Back when the news broke that in-person instruction was coming to an end, everyone was at a loss for words. The sudden shift that followed will be something that everyone will remember for the rest of their lives. Over in the Myers Fine Arts building, two of the most highly skilled composers, Adrian Carr and William Pfaff, spoke about how the COVID-19 experience has both affected them personally and has impacted their ability to write music. Composing music is a solitary activity that requires both time and patience to develop. Was the isolation inspired by Covid-19 positive for the creative process?
For Pfaff, nothing has changed in terms of creative output. Ever since the students and faculty moved to distanced learning, Pfaff has worked hard using his time to both accommodate his students and compose which comes naturally to him.
“Like everyone, I’ve been dismayed and saddened by the COVID-19 pandemic,”Pfaff said, “But I do not equate the continuing pain and uncertainty of COVID with any type of musical response.”
He does not believe that it is necessary to reproduce the sadness of COVID-19 through his art.
As of late, he has completed a piece for violin and piano, and is currently working on a piece for Bb clarinet and steel pan. “My process starts at the piano,” Pfaff said. “and unless I have a deadline for a performance, I allow as much time as I need to explore the initial idea and ways to contrast that in the music. Sketching is a big part of it,” Pfaff said. He explained that revisiting/reworking those sketches over time is necessary for completing a composition. He believes that “the more time you spend with the piece, the more it becomes idiomatic for the instruments you’re writing for.”
For Pfaff, composing has always been second nature. It has been an interwoven part of his life since the age of six and has consistently allowed him to share something beautiful with the world.
For Carr, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a much larger shift in his creative output and views of music. At the start of the nationwide shutdown, Carr described how it took him a long time to feel inspired to create.
“It took about 6 months for me to start thinking about creating,” Carr said. “I was cooking dinners and we were staying home. It was kind of like you had to put your head down and just survive.”
Different sources of inspiration, like the local coffee shop, had been essential to him. When everything shut down, he said, “it was like I lost all the frosting of life.”
“The COVID crisis forced me to think about things differently,” Carr said. “And think of ways I could get my music out there while also helping people and making a difference.” This creative block eventually came to an end when he received the Keep New York State Creating grant. With this grant, he was empowered to record live at the Big Blue North(BBN) studio in Utica.
His experience at the BBN studio was special because he not only had the opportunity to record on a 1970s 88-key Fender Rhoades piano, but was left with an idea to comfort those who lost loved ones to COVID-19.
“The whole COVID experience actually inspired me,” Carr said. “Rather than doing a meditation CD, I got the idea to do an interactive website for COVID where people can post about loved ones.”
By using the music he recorded while at the BBN studio, he would be able to help those who are dealing with the negative effects of COVID-19.
“I’m not doing music for me now,” Carr said, “I’m doing music for everybody else. There’s no me in this music, the me has been minimized.”
For Dr. Carr, creating music is an opportunity to show the world what he sees. There is not only the constant drive to get better that keeps him going, but the desire to help people and make a difference.