COVID 19 Blog: Sharing Our Stories

The pandemic may have limited our human contact, but not our ability to share stories, musician and composer Alex Vella Gregory writes.

Photo credit: Lyndsey Bahia

When news of the pandemic broke out in Malta, everything came crashing down. As a musician, my work depends entirely on human contact, whether it is teaching or performing, and all my project and musical engagements suddenly ground to a halt.

Those first two weeks were the toughest. I moved my teaching to online platforms, frantically tried to deal with all the changes, cancellations, and postponements of all performances, whilst adjusting to a new way of life. Online teaching proved to be immensely tiring, especially with the younger ones.

On the plus side, there was a stronger sense of commitment. With more time indoors, not only were they studying more, but they were trying out new pieces and even creating their own. I also got to teach many young aspiring pianists in unicorn onesies and Spiderman pyjamas.

Then came the first ‘COVID-call’ – a group of artists were organising an online performance platform to raise some funds. Within a few days, several such online initiatives started popping up. I decided to go for one of them: Kuruna Kommandos – a Maltese satirical TV sketch show all produced by a group of artists working from home. That gave birth to Il-Mast, an eccentric lonely composer stuck indoors, who is convinced he writes masterpieces, only to end up writing silly little ditties.

On a more serious note, I was approached by the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra and the Valletta Cultural Agency to curate an online community project called F’Dirgħajk (In Your Arms). The project is simple enough – collecting love stories and sharing them as a short online video in the run-up to a virtual MPO concert on June 13 under the name Romantic Summer.

Then early in May, I got the good news that the project RITWALI got funding under the Arts Council Malta Arts Fund Special Call. The project involves the creation of an online platform that gathers crowd-sourced archival material, as well as writings and research on rituals in Malta. This will cover rituals as varied as the festa, Christmas, Lent, Holy Week, and many more. What’s more, I will be working with a great creative team.

So far from finding myself bored, I have been lucky enough to be involved in several online projects, all of which have a common thread.

Despite being wildly differing projects in their eventual outcomes, they all share that most basic of human needs: the need to tell a story.

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is how essential it is to tell and listen to each other’s stories. Scrolling through social media I could see a marked difference between those whose education (formal and informal) allowed them to exchange ideas, and those who found themselves locked up inside unable to understand, let alone express, their feelings.

And this is where art and culture come in. Of course, music can be entertaining and pretty, but it must also allow for stories to be told, and ideas to be shared. Covid-19 is just another chapter in our story.

I just hope we read it well and understand it…and learn.