Oct 30, 2020

The New Normal Q&A: Harpsichordist Charlotte Nediger

Charlotte Nediger standing in a white room next to a harpsichord standing up-right.

In The New Normal—our interview series—we speak to the musicians and staff of Tafelmusik, to ask how working and performing in new ways has changed our routines, and our operations as a performing arts organization.

In this second interview, we sat down with Charlotte Nediger, Tafelmusik's harpschordist, organist, and librarian, to hear her perspective on how this “new normal” has affected her work and her life.

Tafelmusik: How do you feel about Tafelmusik returning, and releasing our third concert of the season?

Charlotte Nediger: I feel a wonderful and somewhat unusual combination of excitement and relief, after so many months apart. Harpsichord wasn’t called for in the first concert (Mozart Together) so this third concert marks my return as a player, though I loved watching the Mozart program and seeing all my colleagues play!

TM: The phrase “the new normal” has, for better or for worse, become part of our everyday vernacular. What does “the new normal” mean for you, as it relates to work and Tafelmusik?

CN: A big part of what “the new normal” means is a constant underlying level of uncertainty, something we’re all experiencing in most aspects of our lives at the moment. As for Tafelmusik, we of course had to abandon the months of season planning we’d done, and have spent the last weeks and months coming up with Plan A, B, C, D, ad infinitum, as we try to feel our way though uncharted territory. As soon as we think we’ve got something solid in place, the ground shifts and we have to shift with it. Musicians’ lives are paced around practising, rehearsing, performing, touring, and the calendar is filled out well in advance. Now the schedule changes on a daily basis. We’re learning to be very flexible, and quick on the draw. You can’t count on systematic practising of the repertoire on your music stand, as suddenly you’re shuffling the scores and playing something that was well down in the pile. Or something entirely new!

TM: What have you missed most about being away from our physical space? Have there been any silver linings or positive surprises about working from home?

CN: The working-from-home part doesn’t feel so different: that’s where practising is always done, in our own studios of isolation. And I do a lot of arts administration for Tafelmusik, as librarian, program editor, and assistant to the Music Director, all work I generally do at home anyway. So no surprises in that area (except for grocery deliveries, which are a wonderful luxury — I’m not so fond of shopping!).

But I’ve REALLY missed being at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre (TSP), the home base of my music-making for almost 40 years. It’s been fantastic to be back rehearsing the last couple of weeks—though with the strange experience of masked faces, and musicians spread far apart on stage, which makes ensemble playing very challenging. We’re all getting more expressive with our eyebrows!

What I miss when I step in the building into TSP is the presence of the full community. The door is locked, and the church is open to only a few people for whom it’s their workspace. Usually it’s a busy place, with the doors open to a wide range of activities and of visitors. And of course, for us, those doors are open to our wonderful audience, and it’s such a great heartache to not be able to share our music with audiences in live concerts. Virtual concerts and recordings are fine, but they do not have the immediate shared connection that is such a huge part of live performance.

I also greatly miss the casual chats with my colleagues around the lunch table at breaks, or in the green room before concerts. Much of it is the casual banter of friends, but those conversations also often lead to new ideas for programs and sparks of creativity. The orchestra, choir, and staff members at Tafelmusik are inspiring folks, and the “accidental” conversations that happen among us in “the old normal” cannot be replaced by Zoom meetings or physically distanced rehearsal breaks.

TM: What aspect of Passions of the Soul are you most looking forward to?

CN: We had originally planned to perform this as a live-streamed concert, with the full core orchestra of 15 players. Then of course the modified Stage 2 regulations were announced, so we shifted mid-rehearsals to playing with one player per part, making sure everyone was playing in at least a couple of pieces. Those of us in the continuo section are, as usual, playing continuously! But with the shift, we also had to turn to filming the concert, rather than live-streaming. We couldn’t safely fit even the smaller orchestra in the same space as the crew needed to capture the concert.

The idea of a live-streamed concert was oddly scarier than a live concert, because it would have been new to us. When we play for an audience, the pre-concert nerves dissipate on stage, as you feel the energy coming back from the audience. We would have had to imagine that energy, but camera lenses tend to magnify, rather than soothe, frayed nerves! But now we’re filming in a studio, and will be trying to imagine the audience’s ears and eyes. We can, however, stop and play it again when needed, which has its advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is obvious—we can perhaps improve the second time around!—but the disadvantage is that one can fall into the trap of listening to your playing more critically, and more inwardly, when you’re not playing to an audience. And that’s not always a good thing. All of which is to say I’m looking forward (with a little trepidation) to challenging myself to get into performance mode and ignore the cameras, imaging a concert hall instead!

I’m also looking forward, of course, to performing the music, and especially to performing Bach. Many musicians have turned to Bach when COVID stresses become overwhelming. There’s something about his music that truly soothes and nourishes the soul and the mind at the deepest level. I’ve been playing a lot of Bach on my own at home, but the most amazing moment of the last couple of weeks was the first rehearsal of the Bach Concerto for 3 violins. Playing Bach with my Tafelmusik family was beyond special, and I experienced a true moment of equilibrium that afternoon. The outer movements radiate joy, and the searching middle movement poses unanswered questions.

TM: Are there any socially distant activities you have been enjoying?

CN: I have a less-than-robust immune system, so have been very much at home since March. One bonus is that my husband (choir director Ivars Taurins) and I have sat down every afternoon and enjoyed a cup of tea together. That used to happen only when we were on holiday. There are Zoom meetings to work around, and now rehearsals and teaching (Ivars teaches at the University of Toronto and the Glenn Gould School—currently moved to the ‘classroom’ in our spare bedroom), but with meetings and teaching at home, tea time is magically possible. We haven’t missed a single afternoon tea since the first lockdown began. And we don’t have to socially distance, of course!

Most days also involve a stroll to the local park, and it’s been really encouraging to see the park used so extensively, and with a real sense of community. Countless distanced picnics, and the occasional less-distanced (!) neighbourhood soccer game.

TM: What kind of positive feedback have you heard from Tafelmusik patrons and supporters, or friends and family, about our digital content?

CN: At a time when I can’t be together with family (especially my mother on her own in a retirement home in London, ON), it’s a blessing to be able to share music with them. I know they’ve enjoyed watching the various offerings Tafelmusik has presented.

TM: Are you still continuing to teach digitally? Or work administrative roles digitally? How is that going, what are the positives and what are the challenges?

CN: I do a little teaching: I have a wonderful DMA harpsichord student, Louise Hung. It’s challenging and very limiting to teach music lessons virtually—there are truly no advantages to it! But Louise sends me recordings of her playing (a treat for me!), and then we go over them together. Thankfully Louise has been studying with me for a couple of years, and we’d already covered the basic technical work and sound production in the past, two things that you can’t teach online.

I mentioned my administrative work for Tafelmusik, and there’s a great deal of that, given the ever-changing planning. One of my jobs is scheduling rehearsals, and with schedules being revisited on a daily basis, it keeps me busy! The library work also occupies more time than usual. I am accustomed to creating scores and parts from manuscripts on the computer, so that hasn’t changed, but there are more of them to create than usual, in part as I have to be able to deliver music to the musicians both digitally and in the more usual paper form, so I am relying less on published editions. Thankfully, many of the 17th- and 18th-century sources I use to create our own editions are readily available online. The hiccups come when they’re not, and I’ve had numerous email exchanges with librarians of some of the smaller collections in Europe who write apologetically to say that they’d be happy to send scans of the manuscripts I need, but that their libraries are closed! So that part of my work is a bit of an adventure. I work closely with Elisa, and that’s always a pleasure, and with many members of the wonderful Tafelmusik staff. I still find myself heading down to the offices in rehearsal breaks, to say hi, or catch up on details, but of course they’re working at home, and the office is oddly empty.

Our upcoming program, Passions of the Soul, takes place on November 26, 2020, 8pm EST. Learn more and buy tickets here

New Normal
Charlotte Nediger