Imagine a world with no colour, a world in black and white, where the joy of a buttercup yellow or the calm of a baby blue is incomprehensible. This is how Clifton Harrison describes the world without music.
Harrison, 42, is one of the UK’s most renowned viola players and has been living in lockdown like the rest of us.
However, when Harrison was told he could not work, he didn’t sit back, boil the kettle, and fire up Netflix; he performed and recorded a Telemann concerto in six parts by himself.
Since the lockdown began, Harrison created his series One Camera, One Take in which he performs various pieces in different parts, always in just one take. Harrison said: “I wanted a purpose for waking up.”
While apps like Acapella make it easier for artists and amateurs to create layered harmonies, Harrison has taken a more technical approach; learning and mastering software such as Logic Pro and Final Cut Pro, recording audio and video separately, and then splicing them together to achieve impressive sound quality.
Harrison explained the series’ success and said: “People tuned into how happy I was, everyone said how wonderful it was and they are waiting for the next one.”
A member of the acclaimed Kreutzer Quartet and artist-in-residence at Oxford University, Harrison allows for mistakes and spontaneity in his ‘warts and all’ performances, mimicking a sense of liveness.
The virtuoso describes music as his emotional and creative outlet, and said the pandemic left him in a state of shock. Harrison said: “It’s really disheartening. I couldn’t cope. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to look at my phone anymore because every email had the same wording — ‘it is with a heavy heart that I write to you…’. Can you imagine getting forty of those? You never expect to have five of those in one day.”
Harrison, who has been playing from the age of three, said: “I don’t know anything else. I remember playing before I was talking. It’s like having to be mute.”
On an Exceptional Talent visa from North Carolina for the past ten years, he is not entitled to any of the financial schemes the government has set up for the 4.8 million self-employed workers that make up 15.1% of the UK labour force.
But not all musicians are doing it alone. Ninety One Living Room, an East London Jazz Bar on Brick Lane, has launched livestreamed Lockdown Sessions on YouTube where all proceeds are going straight to the performers.
Creative Director Juliet Kennedy, 38, has been promoting the shows and said: “It is incredible how generous people are. It’s uplifting to realise people really care about musicians and are grateful for the music they have been providing.”
Miss Kennedy said the Lockdown Sessions have been well received but musicians are “skint and worried’. She said: “We know them personally. We want to nurture these talented young artists.”
As well as the likes of trumpet player Jay Phelps and his online residency, another of Ninety One Living Room’s young artists is Jelly Cleaver, a Jazz band who live together in Camberwell, London.
Made up of Katie Moberly (bass), Beth Hopkins (saxophone), Tash Keary (drums) and Jelly Cleaver (guitar and voice), this musical household have been hosting ‘Ballad Tuesdays’ and ‘Standards Thursdays’ at home to practice and maintain their skill and repertoire.
Cleaver, the 24-year-old band leader from Southampton, said: “There’s so much pressure, it’s not necessarily the best time to be writing music because it’s such an overwhelming time.”
Listening to the likes of John Coltrane’s ‘Naima’ and Jeff Buckley’s ‘Lover, You Should’ve Come Over’ to lift her spirits and get her through the lockdown, Cleaver said: “Music is a way to manipulate people’s emotions.”
As we imagine emerging from this lockdown and rushing to experience live performance once again, it is a wonder how many artists and venues will survive to tell the tale.
Words by Mhari Aurora
Featured image by Stephen Wright
This article was originally published as part of The Indiependent’s May 2020 charity magazine, which is still on sale and is raising money for the British Lung Foundation. Find out more here.