As part of the preparation of a new edition of the Companion to Irish Traditional Music, I was asked by Fintan Vallely if I could say something about how the corona pandemic has affected the German Irish music scene. My first thought was to turn it down, because I somehow lost track of things over the past two years. On second thought: Why don't I just ask around! That's why I'm happy about feedback from Gudrun Walther (Cara, Deitsch) and Jens Kommnick (Iontach). here.
My first question was how everyone survived the Corona period and what they did? Jens Kommnick sums it up succinctly: "We tried to make the best of the situation: we arranged new pieces, recorded them in our home studio and shared them with our fellow human beings on relevant music platforms such as Spotify or Apple Music. We also met each other often - which we usually don't have that much time for - just to do sessions."
Gudrun Walther goes into detail: "We had a few open air concerts in the summer months of 2020, mostly as a duo and mostly booked at very short notice, but also 3 with the whole band. In autumn 2020 we had workshops that took place in person, and a few more concerts as a duo. Then everything was locked up again. At the same time, we also held some courses in online format, held an online lecture and played several streamed concerts."
She recalls one of the folk highlights in the Corona period: "In the summer of 2020 we organized the Sang & Klang online folk festival, where we were able to collect over €30,000 in donations, which we gave to three organizations that helped musicians and technicians during the Corona period." Overall, however, it was a very depressing time: "It would have been difficult without the interim aid, but the federal state of Baden-Württemberg approves the so-called Entrepreneur's Salary of €1,000 per month, which can also be used for living expenses."
And who would have guessed back then that it wouldn't be possible to get back to business as usual so quickly: "In 2021 we launched Tunes from Home. Between January 6th and July 5th we hosted 25 online sessions on Zoom, every Monday evening. Participants could donate as much or as little as they wanted in advance via PayPal. In return, we sent out sheet music for the session. The participants could hear us, we recorded the sound with professional equipment, and everyone could play along from home. Sometimes we had whole families who played with us."
"After it was clear that the response was huge (over 150 devices with often several participants), we started inviting guests who were then connected virtually and took over part of the session, so that the participants could not only play with us. Among our guests were: Mick O'Brien, Ciara Ni Bhriain, Oisín MacDiarmada, Samantha Harvey, Claire Mann, Aaron Jones, Regina Kunkel, Bjorn Kaidel, Toon Van Mierlo, Pascale Rubens and Andy Cutting."
"We also invited live guests for special occasions (Easter or Pentecost), when large music meetings usually take place, and on Pentecost we even moved to the nearby Rätschenmühle, where we held the session on stage and hired a sound and video technician. Live guests were Hendrik Morgenbrodt, Steffen Gabriel, Franzi Gabriel and Barbara Hintermeier."
"The Tunes from Home online sessions saved us financially and gave our musical guests and some technicians a fee. It also kept the scene together, and after the session (usually we played until 10 p.m.), there was often music for a long time on Zoom in various chat rooms. Even today people still talk to us about how grateful they were to make music every Monday and to socialize. The repertoire has now also become established, many sets can now be heard on local Sessions or workshops - that was a real success."
At the same time, Gudrun was involved in various initiatives that meet virtually: the European Folk Network, the DeutschFolk-Initiative, and the Profolk online general meetings. But she complains about "the uncertainty and the resulting pressure to constantly look for alternatives, never to settle down." In the summer of 2021 you were allowed to meet face to face again: "There were gigs and workshops again, we were constantly busy until October."
Incidentally, the Vienna-based Celtica Pipes Rock also released the DVD "Celtic Spirits at Merkenstein" that summer during a brief Corona respite. A total of 70 active members, including choirs, drummers, tap dancers and fire artists, substituted for the otherwise absent audience.
After the cancellation of all festivals in 2020 throughout Europe, Celtica guitarist Gajus Stappen could hardly hold back his tears: "That was one of the most beautiful moments of my life! The Celtica experience is above all a live experience. The long lockdown is almost forgotten, but it shouldn't be overlooked that - until concert life eventually returns to normal - the sale of CDs and DVDs has become the primary source of income for many artists."
The wanting live experience was also the most unpleasant thing for Jens Kommnick at this time: "The worst thing was that we couldn't share our love of music with our audience for so long. The feeling of happiness that you can experience on stage is barely to replace; and we missed that happiness so much."
"At the moment" (i.e. June 2022), says Jens, "the situation has noticeably improved: although there is still a little lack of planning security, we can perform again and enjoy every concert gratefully and to the fullest."
Gudrun Walther sums it up: "From November 2021 to March 2022 there was another break; we bridged it with the now announced scholarship projects of the federal state as well as the copyright collecting societies GVL and GEMA. I had a composition scholarship from the state of Baden-Württemberg and an admission scholarship from the GVL. Jürgen [Treyz] had a research grant and an admission grant." The result was: "Music inspired by the landscape of the Swabian Jura (where I live) that can be performed with a string quartet as well as being folky. A trio CD with Damian McKee, Aaron Jones and myself. A children's songs CD with Bernd Kohlhepp and Jürgen Treyz. Heaps of new old pieces dug out of manuscripts for upcoming Deitsch albums."
"We've been on tour since March 2022, but always with the sword of Damocles hanging over us - once a tour had to be canceled in the middle because our piper was positive. I've just got back from a workshop where a participant was tested positive, and so I'm testing myself every day now, and the band is actually arriving..."
Finally, of course, the question arises as to whether one can learn a lesson for the future?! Gudrun says: "Stay mentally flexible. Dare to realize ideas. Teamwork is great - both with Sang & Klang and with other projects, it has been shown how great it is to work creatively with other people, even if you only meet virtually. Trust that there are ways - you just have to find them."
Jens Kommnick: "Well, a lesson we have learned from the pandemic? Maybe that we now appreciate many things that we took for granted in the past: hugs, socializing with friends and family, sessions, etc."
And myself? I came to terms with the Corona period writing a song called "The Luck of the Irish", the chorus of which is:
May the road rise up to meet you And your verses always find a rhyme May God's love and the Luck of the Irish be with you Any place, any way, any time
Inspired by an overdose of Irish blessings, I realized that the proverbial "Luck of the Irish" is not necessarily "luck" per se, but an optimistic attitude in the face of a catastrophic situation. You don't get through a pandemic thinking your glass is half empty. I say: it doesn't matter whether the glass is half full or half empty; the main thing is that there is a glass and there is something in it!!
Photo Credits: (1) Tunes from Home, (2) Gudrun Walther, (3) Jens Kommnick, (4) Celtica Pipes Rock, (5) Sang & Klang Festival (unknown/website).