Musicians from Salem are being invited to participate in another virtual performance to keep the community entertained. (William Iven photo)
The RiverCity Rock Star Academy Facebook page will come alive with song on Wednesday, June 10. At least, that's the plan.
Organizers hope that Salem musicians itching to perform will sign up to participate in the online show, scheduled to run from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
This isn't the first virtual open mic event held by RiverCity Rock.
The inaugural event was held in April, and the second took place in May. Both featured a handful of local artists, along with a few students from the Academy, but organizers hope to entice many more people to join in this time.
Musicians can sign up for the virtual event by connecting with RiverCity Rock Star Academy via Facebook. The team will send a Zoom link with instructions, so performers can get connected.
It's critical for Salem's music community to come together, says Katy Ohsiek. She's an instructor at RiverCity Rock Star Academy, and she's also a musician. She specializes in guitar, ukulele and vocals.
"I think keeping our typical lives going virtually is really important for keeping folks optimistic. I believe the pandemic would feel a lot more apocalyptic if we didn't have weekly and monthly virtual events to look forward to," she said. "This event in particular also serves as motivation for music students to practice and prepare something for performance."
Typically, a student at the Academy enrolls in a 12-week course that includes private instruction and weekly in-person practice, and the course culminates in a live performance somewhere in Salem. The pandemic changed that model completely.
"That's the one good thing about a crisis: It gives you an opportunity to try something different and figure it out," said Mark Green, co-founder of RiverCity Rockstar Academy.
His team transitioned to online learning. Students still came together with instructors, but their interactions happened via computers, tablets, and smartphones.
"It's very different to teach a class online. There are a lot of things about teaching music that's really hard in an online format, and lags and latency issues make it even harder," he said. " But people have a good attitude about it, and also, music is so therapeutic in so many ways, so people really look forward to their lessons. People actually practice their music too!"
He said online classes have gone so well that they may remain part of the RiverCity Rock Star Academy model, even when in-person classes return this month. But he's not sure when his students, and Salem musicians will come together to share music in person.
"How will this affect people long term? We don't know. We're not sure when the rules about concerts will change. But it's going to be awhile before we can have gatherings of 25 or more people," he said. "It's going to be very challenging."
Jarred Venti, music director at the academy, said many musicians miss connecting with an audience during quarantine. Virtual events help, but they are an imperfect solution.
"Many people, both musicians and music lovers, are sorely missing live music, as we’ve been deprived of it for months now. This is not the same, but it is at least one thing we can do to bring people together for a live music performance, virtually," he said. "I can’t begin to speculate on how things will be in the future, but I can only hope that somehow we are able to safely get back to performing and enjoying true live music as soon as possible."
Venti works behind the scenes at virtual open mic events. He schedules performers, connects with them via Zoom, and when their performance time arrives, he sends their video from Zoom to Facebook.
Ohsiek was the virtual host of the May event, and she introduced performers. She also performed a few cover songs, and she tried out a few original songs too.
"The pressure at an open mic is pretty low, so it's a great place to try out new material," she said.
But playing for a virtual audience is different than standing in front of a live crowd. "The lack of applause is a little haunting," she said.
When Green founded RiverCity Rock Star Academy in 2015, he never envisioned holding events online. Instead, he expected to spend part of every day surrounded by music.
"There will be weeks where I'll listen to nothing but live music. I'll go to a concert, I'll watch a performance, and I'll sit in on a rehearsal," he said. "I'm used to hearing live music every day, and not hearing it now has been really strange."
But Green has high hopes for Salem's music scene in the future.
"The venues available in town have changed a lot over time, and this will be another adjustment. There's really a great live music scene here, and a lot of very talented people live in Salem," he said. "Maybe it will be just a big release and people will be excited to get out and be in a crowd and listen to live music."
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