Musical Life During The Pandemic

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

The Origin Story of Jâca

The Origin Story of Jâca 

The unlikely story of Jâca began in 2012… with an email. Wesley Ferreira, clarinet professor at Colorado State University, was set to record a challenging new piece for clarinet and guitar which would complete the requirements and earn him a Doctorate in Music from Arizona State University. With days to go before the recording session, he received an email from the guitar professor at Arizona State University. Due to an hand injury, their plan to rehearse and record the piece could not move forward. With flights from Colorado scheduled, the recording studio already booked, and with an advanced degree on the line, the email appeared to mark the end of the road! In fact, and as fate would have it, it sparked a new beginning. The guitar professor told Wesley that he would secure a replacement, his top graduate student. But with days to go, could Wesley really expect even the most advanced and talented musician to take over with such little preparation time? Enter Jaxon Williams.

On the same day Wesley received the onerous email, Jaxon received a phone call from his guitar professor. He felt a mix of confusion, intrigue, and excitement as he caught the caller ID. Thinking that it must be something important, his mind raced through the possibilities as he moved to answer the call. At once he thought, could this be a performance opportunity, a collaboration… am I in trouble? Jaxon was asked to fill in for Wesley’s recording with only days’ notice. The pressure was on because this new piece was planned on being released on an album with a professional record label. Jaxon, never known to back down from a challenge, immediately began to absorb the music, secretly jotting down notes in the score during his classes, recording himself in the practice room, and listening to the piece as he rode his bike to and from school. He even found himself falling asleep while thinking and working out difficult passages in his head. Time was ticking and there was no other option than to eat, sleep, and breathe this music. Something told Jaxon that all the work he was putting in was going to be worthwhile.

Days later, Wesley arrived in Phoenix and met Jaxon for the first time. They knew that they faced a tall order. With a little apprehension and nervousness between them, Wesley and Jaxon got right down to work. As they began their first rehearsal session, the pair immediately felt that rare, elusive, magical thing happen (anyone who has played in a chamber ensemble knows just how rare this is). Their playing fit perfectly and there was instant chemistry. The music came to life. With little said between them, they approached the music with shared vision. Following an effective and inspired session of music-making discovered that they shared similar personalities and sense of humor. They were surprised to find shared musical interests and backgrounds too.

The next day the pair showed up to the recording studio confident and they nailed it.

Interestingly enough, it wasn’t until six years later that their serendipitous first meeting would lead to the formation of Jâca. In between, Jaxon went to Spain on a Fulbright scholarship to learn Flamenco, earned his own Doctorate in music, and has become an award-winning performer. Wesley released several albums to critical acclaim and built an international reputation as a performer and engaging teacher. Throughout that time, they kept in touch and in 2018 joined forces once again to record several new pieces as well as their own arrangements for clarinet and guitar (this time, under less pressure). Reigniting their musical spark and on the recommendation of several friends and colleagues, Wesley and Jaxon decided to embark on an exciting musical journey together. Jâca was born!

Post Script:

You’re probably wondering where the name Jâca comes from. Well, that piece Wesley and Jaxon first played together was written by a Portuguese composer and was titled Imaginary Beings, based on the book of the same name by Jorge Luis Borges. It was fitting then that their new duo would be given a Portuguese name and be represented by its own imaginary being. They created a logo based on the famous Portuguese Rooster of Barcelos to represent the new imaginary being. Now all they needed was a name. Fitting for their relationship Wesley and Jaxon quickly and easily decided. Jâca sparked their imagination.

Emerging Composers Competition

Jâca’s Emerging Composers Competition is an exciting new opportunity for composers aged 16 – 30. More information available on this official page.

Jâca is featured in CULTURS: The Global Multicultural Magazine

Jâca’s Cultural Exchange Program is featured in the Fall 2019 issue of Culturs: The Global Multicultural Magazine on page 56 – 57. Click here for the online edition.

2020 Summer NEWSLETTER

Check out what we’ve been up to since Covid rocked the performance world.  A lot of exciting changes and updates!

Read our newsletter:
Click here.

Jâca Performs on New Album Produced by Centaur Records

Jâca debuts two world premiere recordings on Wesley Ferreira’s new solo album “Arrival”.  The album, a tribute to Ferreira’s Portuguese heritage, features music exclusively from Portuguese composers and contains all new commissions and arrangements for clarinet. Available now from Centaur Records.
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Jâca Tour Supported by FACTOR Canada Grant

We’re excited to announce that our Fall 2019 international tour will be supported in part by the FACTOR Canada “Artist Development” Grant.   Funds will help support Jâca’s trip to the Festival Internacional de Música in Loja, Ecuador and at the World Music Festival in the Azores, Portugal.

Introducing the Jâca Cultural Exchange Program (JCEP)

Jâca is pleased to announce the formation of our new cultural exchange program. With JCEP we aim to promote “Music with Meaning” by celebrating our differences and making a positive impact on the world. We use our position as touring musicians to connect cultural communities worldwide and to give back to the communities we perform in. JCEP’s goal is to share culture from one locale to the next and to support underserved musical communities worldwide by donating 100% of profits from all JCEP sales.

To do this, each year Jâca will spotlight a JCEP beneficiary somewhere in the world.  As we tour different locations, we will acquire cultural commodities from each region we visit.  These items will be for sale at our next locations, with 100% of profits going to the JCEP beneficiary.  We’re really excited about JCEP!  Not only are we going to financially help groups and individuals in need, but we will be helping tell peoples’ stories and promoting understanding between cultures.  This is something we believe is critical in our world today.  Help us reach our goals this year!

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