How Caramoor has adapted to the digital landscape and stayed close to artists and audiences throughout the pandemic.
By Kathy Schuman
Who can forget the week of March 9, 2020? It began with us welcoming five Schwab Vocal Rising Stars for our annual mentoring program with Steven Blier, with every intention of having a public concert in the Music Room on Sunday, March 15. Well, as the week progressed, it became clear that this was not to be. By March 14, everything had shut down. But wait….didn’t we just install video cameras in the Music Room the previous year? Should we do a livestreamed concert?? Do we even know how to do that???
Well, here we are, a year and 20 livestreams later, and I’m proud to say — we know how to do that! As we launch our Spring 2021 season of livestreamed concerts, I’d love to share a few thoughts with you on the past year and what it’s been like to bring music to you in this new virtual format.
In-person vs Livestream
As we transitioned to live-streaming, I felt it was really important to transfer some part of the special Caramoor setting to our virtual concerts. So, we decided early on not to do any remote recordings, but only ones actually filmed at Caramoor. (We did have one exception to this, which was our quartet-in-residence, who were unable to travel from Houston, TX). I introduced each concert from a different room of the Rosen House, or from a spot on the grounds, so our audiences could learn a bit more about our unique site.
One of the benefits of the video concerts is our ability to add additional content and features to the programs. Many of our livestreamed concerts are followed by a Q&A on stage with the artists. The audience can send questions in through the chat box during the stream. These talks really help connect audiences to the musicians, and allow them to hear about not just the music, but how they’ve been coping throughout this past year. For many of these artists, our performances were the first time they played with other people, or outside of their homes, for many months. We’ve also added short pre-recorded interviews with alumni of our Rising Stars programs, and segments with or about composers whose works are featured on the programs. We even included a fun video of the Jacobsen brothers playing our theremin!
Becoming a media company
We discovered that putting on livestreamed concerts is MUCH more work than “normal” live concerts! The programs are shot with three cameras and live-edited from the basement. (Yes, practically all of our streams have really been LIVE.) So, we now have a whole livestream ‘team’ including a director, a livestream technician, an audio engineer, video graphic designer, live- chat monitor, etc. It all comes together on the day of the performance, with the extra nail-biting that comes along with that dreaded phrase “technical difficulties”! Thankfully these have been few and far between, but we will not soon forget when we couldn’t get any audio on Inon Barnatan’s July livestream and had to tell folks to tune in the next day. But that was back in July…
Working during a pandemic
On top of everything else, there are all the Covid safety protocols. Artists sometimes had to quarantine, there were Covid tests, there were masks, there were gloves, there were Lysol wipes, there were chairs spaced six feet apart (and colleagues with a ruler to check!). And our artist/staff meals were “enjoyed” with each of us sitting alone at our own table. One of the oddest things for me was the 15 minutes or so leading up to each stream. Usually there’s audience filing in and chatting and the whole Music Room is aflutter with anticipation and conviviality. Now, the moments leading up to the stream are really, really quiet. The few staff members are at their ‘stations’ — the hall is virtually empty, except for a couple of us. The stage manager gives the countdown….5, 4, 3, 2, 1. After each piece, we give the artists a quiet thumbs up; there’s usually no clapping or bows. As I write this, it looks like N.Y. State may be allowing small indoor audiences this spring. Whoopee! Music to my ears. Now we’ll have to figure out how to do in-person concerts simultaneously with livestreams. “Watch out, sir, don’t trip on that wire…!”