KCL Jazz Society: Strike Up The Band

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Roar writer Camilla Alcini interviews Jake Fletcher, President of the Jazz Society, on how the Jazz Society has been coping with Covid-19 and social distancing rules.

It is no secret that music unites, comforts and distracts. A reassuring company in our days and journeys, it helps us explore our identities and feelings.

These qualities make it a pleasant companion during an unimagined forced quarantine that lasted weeks on end. While the world stopped for the pandemic, music never did.

The web provided it with a space to express itself through online performances via Instagram and Facebook lives, and Youtube videos.

King’s famous Jazz Society came up with a brilliant video performance to keep the pace going, even during these strange times. “In March, all of our gigs were cancelled in the space of 24 hours. The KCL Jazz Society was unable to rehearse and perform, and lost a large proportion of its income from ticket sales,” declared Jake Fletcher, President of the Jazz Society.

The challenges were eventually overcome in June with their first online performance, ’Moonlight Serenade’ organised by social secretary Oscar Eastman with society’s members. But the bigger desire was to organise a virtual performance that connected different people from different places through their love for music.

Having a strong international component, during the pandemic King’s community has been spread out across the globe. “We wanted to bring people together and that included people who had never played an instrument or performed with a band before,” says Jake talking about how ‘Strike Up the Band’ was designed to be an inclusive performance of different cultures and different degrees of experience. “We also invited our friends from other institutions to join in, connecting different universities and conservatoires together.”

When asked about the logistic behind such a complex project, Fletcher told us about him juggling between iMovie, Garage Band and Power Point, and the different contributions of experts and less experienced musicians: “I adapted our arrangement of ‘Strike Up the Band’ to include an opening percussion groove that could be played on an everyday objects, allowing people who had less experience playing in a musical ensemble to join in. I made a play-along track for the percussion players, allowing them to hear their part through headphones as they filmed their recordings.  I also created a ‘backing track/click track’ that more experienced performers could use to help us all play together in time and helped me to synchronise the parts in the final production.”

If you are wondering as much as I am about how they managed to bring together so many people, the answer is, once again, social media. “We received films from over 80 performers and over 100 different recordings.  These clips were sent from across the globe, from the UK, Europe, Asia, Australia and North and South America,” explains Fletcher. It took five weeks to receive all the clips which were then slowly added to the mix.

The message behind this project is a strong one. Jake summed it up: “The pandemic has put the arts under huge strain. Demonstrations are taking place with institutions lighting up in red in support of the arts and art venues. There is a lack of financial support for artists. For music societies, there is still uncertainty about how next year’s musical ensembles will run and rehearse, with a number still opting for virtual rehearsals. This project highlights these issues facing the arts but aims to provide some hope and positivity for student performance artists. It aims to show that as students, we can work together and try and improve this situation.”

What about next year? The desire to come together and make music is there. Students want and need to make art.

The Jazz Society in September plans to rehearse together live and return live music to London (socially distanced).

In Jake’s words, it’s time to help and support the arts return. It’s time to #StrikeUpTheBand!

Check out their website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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