Written by guest contributor Solara Martin

The global pandemic has hit performing groups hard. Since March 2020, concerts and entire seasons have been cancelled, safety concerns and protocols have made rehearsals impossible, and grant funding has all but disappeared. Many chamber ensembles have been struggling to stay afloat, but Jâca is one group that has been managing despite all the challenges. I had the opportunity to speak with clarinetist Wesley Ferreira and guitarist Jaxon Williams about how the pandemic has affected their ensemble and how they have been navigating the current situation.

The pandemic initially brought a dramatic change for all performing ensembles. Morale was low, shock was high, and everyone was unsure of what the future held. This was no exception for Jâca. Jaxon reflects, “we quickly watched every single concert that we had through the whole spring get cancelled until there was nothing left. We weren’t surprised that our Florida concert tour in March was cancelled, but then it just didn’t stop. I guess I didn’t think it would last this long”. The ensemble continued to reach out to their connections to book concerts. Wesley recalls the situation. He said, “We received answers from our contacts saying ‘We can’t confirm anything’ or ‘we don’t know what if we are going to have a season at this point.’ That is when reality hit us. The world has stopped and no one can really plan for the future”. But just because performances were cancelled, that didn’t stop this duo. They took the time away from performing to work on new repertoire and even experiment with writing their own music.

Jâca has always had a clear mission to sponsor new works and now was the perfect time to focus on pursuing that. Welsey noted, “Even prior to the pandemic we were ‘on a mission to commission’. We didn’t want to alter course so we are still seeking funding and still look to connect with composers to commission new works. We started an emerging composer competition prior to COVID and we wanted to continue this regardless. We are looking forward to hearing all the great works from emerging composers.“ Pandemic or not, this program has flourished with many submissions from a variety of age groups and genres.

Though their spring concert schedule was cancelled, Jâca was determined to perform in the fall. They had one engagement on their concert calendar that had not been cancelled, and while working with the concert series organizers, the chamber group planned and executed a unique virtual performance with plenty of interaction for an excited and willing online concert audience. I wanted to know how the idea for this came up and exactly how they pursued this task. Jaxon filled me in, “We wanted to make sure to include the audience during this concert so we implemented an interactive side. We also had to decide whether to perform via livestream or to record the performance the day before to ensure a good audio and video connection. We ended up doing a hybrid of the two which allowed for a top quality performance with multiple camera angles and a guarantee of no audio issues, and then we used multiple livestream breaks in between the performance footage where we interacted with the audience. We had giveaways, a question and answer period, and short, fun performances that were live. We even had an improvisation session based on cues audience members put in the chat! I’m excited to get to continue this format with other virtual concerts.” The idea was in place but there were still many obstacles this duo had to get around when pursuing the virtual concert. Jaxon continued, “We had to work hard and adapt in order to make this work. We had to be open to learning new skills such as video producing and graphic design. These were sometimes challenging skills to pick up, but also necessary to stay afloat in this pandemic.” Both Wesley and Jaxon agreed that while their experience with this unique concert was challenging, they emerged much more confident that they could produce a quality virtual concert experience for audiences, and that was as close as you can get to real life without actually being there. Watch a snippet of the performance

Since it seems there is not a near end to this pandemic, and with no sense of how arts and musical organizations will venture into the future, I wanted to know how Jâca planned on moving forward. They responded that their main focus during the pandemic has been to tend to the things that chamber groups don’t necessarily have the time or the bandwidth for, whether it be reflecting on their vision and goals, refining aspects of their online presence, as well as composing and releasing their own arrangements on their website. They have been kept busy and they do not see an end to the pandemic anytime soon. As long as normal life continues to be temporarily halted, Wesley and Jaxon say that they will continue to focus on bettering themselves as musicians working to grow Jâca into the ensemble that they aspire to be. During these times it is both easy and understandable for performers to let go of responsibilities and to simply “take a break”, but Jâca is doing everything they can to stay active. Their drive to better themselves while still giving back to their communities is inspiring and gives me hope as to what will come once the coronavirus pandemic has ended. – Solara Martin