A new project by Yale’s Oral History of American Music chronicles how the pandemic and months of self-isolation have affected prominent musicians. Alone Together: Musicians in the Time of Covid is a collection of thoughtful and surprising interviews with performers, conductors and composers from the world of jazz and classical music.
So far, 41 interviews have been edited and released online, including a wide-ranging conversation with iconic opera and theater director Peter Sellars.
“The planet called up the virus and said ‘could you please come help?’” Sellars explained to OHAM interviewer Gregg Bendian. “I still have to get the attention of these human beings, and I have to have them understand how serious the stakes are.”
Libby Van Cleve, director of OHAM, said it was important for her and the staff to chronicle this remarkable period in history.
“There was this sense, with oral history, where we’re wanting to preserve the zeitgeist, we wanted to preserve what were people feeling right then and what were people’s attitude towards it,” said Van Cleve.
Most of the interviews were conducted via Zoom, and the list of interviewees is impressive. It features composers, like Bright Sheng and minimalist pioneer Steve Reich, and performers, like trumpeter Randy Brecker and legendary jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins.
“I don’t think about this world as being the be-all and end-all, you know?” said Rollins. “I’m a guy that’s always been into the afterlife, the afterworld and all that stuff, so whatever happens here to us, I consider it a part of what we call karma.”
Van Cleve said that while interviewees had their own unique perspectives on coronavirus and self-isolation, there were some common reactions to the events of the last nine months.
“It was interesting how many people across genre, across ethnicity, across age said ‘you just have to keep working, you just have to keep up your practice, just have to keep doing what you are doing,’” said Van Cleve. “A number of people talked about how you have to step back and slow down a little bit -- it gives you the opportunity to do things you wouldn’t do if you weren’t forced to slow down.”
You can find edited versions of the interviews on YouTube. The entire Alone Together collection is available at OHAM’s website.