Music to improve quality of life

A creative impetus to fight pandemic stillness: music entrepreneurship with double bass and Giacomo Puccini’s music

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Musicians are narrators, actors, magicians, and poets who can squeeze the deepest emotions out of people through the rite of performance. Whether in a concert hall or a pub, we exchange and share an energy that is bound to emotions. Emotions are fundamental for every human being: without them we cease to exist. Music has pushed people and communities, particularly minorities, to resist the hardest conditions of oppression. Just think of racial segregation in the US and how slaves stayed strong for centuries through song and performed prayer. Their experience and the ones of so many others show how the role of music in society is of paramount importance. This role has been put to the test in the past year during which musicians have lost the opportunity to perform because of the pandemic.  Musicians re-training to do other work – as proposed by some governments – is not an effective solution: it would inevitably lead to many musicians leaving the profession for good, never to return. This, as well as a serious loss of intellectual material, would lead to an extinction of a generation of young performers and soloists, lost because of the pandemic.

Valentina Ciardelli, a double bass player and composer from Lucca, found her inspiration in the midst of this crisis by using internet resources and the synergy between artists, patrons, and musical associations in order to keep outstanding young performers’ careers alive.

“I strongly believe that music has a maieutic quality; it squeezes emotions out of people and helps improve their quality of life. Nobody talks about this powerful quality enough: instead, music is considered too often as a luxury, as something dispensable.” she explained. 

Valentina, during this pandemic, like most soloists and performers, you have lost many concerts. This means no source of income whatsoever. What have you done in order to preserve your career? It has been very difficult, I must admit! Since the beginning of the pandemic I have lost more than 70 concerts. I miss the stage so much!  In the UK we have been supported by associations such as the Musicians’ Union and Help Musicians and by the government, but unfortunately it has not been enough. Many of my colleagues have had to quit music and renounce their careers. I have fought long and hard to keep going in my career because I believe strongly in the role of music in our society.  I have seen with my own performer-eyes its effect on people. I conceived the project How I met Puccini,  an online series with elements of crossover between conventional concert and educational videos. The aim is to attract a new audience, most importantly a new generation, back to theatres and concert venues, and to discover if in modern times it is still possible to have a system of patronage: a virtuoso circle of donors, patrons, artists and music associations, like in the Renaissance. 

You have received some help. Which sponsors have supported the project? How I met Puccini now has more than 23 sponsors, including the Teatro del Giglio in Lucca, Talent Unlimited, Carne Trust, the Famiglia Artistica Milanese (the same organisation that a century ago helped Giacomo Puccini himself), Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, Southbank Sinfonia and the Mascagni Family. So I would say, yes,  patronage is still possible! But I don’t want to spoil too much, you can follow the episodes on my Youtube channel: 

What do we expect to see in How I met Puccini’s episodes? In each episode I perform a different virtuoso fantasy duo that I have composed, each inspired by one of Puccini’s operas. Between an aria and an intermezzo I tell the opera plot and stories about Puccini’s life and adventures, all in a very informal way! It’s very rewarding to see how many people have enjoyed these transcriptions so much so that they are now looking forward to going to the theatre and watching the actual operas. They have also re-evaluated the double bass’s expressivity and now they love it.  

This is a great result! What is your main purpose? I want to spread the concept of instrumental equity: artists must be considered for the artistic products they share instead of the instrument they play. It would be like seeing someone’s sex before their humanity. From this perspective, it is obviously not acceptable.

Why Puccini? I grew up in Lucca, Giacomo Puccini’s hometown. Puccini is the perfect example to follow in terms of a self-managed career, strength, passion, creativity, and perseverance. His musical language has laid the groundwork for music theatre and cinema, and has been a source of inspiration for a diverse range of composers including Ravel, Bernstein, and John Williams! Just imagine if he had given up at the first hurdle?  There would be no Mimì, no Nessun Dorma! So, it’s to convey a powerful message to the younger generation now: don’t give up despite the challenges. These qualities are crucial in the early stages of a musician’s career, and the best way to learn something is from the example set by the great geniuses of the past. Nowadays we need hope, passion and strength more than ever. 

Can you summarise  How I met Puccini it in three words? I think the three words that describe this project as well as my entire career are: synergy, education, evolution. As an ‘entrepreneur’, I am retracing the precious tradition of good patronage in order to find funding and support. This project is also focused on reminding the public of the beauty and value of art, and the enjoyment it brings. Success depends on the collaboration of fellow musicians and artists to create a fertile environment in which music can flourish in a 21st century environment without losing the great tradition of the past.

Do you have any hopes for the near future?  I really hope to go back on stage soon and share all the important  hard work  that I’ve done during the pandemic lockdowns. I was recently appointed as double bass professor at the new London Performing Academy of Music, and I am eager to start teaching a new generation of young musicians and sharing the music on which I’ve been working for years. With so many things to do, I am really excited to expand the “virtuoso circle” I have managed to create during these few months. I cannot imagine what we will be able to do in the next few years! As one of my favorite composers Frank Zappa once said “There is no progress without deviation from the norm”. So, folks if you are out there and want to join, find me on the web!

*Barbara Panetta, scrittrice

Barbara Panetta