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7 June 2021

A letter from lockdown 4.0

Andrea Keller Image: Andrea Keller  

These words originally appeared in Andrea Keller's monthly newsletter (released on June 3, 2021) - they have been extended and adapted for Resonate, offering a glimpse into the reality of one musician living through the COVID-19 pandemic in Melbourne, Australia.

Hello everyone, I hope you are all going OK, all things considered.

Apologies for the tardy distribution of my newsletter this month (although I'm not sure if anyone, other than my mother, noticed?), but I was awaiting news on whether Melbourne's lockdown would be extended, and what the implications of this would be on my performance schedule, before I wrote.

As we now know, Melbourne will remain in lockdown until at least 11:59pm on Thursday 10 June. In the first week of lockdown 4.0, this meant I was unable to travel to Sydney to perform at the Sydney Conservatorium Jazz Festival (where I was scheduled to play two concerts and deliver a workshop), and my Five Below gig with special guests Julien Wilson and Leigh Fisher was cancelled. The lockdown extension means the album launch of Mirko Guerrini's Horizontal Quartet, for the Melbourne Jazz Co-operative (MJC), and a very special Piano Club at the Jazzlab with Paul Grabowsky, Brett Williams & Max Teakle, are also off the calendar. My gigs on Friday 11 June at Uptown Jazz Cafe with Sam Anning & Julien Wilson, Saturday 12th at the Jazzlab with Julien Wilson & Stephen Magnusson, an album launch with Tim Wilson and James Macaulay on Sunday 13th for the MJC, as well as the PATSy gig scheduled for Monday 14th at the Jazzlab, are also looking unlikely.

Most disappointingly, perhaps, it remains uncertain, at this point, whether I'll be able to travel to Hobart in time to perform with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra on Friday 18 June for Dark Mofo, under the direction of Gavin Bryars, in a glorious program featuring Bryars's Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet, Arvo Pärt's If Bach Had Been A Bee Keeper, and Carla Bley's End of Vienna. The significance of this program for me is ENORMOUS. As some of you may know, I'm currently writing my PhD on Arvo Pärt, and Carla Bley has been one of my greatest inspirations since I was a teenager. If I'm able to travel and perform, it will be my first time working with Gavin, whose work is described as a testimony to humanity's optimistic spirit - I think we all need this more than ever right now!

The music industry has been utterly devastated by the ongoing pandemic. My personal experience has been a feeling of complete deflation every time an event gets cancelled (or in the days and weeks when you're wondering if an event will get cancelled). Time still needs to be spent practicing, preparing, arranging charts, promoting the gigs, answering emails, signing contracts, filling out super fund choice forms, doing interviews, organising logistics, all the while knowing that the gig probably won't happen, and there will be no remuneration for the time, effort and work that has gone in before you've even stepped onto the stage. 15-months (and still going) of this is truly trying. The entire industry is in dire straits, as we find ourselves stranded together in a leaky boat.

In Melbourne's 5-day lockdown 3.0, that occurred in mid-February this year, I was fortunate to only lose one gig, with the closure of Melbourne happening directly after a huge week of work that saw the Vanessa Perica Orchestra join forces with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra at the Myer Music Bowl, and a gala concert at the Melbourne Recital Centre (MRC). A near miss that many musicians in Melbourne were grateful for.

Like so many in our community, the lockdowns and restrictions of last year cleared my calendar for the year in a single sweep in mid-March 2020. The program I had booked for my Monday night ongoing residency at the Jazzlab vanished, as did the Transient Thursday gigs at Uptown Jazz Café. Larger Australian events I was booked to perform at, including the Melbourne International Jazz Festival (MIJF), MRC, SIMA New Freedman Jazz, Beleura House, Monash Jazz Club, Wollongong Conservatorium, Canberra International Music Festival (where, in one concert, I was to play two pianos with Judy Bailey!), and workshops/lectures at UNSW (Sydney) and WAAPA (Perth), were all cancelled.

I had been patiently and diligently expanding my international activity for years, and things had just begun to shift in my favour in the years just prior to the pandemic. 2020 had four international trips planned, with the most devastating cancellations being a research trip (set to be my third, and final) to the Arvo Pärt Centre in Estonia, where I would have the opportunity to continue conversations with the composer himself, and a recording of my music with John Surman and Arve Henriksen in Norway.

Despite all this, I was not left idle. As a lecturer in Jazz & Improvisation at the University of Melbourne, my teaching essentially transformed to online delivery overnight; I spent the better part of a month writing and submitting seven grant applications (with two small, but highly appreciated, successes); two of my three children were undertaking primary school via remote learning at home (with the third having just resumed university after choosing a new direction); and I was trying my best to continue chipping away at my PhD.

The persistence within the industry generated multiple opportunities to remain active, a testament to creatives rising above arduous circumstances. Radio interviews, the ABC Jazz Artist in Residence program, streamed concerts, blog articles, podcasts and isolation videos were created, the Australian Art Orchestra (AAO), SIMA, and Freedman Jazz Fellowship ran mentorships to connect emerging and established artists, UNSW, WAAPA, ANU Girls Jazz (Canberra), and others, invited me to conduct lectures and workshops online, the Stories & Songs interview series (celebrating women from the world of jazz & improvisation) was borne, the Girls Do Jazz workshop series ran online to an international cohort, and, in the void of my defunct performance life, I released four albums: Life is Brut[if]al, Journey Home, Andrea Keller Curates Monday Nights Live at the Jazzlab Volume 1: The Composers' Circle, and Andrea Keller Curates Monday Nights Live at the Jazzlab Volume 2: Meditations for two to Three Players.

In the period of eased restrictions, between Melbourne's lockdowns 1.0 (the nationwide closure that lasted two months) and 2.0 (Melbourne's second wave that had us hunkered down for four months), and since early November 2020, the artistic community continued to prove the depth of its creativity, resourcefulness, and resilience. The Jazzlab returned for three Monday night gigs at the end of June, only to close again, but when it reopened in November, the venue had built an outdoor stage to comply with regulations for live music at the time. The MJC recorded and streamed concerts when it could, the MRC created a digital concert series, the MIJF ran an ingeniously re-imagined festival in These Digital Times, the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues invented an online program, the Melbourne Women's International Jazz Festival was fortunately able to run live, and I even got to play in a zoom show with Lano & Woodley!

I was grateful to receive a few commissions during Melbourne's extended 2020 lockdown, including a piece for the brilliant duo of Genevieve Lacey (recorder) and Marshall McGuire (harp). My piece I Surrender expresses the struggle, the search for peace, and the gradual letting go that epitomised my experience of the year. It appears on Bower which has just been released on ABC and is rich with new Australian music and other works spanning six centuries. I also received a commission for an extended work for large ensemble from the Monash Art Ensemble for which I wrote Circuit-Breaker. This work celebrates the positive aspects that lockdown-life delivered me, more time with my family, more sleep, a better diet, time to nurture my garden, and a slowing down and re-evaluation process that I was much in need of. The performance and recording of this project were unable to proceed in 2020 but plans for the premiere, later this year, are in motion.

Despite the fatigue of the continual booking and unbooking, and the 'not knowing', I started two new ensembles at the close of 2020, projects I had planned pre-COVID and composed music for during lockdowns: Wave Riders (perhaps best described as free improvisation meets doom metal), and PATSy (a sweet melodic quartet of piano, accordion, trombone & saxophone). Both are set to record in a few weeks in Melbourne, COVID restrictions permitting.

I know that I am incredibly fortunate, and I am grateful for my privileged circumstances. I just happen to live in the unluckiest city in a very lucky country! (I do not dispute the essential nature and effectiveness of the lockdowns, and am thankful that our state government is not prepared to send us to the slaughter or play roulette with our lives). My wishes are that those who are unwell recover without distress, and that those who are really doing it tough in lockdown can hang in there and access the support they need.

If you are finding yourself with extra time on your hands and are interested to have a listen, in lieu of the live performance experience, all the links above go to YouTube videos, Bandcamp pages, and websites of artists, albums, and concerts.

Big thanks to everyone who has taken an interest in my music and supported me in myriad ways - it is deeply appreciated!

Take care & warmest wishes to you all,


Support Act is Australia's only charity delivering crisis relief services to artists, crew and music workers as a result of ill health, injury, a mental health problem, or some other crisis that impacts on their ability to work in music. Support Act also delivers specific COVID-19 crisis relief, including 'MusicKeeper' and 'CrewKeeper' Crisis Relief Cash Grants, which are designed to help cushion the blow occasioned by the end of Jobkeeper payments. If you know someone who is struggling, let them know about Support Act and their counselling helpline 1800 959 500.


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