Four months ago, classical singer Emma Rose Lynn could never have guessed that her next live concert would be performed right out of her garage. Virtual concerts aren’t every musician’s forte, so Lynn and her pianist, Andrew Pham, decided to go with something a little homier. Literally.
“Andrew and I are both full-time freelance musicians, so when COVID happened, it was pretty drastic,” Lynn says. “All of a sudden, my entire livelihood disappeared.”
What do you do when you’re a classical piano/soprano duo that misses the magic of live performance but cannot book a concert hall?
You draw chalk circles spaced six feet apart in the driveway of your south Eugene home, hand out masks and alcohol wipes, and put on a phenomenal show to the music-starved community members of Eugene. Bring your own snacks and folding chairs, please.
Lynn and Pham formed Spire Duo in 2017. The two share a love for classical music and “art song” — a genre which includes poems set to music, usually written for one voice with piano accompaniment.
“It’s a really fascinating journey because you’re working with both a poet and a composer, and then you’re interpreting the composer’s interpretation of the poem,” Lynn says.
At the July 11 concert, she recited each poem into a microphone before singing it so the audience could appreciate the lyrics on a deeper level. Many of the poems had a summer theme, which went along with the picnic vibe of the whole evening. Concert-goers were even lucky enough to skip out on the rain and enjoy colorful splashes of color in the sky as the sun set.
In addition to Spire Duo, Neil Patton was a featured guest at the concert; playing three original piano compositions. Pham met Patton a few years back at a dance recital that Patton was playing at. Pham says he immediately noticed how deeply Patton connected with music, and thought his musicianship would fit nicely into a Spire Duo show.
The socially distant audience consisted of about 50 friends, family and community members who knew Lynn and Pham through a variety of interactions around town. One couple knew Pham from the pickleball courts, and some others had taken Lynn’s eight-week intensive, The Empowered Voice.
Mary Gent and Camilla Carter took Lynn’s workshop, which aimed “for womxn to cultivate deep self-knowing” through song. Carter used to play the piano for Lynn, and Gent continues to take vocal lessons with her several times a month.
“She is the voice teacher I unequivocally give recommendations to,” Carter says during intermission at the concert. “Once you know her, you want to support her.”
Carter is not the only one who was eager for Spire Duo to get back into the spotlight. When the duo decided they wanted to do something live, they held a Zoom meeting with some of their most supportive community members to run the idea of a garage concert by them. The response was an emphatic yes, and Spire Duo started brainstorming ideas of how they might pull off a live concert successfully and safely. The result was something deeply personal and truly special.
Lynn’s soprano voice carried flawlessly outdoors, and the Kawai piano was easily heard as well. Among the poems Lynn sang were “Always it’s Spring” by e.e. cummings, “Fleurs” by Louise de Vilmorin and “Sure on this Shining Night” by James Agee.
Unsuspecting joggers slowed down as they passed the house, curious as to why they were hearing classical music in a simple neighborhood setting. Even the neighbor’s cat pranced by to see what all the commotion was about.
While we are all eager to get “back to normal,” whatever that may mean in the future, there are some parts of COVID culture that we might like to keep around. Hopefully driveway concerts don’t disappear with the virus, because the experience was intimate. Precautions were taken to help the audience feel safe, and they were free to sit back, relax and fall into the music.
Find out more about Emma Rose Lynn at EmmaRoseLynn.com, and about Spire Duo’s future performances at SpireDuo.com.