adapt?
AB: I think this is the question on everyone’s mind. We’ll continue making videos and other projects that take place online. I’m not as interested in streaming a live show as they are being presented now, but I think we can get creative with the medium. Maybe a traditional concert doesn’t have to be translated to the internet. We also can do things outside in the fresh air, which I’ve done before.

KB: What do you think we need, culturally, during and coming out of this?
AB: If you love music then you have to support it within the means of the system that is currently in place. So, that means putting some money towards it. I am into trades, if you like my music and you make something then hit me up with some of that jam or pickles or knitted socks, but really just support musicians and other creatives. It’s a precarious life of feast and famine. I think that on a larger scale, COVID-19 is showing that workers have the power, and that the system we have doesn’t work. Our idea of value needs a fundamental paradigm shift. Further connected to music, we need to defund the police and we need to think hard about what decolonization looks like. COVID-19 is a reset button that we can press, if we want to.