Joseph Harchanko filmed himself playing cello at the Oregon State Capitol State Park on Sunday. (Ron Cooper/Special to Salem Reporter)

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In a time when people are feeling disconnected and socially isolated, Joseph Harchanko is trying to reach people through the strings of his cello.

On a windy Sunday morning, Harchanko sat in a folding chair in the Oregon State Capitol State Park surrounded by cherry blossoms.

He played the Bach Suite in G, a sound that had always felt like springtime to him.

It’s part of an ongoing project Harchanko has been wanting to do for a long time, but “now it’s taken on so much more resonance.”

He’s creating a series of videos performing each of the six cello suites written by Johann Sebastian Bach, and associating the compositions with a season of the year that invokes the spirit of the piece. The suites are some of the most frequently performed and recognizable compositions written for cello.

 “It just so happened to coincide with a time we all are doing things alone,” he said, referring to social distancing measures people are taking to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

The Salem resident said he’s been playing the cello for 40 years and in college he was always the guy outside under the trees, practicing.

For him, playing music is about connection.

“Even when I’m playing a piece that was written for one person, it really is a connection with the audience,” he said.

Harchanko said some of his colleagues — he’s the principal cellist for the Salem Orchestra and teaches the instrument at Corban University — would set up dolls or toys as an audience when they practice.

“Mentally we just play differently when we’re interacting,” he said.

Harchanko will record himself playing and then superimpose the sound over videos of him performing amongst flowers or in a forest. Then he posts those videos to YouTube.

“When I’m playing I’m in my mind somewhere else and I try to bring that into the visual of the performance,” he said.

The cellist enjoys performing outside because “if someone stops and listens it’s not because they came out to hear, it’s because they heard something they liked.”

He said a couple people stopped to hear him play on Sunday, offering a round of applause.

Because of limits on groups of more than 10 and venue closures, Harchanko said he’s had a number of performances canceled.

While the current moment can be a time of uncertainty, he said it can be a means for people to explore something they’ve always wanted to try.

“These are very uncertain times. They’re kind of scary times,” he said. “Even the worst of times are opportunities and I think we need to make the best of opportunities.”

On Tuesday night he said he stayed up until 1 a.m. writing a short story, for example.

“We always have to find those reasons for living life in any time and I think that’s what art does,” he said. “I’m trying to find what is great about being alive in a time a lot of people are scared.”

Have a tip? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected] or @daisysaphara.