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Feature: Felix Jarrar and Music in the Time of Covid-19

A Look at How Artists Continue to Inspire

Feature: Felix Jarrar and Music in the Time of Covid-19
Meet Felix Jarrar, a tireless, young, queer composer

2020 was a year of unprecedented changes, which continue into our new year. For the performing arts world, the cancellation of live performances has meant a significant loss of income for artists and venue owners around the globe.

For many people within the arts and outside of them, financial strain has been augmented by illness or the threat of it, physical isolation from loved ones, bigotry and systemic injustices that continue to ravage our world, and countless other challenges of living.

But...

Maybe promise waits in adversity. I definitely wouldn't be turning my scripts into webcomics if the Off-Broadway theater that commissioned them wasn't dark. Yes, several shows were cancelled but this gave me time to create virtual events, donations, and support groups that may not have otherwise existed.

My goal in creating this series of interviews was to explore the unique ways in which artists continue to create and inspire. Whether it's the music that helps us get through the day, that movie that makes us smile a little more, or a virtual dance workshop that banishes the ennui even temporarily, art has proven to be critical in times of hardship. Perhaps the hard times are when art is needed the most.

Meet Felix Jarrar, a tireless, young, queer composer and one of the many artists proving that the hard times can inspire some of our greatest work.

BWW: Tell us a bit about you and your artistry.

FJ:
I am a 25-year-old composer and pianist based in Brooklyn, NY. Most of my work revolves around opera and art songs. I started to play the piano and compose when I was 5. I wrote my first opera when I was 15, and am currently working on my 10th. My late father was Palestinian and lived in Jordan with my Mom, who is Sri Lankan, before they moved to America and had my sister and me. Diverse musical and theatrical influences have shaped my identity.

Through my works, it is my goal to present new perspectives of old tropes and introduce LGBTQIA+ narratives without focusing on the trauma of the queer community. I got my undergraduate degree at Marlboro College in Vermont in piano performance and music composition, and graduated from Brooklyn College last year with a master's degree in music composition. I also actively work as a freelance pianist in contemporary classical and vocal collaborative repertoires.

BWW: What plans did you have for your artistry in 2020? What has changed?

FJ: I kicked off 2020 with a concert of my compositions in Connecticut. Then I took my art song program from NYC to Marlboro College in early March, right before the pandemic hit the US.

I had plans to premiere my sixth opera, HindSight, with a libretto by Bea Goodwin in a production by No Dominion Theatre Company. I'd also planned concerts of my art songs and arias, which were scheduled across the US. These have all been postponed due to COVID-19. The virus has eradicated the concept of live performance as we previously knew it.

BWW: How are you staying creative (if you are)? How are you coping?

FJ: Since quarantine started, I created a livestream concert series called Social Distancing Salons, which have been featured in Operawire. I've worked with and/or produced work for Opera on Tap's virtual Pride Concert, Make Music Day's American Song Initiative, Helios Opera, No Dominion Theatre Company, Barn Opera, Opera Elect, as well as independent opera artists across the country.

I have been taking commissions for art songs and other vocal projects, and quarantine has given me time to write. To date I have written over 100 arts songs and 9 operas.

I also won Really Spicy Opera's quarantine award, with Bea Goodwin, for our opera scene 6 feet apart, which will be released as a virtual reading by the company sometime this year.

This past June, I finished the piano score for my opera The Tell Tale Heart, my second Poe adaptation this year and third overall. I am currently orchestrating and workshopping it while pitching the work to different companies.

BWW: Are you working otherwise? How are you supporting yourself?

FJ: I've had gigs teaching for the Brooklyn Community Chorus and the Brooklyn Music School. These online programs featured workshops, coachings, and masterclasses. I worked with conductor Peter Szep, director Judith Barnes, and countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo (who starred in the Met's production of Philip Glass's Akhnaten this past season), among others.

BWW: Did any good things happen in 2020? What positives or potential are you seeing thanks to that year?

FJ: I am seeing a lot of conscious social activism. Outside of virtually performing, composing, and teaching, I have also been fundraising for causes that are dear to me such as Black Lives Matter. I launched an initiative for singers who need a contemporary piece for their audition package. Artists can have access to my self published pdfs and playlist, with high quality recordings of the arias, in exchange for a $5 donation to BLM via Act Blue. Check out my website here for more info on that!

BWW: What has 2020 taught you?

FJ: It has taught me to expand the idea of what is possible in musical collaborations, especially when we cannot make music together in a safe environment.

BWW: What advice do you have for artists who are struggling right now?

FJ: Be grateful for your health and the health of your loved ones.

BWW: How are you feeling about and approaching the future?

FJ: Developments in response to Covid-19 look promising, but let's continue to wear masks and practice social distancing. It is going to take a while for live performances to come back, but it will happen eventually.

BWW: Anything else?

FJ:
Follow my website www.felixjarrarmusic.com for the latest details on my upcoming quarantine projects! I have show happening January 15 at 7:30pm EST that is virtual on Sparrow Live: https://www.sparrowlive.com/shows/the-ulster-county-songbook-by-felix-jarrar. It is the debut performance of my ensemble the Jarrar Trio.



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