The Coronavirus chaos has seen many arts organisations and individuals take to the online world in creative and engaging ways to keep on reaching out to their audiences, the vast majority of whom will be on lockdown for the foreseeable future. I talk to Paul Smith, the cofounder of the UK-based music charity VOCES8 foundation, two of whose ensembles – VOCES8 and Apollo5 – have created their series #livefromhome in a move to augment their already impressive online presence.
‘It’s been an interesting couple of weeks,’ Paul says. ‘Almost everything about how we work has changed. We were used to doing quite a lot online anyway, but the idea that we don’t have concerts and workshops means that most of what we do on a daily basis has gone. Close to 100% of what we do on a daily basis would be being in a room with people and making music with them, so we’re trying to capture the essence of that and just do it in a different way.’
Previous to #livefromhome, Paul and VOCES8 have always had a strong desire to share their work. ‘Whether it’s releasing videos of our music or thinking about ways to connect with people and provide learning tools for them, we’ve always been trying to explore that’ – so #livefromhome is just a natural extension of the VOCES8 philosophy.
#livefromhome is now at the end of its first week, and has featured performances, events and interactive sessions from members of both VOCES8 and Apollo5. This week sees more video releases, interactive workshops, and a special interview this Thursday with Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo.
At the beginning of the second week of #livefromhome, Paul mentions some of the potential perils of live streaming and all the connectivity issues that can ensue.
‘There have been so many steep learning curves!’ says Paul. ‘Wondering how the internet is going to work is at the forefront of our challenges. We very quickly learned to avoid 5pm as the government tends to make announcements then and everyone jumps online and everything crashes,’ he laughs.
Was it difficult to coordinate and plan this series with all the social shutdowns taking place? Paul explains, ‘Before all the clampdowns took place, we saw them coming with all our work being cancelled, and so we tried to get into a position where we could record some material, build a plan and try to create something that was representative of who we are and what we try to share on a daily basis. What we’ve created with our online ensembles and the educational videos is hopefully similar to something you would see if you came along to one of our workshops.’
What are the wider implications of the work that the VOCES8 foundation is doing?
‘For many performing artists the last couple of weeks have been an incredibly turbulent and stressful time, so if we can try to find ways to stay creative and interact with our audience I think that is a really positive thing as a performer and educator. Obviously everyone else in the world has been feeling equally rubbish for the past few weeks, so if we can use our music to bring a bit of positivity into people’s lives and improve the physical and mental health side of things with the activities we’re running then I think we’re doing a good thing.’
Does Paul think things will change in the future?
‘The UK government’s announcements of support for people has, I hope, given some reassurance that we’ll be able to keep on living, but the impact of these measures will, I suspect, be felt for years to come. If you look at all the measures being put in place all over the world, they are so dramatic, so we’ll just have to wait and see what the repercussions of these are.
‘Everyone’s aware that this is an unavoidable thing, that is going to close everything down, but actually I feel there’s going to be a real sense of coming together and determination, to make things happen and drive things forward and not be stopped by the giant events around us. The long-term impacts for our society may be positive if we stick together and come out of it well.’