There’s perhaps nothing that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians love more than getting together to share a few tales and tunes. Our famous kitchen parties are nothing without them. But due to the ongoing pandemic, we haven’t been able to gather together like we used to and live music is not as abundant. Thanks to their new series, the Soundbone Traditional Arts Foundation (a non-profit dedicated to preserving and promoting the musical, dance and storytelling traditions of Newfoundland and Labrador) is doing their part to help keep performance alive in the province.
When COVID-19 put the brakes on their Summer Music Series in Musgrave Harbour this year, Soundbone decided to take things in a new direction by going online. Edited by Ian Foster, musician/composer, filmmaker and host of the “If and When” podcast, Soundbone Kitchen Concerts is a series of six videos featuring some of the province’s finest musicians, including Foster and Nancy Hynes, Jim Payne and Fergus O’Byrne, Matthew Byrne, Andrea Monro, Colleen Power, and Dave Penny and Daunt Lee. Each video, except for one, was recorded by the artists themselves in their homes, adding to the intimate and cozy feel of the performances.
The editing process was a fairly smooth one, Foster says, but with each artist recording their own performances, the biggest challenge was streamlining the look and feel of the overall series.
“We sort of set out to find things that we could control, and part of the charm is that (the videos) are different. And it’s not like there’s anyone on the planet who doesn’t understand that COVID-19 is happening and that people are in their homes doing this sort of thing, so there’s sort of a grace there,” Foster says, adding that photography by Dennis Minty, which appears throughout the videos, helps to ground the series.
“Every artist involved in the series just understood what they needed to do and what it should sound like and have the ability to do it. So kudos to our people.”
While the pandemic has been tough on artists like himself, Foster adds, he hopes that they’ll emerge from it stronger in certain aspects.
“I know there’s going to be a lot of setbacks for people, certainly. As a touring musician, I’ve lost a large part of my yearly income because of COVID. But I’ve learned so much myself, just in the last five months, about online show presentation…it certainly will never replace live shows, but if COVID went away tomorrow, we would probably still have a small component of online shows now to go with our touring shows.”
The Soundbone Kitchen Concert Series premiered on August 30 and the last video was uploaded earlier this month. They are available for viewing anytime on Soundbone’s website and YouTube channel. Soundbone’s Artistic Director, Eric West, says they drew some inspiration from NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts for the series.
“We also wanted to make it a little more personal – people talking about their songs, their music. There’s other small technical differences between the two series, but we liked that concept and that helped us envision our own way of doing things.”
In addition to Dennis Minty’s local photography, West says, an opening graphic by visual artist Caroline Clarke and opening music by Gerry Strong on the tin whistle helps to differentiate the series, encapsulate the overall feeling and tie everything together. Since anyone with an Internet connection, anywhere in the world, can view the performances, it also means additional exposure for local artists.
“And so, it is an opportunity for an artist to market themselves beyond Newfoundland and to invite people to come to Newfoundland to see our artists. It’s one of the things that really differentiates Newfoundland, I think, is that we have this distinctive culture, and I think the series can underline that aspect of what we do,” West says.
“Hopefully it’ll have a place, this type of music series, even if we continue with live music, because it is a sort of way to market ourselves as artists, but also to highlight our culture, internationally, so people will be more aware of it.”
The online series, Foster adds, not only acts as a promotional piece for the artists themselves, but for Soundbone’s live music series in the future.
“If there’s people who haven’t checked out the live series, now you’ve got six artists who have played it in the past, or were going to play it this year – people can get a sense of the vibe of the type of show that it is,” he says.
“Half the battle that artists and promoters share is just getting people in through the door that first time.”
The Kitchen Concert Series isn’t the only project that Soundbone has taken online, West says. This summer, the Vinland Music Camp, which is in its 20th year and usually takes place in Gros Morne National Park, also took place in cyberspace, featuring workshops, concerts and singalong “campfires” over Zoom. Soundbone’s Cultural Ambassador Program (which brings live music to those who wouldn’t otherwise have access) also included some interactive concerts this year via video conferencing and social media, which were shared with music lovers of all ages, including some residents of care homes.
“After COVID passes, we’ll still bring a lot of these skills to our role as an artist,” West says.
“It has forced us into reaching out and using new technologies.”
Check out Soundbone’s Kitchen Concert Series here.