Singer-songwriter and guitarist Matt Jaffe admits it’s been hard not being able to practice with his band, The Distractions, through Covid. “The sudden absence of live music gatherings spurred appreciation and connections, as often happens when something is taken away. Musician friends and I have done more to stay connected proactively, often through recordings. Someone will send me the bulk of a track and ask if I can sing harmony on it or play a guitar track.”
Throughs all of this, Jaffe has continued volunteering with Bread & Roses Presents (B&R), the well-loved Marin treasure that provides entertainment for isolated audiences. Currently, B&R is offering a way to connect musicians with appreciative audiences through technology. These virtual “live” music events have been presented mainly through Zoom and reached institutionalized audiences throughout the Bay Area. When the lockdown began in March of 2020, B&R had to suspend regular indoor programs. They worked hard to re-invent and, in some cases, expand their program in 2020 to continue serving audiences in institutional settings.
Normally, musicians build community in intimate settings like Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley and sizable outdoor music festivals in locations like Stern Grove. Until the pandemic, that is, when public gatherings came to a halt. Musicians like Jaffe have been finding creative ways to build community in this void.
Grateful for his collaboration with B&R, Jaffe added, “I’ve done some live streams on social media, and it’s been good, but there’s a flippancy, a diminished sense of an emotional reward than actually playing for an audience live. The Bread & Roses performance, even though it is a live stream, you know that the people you are playing for still have the type of investment that comes with choosing to see live music. I did a performance for Sonoma Juvenile, and it felt much richer to me.”
B&R Communications Manager/Producer Marian Hubler said, “We’ve seen a steady upward curve among our performers expressing interest in and availability to do Zoom shows. Many of our performers are doing regular Facebook ‘live’ shows or other virtual concerts on social media. Last year, we had a special initiative in our social media to share news of these regular live streams of our volunteer performers. Bread & Roses has expanded the capacity of our volunteer performers to share their music with isolated audiences during the pandemic.”
“Music is so human. I’ve volunteered with Bread & Roses for ten years, and I love them. They are true to their mission of hope, healing, and joy through live music.”
– Lauren Arrow
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Lyle Belger graduated from high school in 2020 and is taking a gap year before starting at Stanford in the fall. She has a beautiful voice, plays guitar, and brings a fun repertoire of pop songs to her audiences. She’s volunteered for about six years. She feels she’s grown as a musician, as well as a person, “Volunteering has gotten me through this year. Before, it was great to go in person and see the expressions on everyone’s faces. Once the lockdown happened, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to perform for them anymore, and I was looking forward to doing more during my gap year. Then Bread & Roses reached out and explained about the virtual shows. Now, I still get to see people sing along and to see their faces, so my audience’s energy pushes me forward and motivates me to keep going.”
Of the 270 B&R programs presented last year, 115 were regular programs during the first quarter before the shutdown. They also gave 101 concerts for facility audiences in outdoor settings. In their newest initiative, 50 of these were musical programs for recipients and volunteers at the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank at their main headquarters in San Rafael. B&R also facilitated 54 “live virtual” mostly Zoom shows, 20 of which were for Marin County facilities.
Hubler added, “Among the advantages of doing Zoom programs, our volunteer performers can now schedule volunteer concerts in different geographic areas without having to drive, which greatly expands our capacity to match our performers with audiences throughout the greater Bay Area.”
The drawback to musicians using Zoom to live stream with multiple performers in different locations is the slight lag time that occurs, meaning musicians hear notes a couple of seconds after playing.
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Lauren Arrow is a powerful, engaging singer who has performed several recent Zoom programs through B&R for developmentally disabled adults at Cedars in Ross. She’s also a teacher. She planned to teach a 50-to-60-person choir last winter, and all that had to change. She explained, “It was very much like the universe laughed at any plans I had for 2020. Working with a group that big ‘virtually’ is impossible.”
She continued, “I have a couple of bands I usually play with, but due to the pandemic, I had to limit my collaborations. Being in a small pod with just my mom, dad, and grandma, I turned my parents into my musician friends. I’d been teaching my mom and dad the ukulele for a couple of years. Now, we have this great playlist.”
Her collaborative opportunities opened up eventually due to technology, and she is teaching again and singing with people in Canada, Scotland, and Turkey. She added, “Music is so human. I’ve volunteered with Bread & Roses for ten years, and I love them. They are true to their mission of hope, healing, and joy through live music. They allow me to use my music as a service, and that is meaningful to me. It is possible to cultivate community through music online; you have to be creative about it.”
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Si Perkoff is a 40-year veteran of the Bay Area Jazz scene and has been volunteering with B&R for decades. He plays piano and electric keyboards with a wide variety of Jazz artists and bands and teaches Jazz. Since all his live performances ended a year ago, what’s new for him is his time to practice, “I’ve never been a great one for practice, though I’ve always been an active gigger which kept my skills up. By practicing more, I have the freedom to stop and correct mistakes or investigate things, so one of the side effects is that it forced me to stop and depend only on myself.”
“Zoom has been a big part of how I’ve been functioning during the pandemic,” he added. It isn’t nearly as exciting as being there in person. During a performance, I can’t hear the clapping, Zoom isn’t all that great for that, but I can see them clapping and know we are connecting. Volunteering with Bread & Roses is one of the most important things I do in my life.
I feel lucky. Music has been the center of my life in many ways. I started playing when I was seven years old, and I’m 83 and still love it.”
Early Winter – Matt Jaffe: YouTube
Best Day Of My Life (at North Bay Children’s Center) – Lyle Belger: YouTube
‘Round Midnight – Si Perkoff: YouTube
Kate Fitzsimmons is a freelance writer and fund development professional. Her writing skills were honed as a Contributing Editor to The San Francisco Review of Books where she interviewed John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, Bobbie Ann Mason, Alice Walker and others. She works with businesses, nonprofits and entrepreneurs to assist them in raising their visibility through their stories. When she isn’t writing, she is cooking for friends, collecting art or engaged in a good novel.