(for the full experience, play the video below while reading 🙂 )
During the first semi-lockdown here in Israel, I entered the whiskey museum dressed for a dinner meeting by invitation by a friend, by dressed, I mean sporting my ever fashionable corona mask, we sat down and began to sample their endless selection of whiskeys.
Yet, I couldn’t help notice the lonely and sad drum set, a longing to turn on the microphone and stage that once hosted musicians and artists that would fill the place with live music.
Coronalife has brought us all so many challenges, and we as a country have had to adapt to countless regulations and restrictions that seemingly change as often as temperature in the mountains, while gyms and the beaches came back to life, the shut down of the country was the day the music died. While sounding a bit extreme, musicians and artists are facing unprecedented hardship, one that has shaken us to our core.
I speak from personal experience, as my journey brought me from Ukraine to performing in Shanghai, where I successfully began to build my singing career. My relocation to a city vibrant in culture and overall very supportive of live music, from concerts to overflowing cabarets and jazz bars. I was seemingly in music heaven.
( You can pause the first video, and play this one now :))
Yet, my heart wanted to be in Israel, the country in which my ancestors played, where Jewish people from the four corners of the world were once again coming home. I needed to be a part of this story.
After some thought and planning, I took action in January of last year and decided to put my effort into creating music and performing in our amazing country. Yet, these plans didn’t seem to coordinate well with COVID-19, and I found myself ready to perform and nowhere to do so.
Frustrating as it can be, there was nothing else I could do but to accept the circumstances. From performing in well respected and high profile venues and hotels in Shanghai to being a (Ganenet) tutorress in a kindergarten in Tel Aviv. This change in venue was not something expected, but the only way in which I could try to make ends meet while we deal with this virus.
For the past few months, the only live loyal audience I have are sleeping kids during nap time in a part time job as a gananet. While there is some joy in watching the children passing out quickly while I’m singing my favorite Ukrainian lullaby “The Dream Passes By The Window” ( later the tune of this song seemed to have inspired “Summertime” by George Gershwin).
Having to adapt to this situation has altered my lifestyle from performing in the grand halls of Shanghai in gorgeous designer dresses and cheering crowds, to changing diapers in a Tel Aviv’s Kindergarten to cheering and crying infants.
As these types of jobs are not a highly skilled labor, I am not able to maintain a normal quality of everyday life here in Tel Aviv, one of the most expensive cities I have ever been to. One full day salary working in the kindergarten can afford me one meal in a restaurant, and even if I eat Bamba and tuna, I will struggle to pay rent.
Luckily being humble my whole life and growing up in a modest family, these temporary difficulties are not something that will break me, this too shall pass. Besides, being able to spend time with these little creatures in the kindergarten really fills my soul, what a true blessing, and I know this experience will allow me to be more expressive in my music going forward, but this can’t stay this way much longer 🙁 .
I find myself watching every date of booking in my calendar and watching the days and weeks passing by in my calendar. I sigh in frustration and disbelief and just sigh and wait for that day when I will be able to perform again.
For a musician, entertaining is something that became so natural and predictable over the years and in one rogue bat later, it was just taken away so easily. The pain that I endure is comparable to an amazing relationship that ends without knowing the exact reason.
My pain is not just mine, I feel the pain of all the musicians here in Israel. Most of us were making a living out of live gigs, performances from street parties to private events, all of which, are all canceled indefinitely.
It feels vulnerable to me to reveal my story to the public like that but I believe this is the only way to bring some attention to a population that has been thrust into the brink of break.
While politicians have taken a stance on the struggle of local musicians like Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai stated at an impromptu concert in Tel-Aviv:
“ corona has left many singers, actors and backstage workers with no income and uncertainty about when they’ll be able to earn a living again..This is the cry of an entire industry that needs answering. The responsibility lies first and foremost with the Israeli government and I’m appealing from here — Don’t forget the culture!”.
More recently regarding our new lockdown, New Hope member Yifat Shasha-Biton was quoted in a TOI article:
“In other countries they handled it differently, and in the period between lockdowns they allowed for some sort of normal life, and cultural venues were reopened. There is no logical reason why the cultural world has remained closed for so many months
While musicians and artists like myself wait in uncertainty, companies and industries that have a louder voice in the crowd are getting funds to rehire unpaid leave employees and loans and other mechanisms to save that industry.
The culture and the arts should be no exception to our concern, The problem with leaving musicians to sit and wait, is that while other fields can migrate easily into other positions, this is what we do, we create music and hope to make a living on the ability to perform, our livelihood is based on the ability to perform.
As many other artists take on other types of work to pay the rent, a small opening of venues with limitations, like we did with gyms could provide us with a much needed lifeline.
Now while facing yet another full lockdown, those sharing my struggle and burden, we hope and pray with proper leadership and the vaccine, we will once again be able to feed our families and do what we were made to do.
Maria Semenova (Marisen)