Returning to performing

ISM member and pianist, Jane Everard MISM, shares her experience of returning to live performance, putting on a socially-distanced concert in her local community for VJ Day.

After several months of lockdown, my small village in North Norfolk was desperate for an event by which they could get together safely, cheer each other on and raise spirits! We had been communicating well and regularly throughout lockdown via the village Facebook group, and anticipation of what could be done was building.

I suggested a VJ Day event for 15 August, combining food and live music, and the village pub kindly agreed that their garden and car park could be used, with all COVID-19 social distancing rules covered.

The landlord borrowed a large trailer, and decorated it with bunting and vintage messages. I contacted my soprano friend Zaira Palumbo MISM, and baritone Anthony Loftus, and we put an hour-long programme together of 1940’s melodies and war time memories. We included solos from each of us, and duets too – and planned to have at least half a dozen or so audience participation songs. We agreed to give of our services for free.

Advertising began across the village on posters, and also on the village community Facebook group. A fish and chip van agreed to come and serve the villagers on the day, with payment made upfront. The scene was set.

We rehearsed socially distancing on my patio, with keyboard and amplifier. We thought through the programme, providing variety and interest for all – including A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square, Kiss Me Goodnight Sergeant Major, There’ll Always Be An England and The White Cliffs Of Dover. We included a piano solo item too from myself – Moonlight Serenade.

On the day, the weather was overcast, but the villagers first of all observed the national 2 minutes silence at the village flag pole for 5pm. They then walked down to the pub, where the garden was decked with bunting, and chairs and tables were suitably distanced so that everyone could enjoy themselves safely. A member of the village parish council was on the gate, taking down details for track and trace, and giving out stickers for each person attending. The bar was served through an external door into the garden, so no one needed to queue inside for a drink. The pub landlord dressed as a World War II evacuee – which brought a smile to everyone's faces!

The programme began with an hour of background piano music from myself, whilst the villagers munched on their pre-ordered fish and chips, and generally enjoyed themselves. At 6pm, we began our programme, and streamed it live on Facebook too, for the benefit of those who couldn’t make it, but also for our own publicity purposes. Nearly 60 villagers came to enjoy the event, and our 1940’s programme, and the singalong part was extremely well received. With Union Jack flags waving, we ended with We’ll meet again and Land of Hope and Glory.

The weather was just about kind to us – a fine mist descended and towels were needed to dry down our kit half way through, but it surely didn’t dampen our spirits as we recalled musical memories of World War II and remembered all of those who gave their lives for our freedom.

I very much hope that our event inspires others to see what is possible, despite the extreme circumstances we all find ourselves in. Once the idea was borne, and a team was behind it, it was possible to make it happen. The event was featured in the following edition of the village newsletter, and I was given the opportunity to advertise my services as a 'Pianist For All Occasions'. Music truly lifts our spirits and indeed brings people together – the village is still talking about the event, and asking what we can come up with next!

Jane Everard ALCM MISM
Pianist For All Occasions
Visit Jane's website

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