Stand By Me: Performing musicians press on amid COVID-19 pandemic

Eye on KELOLAND

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the world in countless ways, and one of the most significant has been how we get together. For people whose work can rely on that gathering, the effects can be significant.

If there’s no pandemic, Sioux Falls drummer Daniel Heier would be playing live often.

“It varies,” Heier said. “I would say generally, I’ve done anywhere from one to four nights a week.”

It’s a similar story for Sioux Falls singer and keyboardist Elisabeth Hunstad.

“I consider myself full-time, so two to six times a week, depending on the time of year,” Hunstad said.

“My April and May were, were, really busy, you know,” Heier said.

Social distancing changes that.

“We’ve lost a lot of work, but there’s been a lot of cool things happening, too,” Heier said. “On a personal level, it’s been giving me an opportunity to really dig into some technical studies and just really practicing my craft. If nothing else, the one thing I can control is I can be a better musician once this is all over, and the other thing is there’s all these cool online collaborations.”

Dan Santella: Has it meant a big hit for you financially, to not be able to play live in front of people?

“Yes, because you go from, I mean that’s my full-time job, to then just not having that job,” Hunstad said.

An overarching theme of interviews with both Hunstad and Heier is positivity.

“It’s just one of those things, trying to make the best of this current situation, and we have this opportunity, and if I tried to be down on myself, that could be a really long, bad way, a long time to be spending on a pandemic like this, and so just being positive about this,” Heier said.

“I think it’s inspiring us to better ourselves,” Hunstad said. “You’re learning how to be online, be in front of a screen, that’s a different way that you perform, a different way that you reach.”

“Right now, it’s really cool, teaching on Zoom has offered me a way to become a better teacher,” Heier said.

Hunstad has played for online audiences recently.

“Then once we’re back actually in-person live again, I’d like to think that okay, we’re, we got a whole, we can use this time to hopefully bring a whole new group of people that when we’re like, ‘Hey I’m playing at a real venue,’ they would come out,” Hunstad said.

The realities of social distancing aren’t all negative.

“I practice a lot more,” Heier said. “I mean, it’s significant amount, and it’s been really great, and I’ve also, you get this time to sit back and you can work on other aspects of being a musician, whether it’s arranging, composing.”

“I have family that lives all over the country, and I didn’t really think about this, they’ve heard me, they’ve seen me gig now, that they couldn’t have otherwise,” Hunstad said.

“A lot of my practice was geared towards performance, and now it’s more geared toward self-development and just becoming a better musician, but with no gig necessarily in mind,” Heier said.

Augustana University professor Brian Hanegan highlights one word when asked what it’s like for a performing musician during a time of social distancing.

“I think one word comes to mind, and to me it’s perseverance,” Hanegan said.

“We’re all learning, I mean, no matter what our industry, we’re learning how to navigate this as we go,” Hunstad said.

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