Creatives In Lockdown #2 — Gennie Joy, Clarinettist/Music Educator & Greg Link, Bass Singer
The COVID-19 pandemic has irrevocably changed the working lives of UK arts industry professionals. In a wide ranging series of interviews, conducted during the UK’s ‘hard’ lockdown, I learn how creatives have adapted their practice and daily routines in order to maintain their creativity, solvency and sanity.
In the second of four interviews with a variety of musicians, I speak to Gennie Joy, a freelance clarinettist & music educator, and Greg Link, who sings bass in vocal group Apollo5. They are highly experienced music practitioners whose work ranges from public concerts to schools’ workshops both in the UK and internationally. They also happen to be partners and live together in South East London. You can find links to their websites and social media at the end of the article.
What were you doing when the arts industry began to shut down in early-mid March, and how did the lockdown initially affect your work?
Gennie: When lockdown happened and schools shut I actually stayed working for a week, for vulnerable children and the children of key workers. The majority of what I do at the moment is working as a curriculum music teacher in primary schools — lots of singing, learning to read music, pitch games, instruments and percussion. I’m totally self-employed and at that point the self-employed income scheme hadn’t been announced so I was thinking: “I’m not going to have any money!” I pushed to keep going in but by the end of that week it became apparent it wasn’t a good idea and the music service I work for advised against it. Within a week the self-employed support scheme was announced, I stopped going in and haven’t been back since.
Greg: I’d been on tour in the States during most of February and early March, then as soon as we got back we went to France for a week of gigs with an orchestra in Avignon. We had the first day with loads of kids but then everything got cancelled and we flew home early. We were actually in a restaurant when they announced they were closing all restaurants. It’s not completely unusual for concerts or festivals to be cancelled because of financial problems, scheduling reasons, or adverse weather for outdoor gigs. But we’ve never had a whole trip called off because of a health crisis. On the second day of the festival, just before we flew home, all the performers went to the venue and live streamed to the school kids who hadn’t been able to attend.
How has lockdown changed your working lives?
Gennie: The vast majority of my work has gone online. Although one of my schools haven’t wanted anything because the children come from homes that only have access to one device and often their parents need it for work, so it’s just not feasible. But another school has had me producing weekly videos since Easter. I’ve been doing Zoom sessions with individual families via a couple of charities I work for: The Amber Trust and Soundabout. And I’ve produced a couple of online videos with the woodwind quartet I play in: soundSPARK. All of this is work I was previously doing and it’s moved online. I very fortunately picked up another job (with Soundabout) just before lockdown came in, working over Zoom with a family. I feel very lucky to have kept the majority of my engagements running.
Greg: All the work I do is concert and workshop-based, involving lots of people in confined spaces, so it’s been very tricky getting over that hurdle. But the foundation that Apollo5 are part of have set up a ‘Live from Home’ series, where every day we post a video of a gig, workshop or an interview — some recorded pre-lockdown and some during. I think we have managed to post something every day for the last sixty days. Some of our videos have proved to be very popular, they’ve had lots of views and we’re managing to reach more people than we would normally. On some of our Facebook live videos you get little messages saying things like: “Hello from rural Lithuania!” It feels quite nice to be connecting with people outside of the UK. A lot of our cancelled gigs have been postponed by exactly a year, some were optimistically rescheduled to September/October but those have now been put back too.
What’s it like doing music over video call?
Greg: Early on I was doing lots of little guest slots with choirs where there were sixty people on a Zoom call, but singing at the same time with mics on doesn’t work with the lag. So what usually happens now is the director mutes everyone and you sing along to a backing track or click-track in your own space.
Gennie: The vast majority of the work that both of us have done is pre-recorded videos. For me that was a conscious decision, my schools asked if I preferred to deliver content live or pre-recorded and it’s just much easier to work around each other’s schedules if I’m not obliged to do something live. I’m teaching one private clarinet student over Zoom which has been tricky because you can’t show them and talk to them in the way you usually would. She’s only ten but luckily is very enthusiastic.
Have you bought any new kit or adapted your flat to facilitate home working?
Greg: So we have two areas: ‘Area A’ is our wardrobe which serves as a nice blank backdrop for filming, while ‘Area B’ is the kitchen table which has lots of crazy shit going on… [Greg shows me a giant mess of recording equipment, wires spooling out around the table and a giant black microphone at the centre]. This is all new stuff sent from the foundation. We’re doing a project involving something called single-tracking, so I record all my parts then pack up and send the kit in an uber to the next person. This massive microphone is called an Iso-Cube and it’s got a large pop shield that filters out any surrounding buzzing or humming. It’s been awesome because the road we live on is particularly noisy. In terms of recording we’ve been using a mixture of iMovie and Pro Tools. Both of us have definitely upskilled in the way we can use tech, the recording software especially has been completely new to me — I’ve never had to use Pro Tools before. It’s all quite complicated so has been a big learning curve. It took ten days of effing it up before I got the hang of everything.
Gennie: In a selfish way it’s quite a good thing to now have so many recordings of our work. A lot of the stuff we normally do is like: you do it and it’s gone. But now we have lots of examples of the different things we can do musically. And we’ve both found that our recorded videos are getting way more views than they would’ve done in any live setting.
As it pertains to being musicians, what does your daily routine look like?
Greg: I tend to wake up at 7am, have a coffee and try and get out at about 8am for a walk. I’m out for a fair bit and enjoy listening to podcasts. Usually during that time is when Gen will do her recording. Living in a studio flat means we can’t both record at the same time, so we have quite a specific rota in that regard.
Gennie: Compared to Greg the amount of work I’m doing in a week has dropped, so I’m using the extra time for other stuff that I’ve always wanted to do. I now do yoga every day, practice my ukulele, and do more clarinet practice.
Do you find yourselves doing more pure practice of your instruments than you would have previously?
Gennie: Yes, I’m doing way more! With my work schedule being less intense I’ve found myself doing loads more practice than I would normally.
Greg: I’m used to singing a lot in a day anyway but I’ve been doing more technique practice. A benefit of all the recording is you can self-analyse since I have to re-record the same bit multiple times, plus the fact I’m close mic’d, it means I can hear which vowels are flat or which intervals aren’t bang on.
And in your free time is there anything you’ve discovered, or rediscovered, that helps you to just pass the time?
Greg: We have a Nintendo Switch so that’s been great. We’ve had it for a while but have got more into multiplayer, Overcooked 2 for example…
Gennie: We have to do that in little bursts though because it’s so stressful! Until I met Greg I’d never had or played a video game console. That’s been quite a fun way for us to keep busy.
Greg: We’ve also spent lots of time just exploring the neighbourhood, trying to support local businesses where we can.
Finally, what do your work diaries look like between now and the end of the year?
Greg: Currently work is just coming in a week at a time which is weird because usually my Apollo5 schedule is mapped out up to a year ahead. We’re arranging to make the Gresham Centre [Apollo5’s base] safe for visitors with social distancing, once restrictions are relaxed enough for audiences to attend — we even briefly considered, but quickly abandoned, the idea of using perspex screens around each singer. The first thing we’re going to do is recordings and, as the centre is essentially a massive church, we can socially distance from each other with no problem. But it’ll be an unusual experience given we’re so used to performing shoulder to shoulder. We’re also prepping for not being able to fly abroad or hold public gigs by offering mostly digital concert and workshop packages. Everything we’ve put out so far has been free but that’s obviously not sustainable long-term.
Gennie: Whilst some primary schools have now reopened it’s very complicated as a music teacher with most schools operating within ‘bubbles’. Someone like me, who would usually see maybe five to eight classes a day, is now classed as a potential super-spreader, as opposed to the class teacher who only has to see one group of kids a day. I also frequently work with children with special needs, many of whom have underlying health conditions, and coming into contact with other people for them is obviously a no-go right now. At least online teaching means that as many people who can technologically access it can continue to do so. But with soundSPARK we have one more online concert coming up and after that, nothing. It’s just a vacuum.
How Gennie Is Keeping Busy
Yoga with Adriene YouTube
Tiger King Netflix
Theatre and musical live streams
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
Music in the School by Janet Mills
Issues in Music Teaching by Charles Plummeridge
Sound and Silence by John Paynter
Sign o’ the Times by Prince
Speaking in Tongues by Talking Heads
Blackstar by David Bowie
The Guilty Feminist Podcast
The Adam Buxton PodcastGossipmongers
Online music lessons and performances
Recipes from Mob Kitchen cookbook
Felt finger puppets for my Early Years music work
Virtual pub quiz rounds
Overcooked 2 Nintendo Switch
Zelda: Breath of the Wild Nintendo Switch
How Greg Is Keeping Busy
Scrubs All 4
Theatre and musical live streams
The Art of the Score podcast
Off Menu podcast
Desert Island Discs podcast
The Dream Team Tapes podcast
Discover Weekly Spotify
Complex recipes we usually don’t have time for
Apollo5 online music workshops & performances
Same as Gen, of course!
Originally published at jamesrmcandrew.com on June 24, 2020