With so much beyond our control, musicians continue to create
Merriam-Webster might have crowned “pandemic” as the word of the year, but for musicians, it was the term “force majeure” that really defined 2020. Any musician who has had a contract canceled in the last year is all too familiar with the term. It’s the rarely invoked (prior to 2020) clause in contracts that frees either party from fulfilling their obligations when something extraordinary happens beyond everyone’s control, e.g., a global pandemic.
Every time the phone rang and you heard “force majeure,” another booking was crossed off the calendar. The term might as well mean, “too bad, so sad, you’re out of luck.” There is no recourse for the canceled gigs and lost income. It’s the bad news the subject of our cover interview, Brandee Younger, heard time and time again last spring as her once full gig calendar was wiped clean by the pandemic lockdown in New York City. After a concert she and her partner, bassist Dezron Douglas, had scheduled at Columbia University was canceled, they had a brainstorm. They decided to go ahead and play the concert…from their apartment living room in Harlem. They called it “brunch” and livestreamed it on a Friday morning at 11 on Facebook. The response from the audience that tuned in was immediate and intense.
“We realized what people were going through during that first livestream,” Younger recalls in Being Brandee. “People were struggling. They needed this. The concerts sort of became an obligation.”
For months, Younger and Douglas played those Friday morning brunch concerts. In fact, they are still playing brunch nine months later, just not quite as often. (You can find them on Patreon if you want to tune into their brunch concerts, past or present.)
Most of us are beyond tired of talking and reading about the pandemic and lockdowns and cancellations and quarantines. However, as many of us are on the verge of going a full year without playing much if any live music, in the traditional sense, the stories of creation and adaptation coming out of our small community are positively inspiring.
Younger and Douglas’ lockdown brunches not only gave her listeners an hour of hope and sustenance during the darkest days of early lockdown, they also turned into a record deal. News of the lockdown brunches spread far and wide as national media outlets such as the New York Times, Forbes magazine, and NPR picked up the story. The Chicago-based label International Anthem approached the duo about turning their Friday concerts into an album. Aptly named Force Majeure, the recording was released in December. Just like that, the duo flipped force majeure in their favor. As Douglas points out, “You can take the work away, but you can’t stop musicians from being creative.”
More evidence of the truth of this statement is everywhere you look. Nashville harpist Liana Alpino shares her story of helping voters come away from Election Day with a positive experience by getting involved with Play for the Vote. “As a musician living through a pandemic, performances have been few and far between,” she writes in our Sounding Board column. “Play for the Vote [was]a tangible way to use my music for an important cause.”
And in Make It Happen, Skaila Kanga tells us about her new composition for harp and narration, translated into 13 languages. She is confident that when the pandemic finally eases, the need for our musical contribution to the world’s well-being will only expand. “We have to be ready for that day with our practice, our projects, our creative ideas, and our artistry,” she writes. “The world will need us more than ever.” •