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Mar de Colores – painting by Johannes Bjorner

Around November of the year about to end I reached out to colleagues in the arts – actors, painters, conductors, singers, dancers, poets, composers, Germans…Brits…Swiss…Cubans…Canadians… Romanians…Americans of all ages and genders. Some of them are at the start, some at the peak of their careers, some no longer active in their chosen professions.

Rather than asking for opinions on how they and the world of the arts will be transformed, I asked them to share their thoughts and feelings about the current pandemic’s impact on their lives and work.

Here’s what theatre artist Emily Fink, the youngest among them wrote:

Thank you for sharing… I’m sure I’m not alone in the pain and confusion of this time, but it makes me hopeful when we come together to talk about these things.

So, heartfelt thanks for sharing to my long term and new friends Christopher Allen, conductor…Pedro Andre Arroyo Ojeda, singer…Christopher Jackson, singer…Max Clayton, actor…Christopher Zimmerman, conductor…Judy Martin, violist…Marie-France Lefevbre, pianist…François López-Ferrer, conductor…Pablo Medina, poet…Barbara Sloan, actress…Larry Jurrist, actor…Fotina Naumenko, singer…Matei Varga, pianist…Johannes Bjorner, painter…Yalil Guerra, composer…Emily Fink, actress…Odaline de la Martinez, conductor… Sabrina-Vivian Höpcker, violinist and to my friend,  the  poet Pablo Medina my special thanks for the gift of this poem:

Getting used to solitude, not going

where I used to go, not visiting a restaurant

or a show, not kissing the children

or hugging a friend or walking to the corner

for coffee and bread, getting used to solitude,

its slow descent, not knowing

when a person smiles, not hearing a poet

read or a singer sing, getting used

to the river of stones and the cackle of birds

and the silent sun, down

to the essence where solitude ends

and a dream of spring begins,

not to flee but to stand, not to hide

but to hear the music of the trees,

the seed’s whisper on the grass,

the earth breathe deep and say, It’s safe again.


It would be easy to talk about all the canceled engagements/projects, loss of income, but I won’t.

I quickly realized around May of 2020 that this crisis would last longer than I originally anticipated. Throughout the last 10 months I have had moments of extreme happiness and extreme lows. I miss making music with amazing colleagues and feeling the energy of the audience at my back.

I had an epiphany that this is a “free year.” I can focus and do things that I never thought I had the time for. I just finished a screen play, I wrote and directed my first artistic short video which has gone on to ten festival selections and was picked up by PBS, airing in February. I’ve been able to go back to practicing piano properly. I learned Mozart’s Piano Concerto # 9 as well as Bach’s keyboard concerto in d minor. I did a few concerts (socially distanced) for LA Opera.

But more importantly than all of this, I’ve been able to focus on the person I am and want to be, the father I want to be, the life, when this is all over, that I want to return to. I miss the audience but in the best of worlds, they will return to the concert hall changed for the better.

For the time being, I’m happy to be a bit patient.

Christopher Allen

TALES FROM A TIME OF COVID 19 (15th in a series): Pedro Arroyo – A friend’s thoughts at the end of 2020

Last quiet Sunday of the year, and I can’t help but reflect while having coffee in my balcony. (It’s cold, y’all, but I had to!) Despite the insanity of Covid-19, I have done many things. I have traveled, I have felt, I have loved, I have screamed, I have cried, I have laughed, I have learned, I have sung, I have gained weight, I have lost weight, I have gained it again, I have walked, I have slept, I have… You get the idea. 2021 is bound to be the most uncertain year in our lifetimes, because at least at the beginning of 2020, we had a bit of normalcy; 2021 remains uncertain for everyone. What I do know is no matter what challenges 2021 brings, I will continue to face them with strength and pride. I will sing, I will fight, I will love, I will feel, I will cry, I will laugh… Again, you get the idea. In the meantime, I will continue to physically (not socially) distance, and will wear my mask. Let’s make 2021 the year of kindness, solidarity, and resilience!

Pedro Andre Arroyo Ojeda

Plenty of food for all in 2021

My wife and I came from totally different backgrounds, with different eating habits. She comes from a middle class family, and grew up eating a quirky diet of a not-so-typical American kid of the 1950’s. Growing up in rural Ohio she had plenty of garden-fresh vegetables to eat at all times, even in winter, when a good supply of canned jams and frozen vegetables were always available, as well as potatoes and apples in the basement of the farm house in which she grew up.

She’s told me many stories about hating all meats other than the bacon that accompanied the biscuits her grandma would cook for breakfast most every day. She saved money for college by raising sheep, and by her early teens she had a good-sized flock, the best of which were her 4-H project, the rest, competing with overall-wearing farmers thrice her age were sold at market. She loved her sheep but hated the taste and smell of lamb meat. This dislike persists to this day, which made it very easy, first for her and then for me, to become “pescatarians”, which means vegetarians who will eat seafood now and then.

I was born and grew up in Cuba. Mine was a fairly typical middle class family in the Havana of the 1950’s. I never lacked for anything to eat, although as a spoiled only-child I shunned most of the foods that later in life my vegetables-loving wife taught me to devour.  For a Cuban kid back then vegetables were an unnecessary inconvenience that showed up occasionally on the table. For me, okra was an abomination, leafy greens were something to pile up and abandon at the edge of a dinner plate, and fruit, except bananas, something best consumed for desert, provided it was made into ice cream.

But life changed when I was 17 and I was sent alone to America with five dollars in my pocket and a student visa that was quickly transformed, turning me into a refugee and allowing me to be processed at the Liberty Tower in Miami and sent on my way with a paper bag that contained canned black beans, a pound of rice, Spam, tomato soup, powdered milk and instant Cuban coffee. 

After being relocated to Minneapolis in the dead of winter of 1961, starting college, and getting my first job ever, I was introduced to the typical components of the survival diet of a college freshman: ramen noodles, beer (on Saturdays), pizza, white bread, American coffee, and Nodoz.

In 1966, after a few years of partly attending school and partly working for a living, I continued my studies at the Juilliard School of Music and later at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. In Cincinnati I was lucky to get my own bachelor pad in which digs I learned to cook some typical Cuban meals. My mother would send me the recipes inside packages wrapped in brown paper that contained black beans, Cuban coffee, including the cloth strainer required to make it the way folks used to back in the day, plantains, canned fruit preserves, and now and then a canned ham.

On more than one occasion Kimberly saved my life by confiscating from my refrigerator and trashing hams that had begun to grow gray-green crusts after too many weeks unsupervised.

By then Kimberly – the vegetable-loving Ohio farm girl – was as much a part of my life, and as emotionally sustaining,  as the Cuban food that was sustaining me nutritionally through the rigors of Ohio winters. I was going to school on a tight monthly budget cobbled together from a living stipend, a full scholarship, a low-paying Church job, and the good wishes of the Corbett Foundation.

Those good wishes, the scholarship, and the living stipend came to an end when Kim and Rafi eloped in the summer before their junior year, and tied the knot. Our marriage unraveled some attached strings that forbade recipients of Corbett scholarships to get married.

As luck would have it several kind souls came to our rescue, and the first year of our marriage was made even better by Kimberly’s talent for making wonderful meals on a budget. Homemade yogurt and bowls of fresh fruit became always a staple. From our first shared sandwich for lunch the day we eloped, we expanded to legendary dinners at the home of our mentor, Italo Tajo and his wife, Inelda who introduced us to soul and stomach-filling five-course Italian meals that lasted for hours.

In Boston, where we attended the New England Conservatory for our graduate degrees, our student income came from gigs that kept us alive for two years during freezing New England winters. We literally sang for our supper, performing Broadway tunes for every Women’s Club and  Hadassah Donors’ Dinner from New Hampshire to Rhode Island and back  to Massachusetts. When not gigging we mostly ate out, with our go-to eatery after classes being a Greekowned greasy spoon just down the street from our school, where we would fill up on a $1.19 special we often shared in the company of friendly vagrants, impoverished scholars, and BSO players.

In New York, once out of school, we ate out as much as most New Yorkers do by necessity more than by choice. Save for a Christmas or New Year’s splurges, we kept the Hare Krishna Center in business – then not far from Lincoln Center – where we could eat for little money from their vegetarian buffet, study our scores quietly in their lounge, and go out into the Madness of the Big Apple, sharing an apple for desert, before a rehearsal or a performance

Life changes and so does the way we eat. Our singing afforded us the opportunity to travel and sample the cuisines of the more than 95 countries we visited over the space of nine years. Eating out for nearly twenty years expanded our culinary horizons.  In Copenhagen we had our first meal abroad: hot dogs and beer from a street vendor, priced in Danish Kroner at an inflated $20 due to the reduced value of the US dollar on exchange.

As the years passed we had raw herring in Amsterdam, picnics by the Seine made up of baguettes, cheese and fruit, fresh-caught squid in Mikrolimano, the sea port for Athens, Caucasian lunches in Leningrad before it was renamed St. Petersburg, unnamed meats, fowl, and sea creatures in China, sushi in Japan, incendiary food in India, feijoada washed down with lethal caipirinhas in Rio, the best yogurt in the world in Istanbul, and falafel in Tel Aviv.

As vegetarians we continue to shun the flesh of any creature that walks or flies, but once in a while we do enjoy squid (she), sardines (me), and fish (we). And we continue to discover day after day – praise be to Kimberly – all sorts of ways of cooking pasta, vegetables, beans, home-made bread, and soups, all of which have made the isolation brought about by Covid19 somewhat more bearable over the 14 months we kept tp ourselves.

Many food items we have grown accustomed to have become scarce, due to the Covid19 virus. But we are grateful for what we have, feeling sorrow for the many who struggle  to get groceries with food stamps and a few dollars in their hands, or stand in line to get a box of whatever a local food shelter can supply. That is not even to mention what the current news from my birth country tell us: long lines to get a paper sack with some black beans, some white rice, and little else.

We know how lucky we are.  We give thanks for the food we are able to obtain, not merely to eat, but to savor and enjoy. And we keep a wish in our hearts for plenty of food for all, now, and after we are able to move completely beyond this ghastly virus. That is our fervent hope for us all.

Rafael de Acha


This is such a crazy time.

I too, like many artists, suffered this year. Much of my performing work is with vocal ensembles, and solo work with local companies including many churches. All of these were stripped from me.

I am thankful that I have maintained a voice studio so I did have that income to fall back on. Even that took a dive as many people lost their own work so couldn’t afford lessons and/or felt that they no longer had things to work towards since much of their work was also cancelled.

I am grateful that church work has picked up and I have had the opportunity to be asked to sing some concerts virtually and take part in my first socially distanced virtual opera. The spring still looks like a grey cloud but I am hopeful that with the creativity that has come from this, that we are looking at a more promising 2021.


Max Clayton, Broadway performer

Covid19 has made a huge impact on me as a working artist. It has, of course, completely shut down my business as a Broadway performer, leaving thousands unemployed for what will be over an entire year.

Creatively I have been trying to make my own art, whether it’s collaborating with friends to do a fun photo shoot, or making short silly videos on platforms like Instagram and Tiktok to keep my creative juices flowing.

I have taken a large pivot and entered into the world of luxury Real Estate in Manhattan which has been eye opening. I really love it, and hope to continue playing this new “role” when Broadway returns. I have indeed considered changing what I do as a creative person. This time off has allowed me to sit back and reflect on what truly makes me happy as a performer.

Going forward I think I will only take jobs that make me fulfilled and satisfied, and push me to new heights. I want to continue to do work that may not have a massive budget or audience, but that makes a lasting impact on someone or something- the kind of art that so many have been able to create during this difficult time of reflection.



Yes indeed tough times. Both my orchestras are currently not performing. Fairfax Symphony (FSO) has basically shut down for the season. Fargo-Moorhead Symphony (FMSO) is doing some stuff: our season opener in early October consisted of a vastly reduced orchestra playing to an empty hall then uploaded to the internet.

We have had every intention of repeating the process but since Covid19 has become worse in the Dakotas we have cancelled these past two months. Still hoping to continue for the second half of the season, but we’ll see…Of course praying that next season (beginning September) allows some kind of return to normal.

The power of free music

Paraphrasing (sort of) Noel Coward’s “Extraordinary how potent cheap music is” I’m titling this piece “The power of free music”, as all of the pieces I list here can be found for free-gratis-no charge (aka cheap) on the Internet. They are my 2020 list of favorite musical moments that came from reviewing dozens of CD’s and live performances during this year.

These have for me one thing in common: they trigger basic emotions (sadness, melancholy, etc.) And they are short – shorter even than most classical compositions, which in fact all three on this list are. Here they are in random order, with links.

  1. Simone Dinnerstein with the Havana Lyceum Orchestra conducted by José Antonio Méndez Padrón playing the Adagio from the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488 has three things going for it: a) Mozart, b) Simone Dinnerstein, and c) a Cuban orchestra entirely made up of young musicians from my birth country.
  2. The second movement (Largo) from Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15 played by my favorite Beethoven interpreter, Stewart Goodyear. Written by Beethoven when he was 25, this music expresses to me a young man’s unrequited love for someone beyond his reach. Stewart Goodyear gets here superlative support from Andrew Constantine and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.
  3. Yalil Guerra’s “Al Partir” for String Orchestra. This is a brief and absolutely beautiful composition for string orchestra inspired by a poem of the same title by the Cuban poetess Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda depicting her emotions upon leaving her homeland. Both the music and the text of the poem move me every time I hear and read them. The composition is performed here by the all-female Camerata Romeu conducted by Zenaida Romeu. This video depicts the rehearsals and world premiere during June of 2019 in Havana, Cuba.

Judith Farmer plays favorites

Bassonist Judith Farmer’s CD Judith Farmer plays favorites goes a long ways to dispel any prejudices the listener might have against the bassoon, that rangy and most underused of the woodwinds, its often reedy, at times sneaky, at others grandfatherly sound occasionally brought to life by enterprising composers like Stravinsky in The Rite of Spring and Paul Dukas in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

Displaying easy comfort with the technical hurdles of her instrument bassoonist Judith Farmer’s can elicit sounds that are very pleasing to the ear in the playfully elegant Sonata for Clarinet and Bassoon by Francis Poulenc, an early 20th century three-movement composition that dallies with atonality during its brief nine minutes duration and that allows clarinetist Wenzel Fuchs to share center stage with Judith Farmer.

Likewise, this fine artist can make the Sonata in C Major by the neglected and incredibly prolific Johann Friedrich Fasch, a Baroque composition worth re-visiting, given Farmer’s idiomatic command of 18th century performance practice. The performance is greatly enhanced by the fine playing of harpsichordist Patricia Mabee and cellist Andrew Shulman.

Interferénces I, a nervous, jagged, episodic work allows the bassoonist the opportunity to display technical dexterity, which Judith Farmer does with fine support from pianist Vicky Ray.

My favorite piece in the CD is Gernot Wolfgang’s Duo for Flute and Bassoon No.1, a jazz-inflected, fun, contrapuntally intricate tour de force for the bassoonist and flutist Susan Greenberg.

Produced by Gernot Wolfgang and Judith Farmer, mixed and mastered by Rich Breen and edited by Gernot Wolfgang, Judith Farmer plays favorites is a labor of love most welcome during these days of musical deprivation.

The album can be purchased as a download at

Rafael de Acha


My wife and I are both in our seventies. We were fortunate to have made a decent living in the arts, first as performers, then as a theatre producer (me), and as a college professor (her). Being in the ever-unsteady fields we chose we experienced many ups and downs. In 1976 while living in New York we encountered some awful times, when the economy took a nose dive that affected our work.

We survived all that and the after-effects of 9-11 and several major hurricanes that devastated the economy of South Florida where we had a theatre we had founded. But nothing was ever quite like this nightmare which we are all living.

Many of our friends in the performing arts are wondering what will come next.

One of them is married, with children, an arts administrator who worked for a large musical organization for two decades, and who recently was let go after fighting a life and death battle with Covid19 and surviving it only to learn that he no longer had a job.

Another two, one of whom is a successful playwright, the other a gifted stage director who quit his position as a drama teacher in order to run his own theatre company full time with his husband, now face the uncertainty of when and how will their award-winning theatre open again.

Even though she did not contract it, a singer friend has had Covid 19 put a stop to all of her freelance singer work – 11 performance contracts and one album recording. All cancelled.

A wonderful theatre actress friend of ours has had all her work evaporate and, after taking early social security, she supplements her survival income by teaching dancing on line.

A composer-pianist and a band leader – both free-lance musicians – neither have worked since March of 2020, nor do they expect to have any more in the foreseeable future.

Many performers are looking for new ways to practice their craft, turning to on-line streaming, which helps them stay busy even if it doesn’t help them earn much if any money.

The facts behind these real-life stories (*) are sobering:

Fact: During the quarter ending in September, when the national unemployment rate averaged 8.5%. 52% of actors, 55% of dancers and 27 % of musicians were out of work.

Fact: The majority of actors, dancers, and musicians who are members of unions are not salaried, and do not benefit from regular paychecks. They work when there is work to have, going when lucky from one gig to the next.

Fact: Before the pandemic the median annual salary for full-time musicians and singers was $42,800

Fact: Before the pandemic the median annual salary for full-time actors was $40,500

Fact: Before the pandemic the median annual salary for full-time dancers was $36,500

Fact: Many artists work other jobs to augment their incomes in restaurants, stores, offices, doing temp or part time. But that work has also dried up. Others augment their income by teaching, another area where brutal cut-backs are taking place.

Fact: The arts and culture sector constitutes an $878 BILLION industry bigger than sports, transportation, construction or agriculture.

Our National Endowment for the Arts continues to barely survive the vagaries of politics, with a meager $29 millionthe smallest amount ever allocated to the Endowment from a total federal budget of $4.75 trillionthe largest ever in federal history.

The personal, corporate, and foundation contributions that have for years propped up arts organizations are now being redirected to essential-need causes, even though the arts and the artists who practice them , whether they be classical or pop music or films or theatre or ballet, are essential too.

The arts and culture sector supports 5.1 million jobs, not only artists and performers but essential crafts persons and technicians: makeup and hair stylists, stage managers, costumers, stage hands, front of house personnel, ushers, electricians, sound technicians and designers, camera operators, administrators, construction crews, scenic designers, writers, directors…

Will many of them survive? Some will, some will not. Perhaps some will make it through by changing professions.

One of my wife’s former students got a Real Estate license in New York, and now practices his newly-acquired profession until he returns to work on Broadway as one of its most in demand triple-threat talents.

Another former student of hers has parlayed his green-thumb skills into a gardening business.

Yet another has been teaching Yoga on line although barely making ends meet.

Americans are survivors and, among them, young and not so young artists, most of whom have spent thousands of dollars leaning the skills needed to practice their craft, will not allow that hard earned and already spent money to go for naught. They will do whatever they can even if it means doing what they must for the moment in order to make a living so that some day they can practice what they truly love.

Rafael de Acha

(*) Several of the statistical facts in this post were obtained from the New York Times article “A Great Cultural Depression Looms for Legions of Unemployed Performers” by Patricia Cohen, who in turn obtained them from the National Endowment for the Arts.