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Play On: Music In The West Village During The Pandemic

By Fr. Graeme Napier

Orsino in Twelfth Night commands his minstrels:

If music be the food of love, play on;

Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,

The appetite may sicken, and so die.

wishing that his lovesickness would perish. In this time of the pandemic, of course, the opposite has happened for music-lovers: the dearth of live music has whetted the appetite. However, due to the restrictions imposed on live performances, there are few opportunities to hear live music in the West Village.

A brief survey of nineteen of the best-known live music venues in the West Village gives an overview of the present situation.

Some venues have simply closed, either temporarily or for good. Cornelia Street Café and Café Vivaldi closed before the pandemic began. The Village Underground (West 3rd Street) is temporarily closed. Wednesday night arts events at Judson Memorial Church (Washington Square) have ceased. St Luke’s (Hudson Street) is scheduling neither choral nor orchestral concerts for the rest of the year. Greenwich House ran its Music for Munchkins, a weekly out-door toddlers’ event in September, but has no concerts scheduled for the rest of this year. Cuba (Thompson Street) remains open but has ceased offering live music. La Lanterna di Vittorio (MacDougal Street) aspires to have live music again with indoor dining (which has just begun), whereas Gonzalez y Gonzalez (Mercer Street) has not announced any plans to resume live music even with indoor dining, and Zinc Bar (West 3rd Street) laments that it simply does not have enough space for both diners and musicians.

Some venues have gone down the path of live-streaming their performances. The Bitter End (Bleeker Street) held one live-streamed (fund-raising) concert in August and has otherwise been closed since the pandemic began. The Village Vanguard is now live-streaming with one or two performances every month; available on 2 and 3 October, for example, is the Dayna Stephens (jazz) Quartet. The Blue Note (West 3rd Street) has scheduled eleven live-streamed performances this month, as has Le Poisson Rouge (Bleeker Street). St John’s in the Village has live-streamed some thirty concerts during the pandemic thus far, with many more scheduled for the fall and winter seasons. Mannes School of Music (at the New School) has commenced a series of live-streamed monthly string quartet recitals; this month, on Sunday 4 October, the Balourdet Quartet perform repertoire by Beethoven, Jessie Montgomery, and Bartók. NYU’s Skirball Center for Performing Arts (off Washington Square) has been live-streaming some political content and a drama masterclass, but no live-steaming music is yet scheduled.

Smalls (West 10th Street), temporarily closed, is not live-streaming new performances but, instead, granting access through their website to archival recordings from the space, with some material available almost every night.

Nevertheless, live in-person music is slowly beginning to re-appear in the West Village. Groove NYC (MacDougal Street) presents multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter Neal Rosenthal outdoors every Saturday this month. Arturo’s Restaurant (Houston Street) has occasional live music performed inside the restaurant while diners eat outdoors, and soon the diners and musicians will be in the restaurant together. Cafe Wha? (MacDougal Street) presents singer-songwriter hip-hop/reggae artist Robin Andre outdoors every Friday evening in October. St John’s in the Village has commenced “fusion concerts,” which are live-streamed (or recorded), but also attended in person with a limited audience of sixteen units (where a unit is either an individual or two people who live in the same home) more than six feet apart with face-coverings required, thus keeping the audience and performers safe.

St John’s offers a sponsor-a-concert opportunity to music lovers who miss live in-person music. For $300 you can sponsor a concert, attend in person, and invite selected guests (up to sixteen units, where a unit is either an individual or two people who share a home). Some sponsors do this to mark a birthday, an anniversary, in memoriam a departed loved one, or as a gift to another. Some bring a group of friends together to sponsor and enjoy a “private” concert. 

If you are interested in sponsoring a concert, simply contact Fr. Graeme the Rector (rector@stjvny.org) and he will work with you on finding a suitable concert that corresponds to your tastes. Most of St. John’s concerts are early music, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, contemporary, or jazz; one example is a beautiful concert of Renaissance music for harp and viola da gamba on Saturday 17 October, a program WQXR called “relentlessly beautiful.” Why not treat your friends to such a heart-warming private concert on a cold autumn night in the Village? Or, give a concert in December or January to a friend as a Christmas or Hanukkah gift.

It is good to know that the West Village is one of the places in NYC where in-person audiences can again enjoy the acoustics of our great New York venues and the talents of our musicians in full safety and comfort. Play on!

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