In an Age of Social Distancing, Nashville Musicians Get Creative

March 24, 2020 Updated: March 27, 2020

For professional musicians, quasi-quarantines and social distancing have led to serious financial difficulties. But a group of musicians in Nashville is hosting a live, virtual concert in an effort to regain some of that lost income, and at the same time offer some inspiration and connection through live music.

Nashville musicians violinist Deena Rizkalla, 27, and percussionist Ben Andrews, 29, have been playing music professionally for several years. Rizkalla’s main genre is classical while Andrews plays popular music, classical, country, and folk.

When the Rizkalla and Andrews learned that large public gatherings and venues would be shut down indefinitely due to social distancing protocols, they were devastated.

“Crowds are our business, so when you take away crowds we have no business,” Andrews explained.

Ben Andrew is a professional percussionist, and one of many Nashville musicians impacted by social distancing protocols. (Courtesy of Deena Rizkalla)

“We were all very upset, and we were kind of watching. We have gigs booked months in advance into May into June, and as the days go by, they’re just dropping,” Rizkalla said.

Spring is an especially busy time for professional musicians as well, and many musicians make the majority of their income during these months. Andrews lost over $2,000 worth of work over two days. Rizkalla and her colleagues have continued to play music despite not being able to perform in front of an audience, and Andrews has kept making music as well.

The Show Must Go On

In an effort to keep performing music despite the pandemic, Andrews and Rizkalla organized a virtual live concert called Corona Concert No. 1, which streamed on Facebook on March 18.

The 12 musicians who performed in the concert followed all of the guidelines outlined by the federal government. The show took place in Andrews’ basement and included a variety of genres, from classical to soul. Over 1,000 people tuned into the concert, and the musicians were able to raise almost $5,000. Even though the concert was virtual, being able to play live music was incredibly satisfying for the musicians.

Andrews and Rizkalla
Ben Andrews and Deena Rizkalla are hosting virtual concerts to help professional musicians in Nashville and to keep live music alive and well. (Courtesy of Deena Rizkalla)

“For me it felt almost exactly the same,” Rizkalla said. “I still felt the same concert jitters that I usually do before going on stage—even more so because people were literally saying how they felt in the moment.”

Audience members made nearly 300 live comments on Facebook, and the concert received broad praise and support. People shared the concert on social media, and one person even hosted a watch party. Andrews and Rizkalla may experiment with encouraging musicians to try their own home setup, which they can feature on their platform.

“I want there to be a great sense of community both within the Nashville music community and also within the global community at large. We’re all literally isolating ourselves from each other. I want there to be a sense community and warmth and welcoming in the midst of this period of isolation,” Andrews said.

Sharing the Beauty

Andrews and Rizkalla also hope the musicians can feel a sense of validation. Being a professional musician is an arduous line of work, and they hope audiences gather that musicians are talented, hardworking, and entrepreneurial. And of course, they hope audiences enjoy the closest thing to a live concert that they can provide.

“For me, music performance is an expression of the soul,” Andrews said. “I really believe in the power of music to transcend what verbal communication can do. Music adds an extra element that I think is so innately human that you can’t get anywhere else.”

Andrews and Rizkalla hope to have weekly virtual concerts following their premiere on March 18, and hope their efforts inspire other musicians across the country.

“When we’re playing live music you can see in real-time, we’re into it, and we’re communicating with each other, and we’re making something that we think is beautiful, and we want other people to experience this beautiful thing with us,” Rizkalla said.