Stories From Home - Sophia Perlman

Every week, we ask a different local artist to provide their unique perspective on the pandemic experience from a musician’s point of view. Through words, video and music, each musician will share their story, along with an audio or video sample of a recent project, and a link to purchase their music so that you can support their work.

This week, Sophia Perlman reveals how her experience of the pandemic has reaffirmed her thoughts on who she is as an artist, where her passions lie, and what it means to share music in unexpected places.

"[Living through the pandemic] has affirmed for me something I long knew about myself: I am a live artist. Recording has always made me uncomfortable (the fun times are always when I'm working on someone else's music). I have been lucky enough to continue teaching and have been asked to do some online concerts, but these are often pre-recorded and I never really feel like I've found my stride exactly and, if I am honest, video conferencing is really hard for my brain to focus on, and makes it really hard to read people. It wears me out three hours to every one.

It's easy to get lost in mourning the thing that isn't there. I had a whole group of graduating students who didn't get to have final recitals, and another third year class wondering if they will get the chance. But I have also had some incredible experiences working with collaborators who, rather than trying to do an "online version" of their normal practice, have taken incredible innovative risks in harnessing what is possible in the thing that is happening. My love and admiration to the graduating theatre students at Centennial College: when your site-specific, moving adaptation of the Wizard of Oz gets cancelled three weeks before you are supposed to graduate, you acknowledge that Zoom is burning you out at three hours to one because, actually it's more boring than Kansas in black and white, and you throw your old script completely out the window, and upload some technicolour backdrops and......

A few years back, there was a shift already happening in my creative practice. I was finding myself less and less interested in booking shows (I still sing live and love it) and recording (which I mostly only really enjoy when I'm doing it for other people's projects). It's hard to sum up in a quick little story, but maybe it starts with the Rainy Day fundraiser in collaboration with the Festival a few years ago [through which we raised money] to help out a fantastic singer based out of Edmonton whose tour funding had fallen through. It's a perfect example of why, ultimately, I feel like I have come out of this strange year affirmed that two things are really central to where music (and improvisation!) have taken me: music and musicians are integral to the communities they live and work in. The art is important. But so is the example that the music community has set, time and again: when something happens, we take care of each other.

I also think this time has taught us something else: as musicians and artists we are so lucky to have "the doing of it" at our disposal. I think many of us have had a chance to deepen our own personal relationship with the music we play. And we live somewhere where there is so much at our disposal and so many opportunities to identify and grow as an artist. Isolated and remote lives and the challenges they present aren't a new, COVID-related problem. Geographically, emotionally, and artistically, people living with the challenges of remoteness also struggle to find their artist family. It's amazing how quickly we were able to start working towards innovative solutions when it was us who was isolated. So how do we spread it around? Now that we know how to connect remotely, how do we extend the boundaries of our creative families and bring people to the table?

For the last three years I have been collaborating with the community of Hornepayne, Ontario. It started the day after that Rainy Day fundraiser a few years back, when I got on the train, headed to Alberta, and took a quick stop in Hornepayne, Ontario to leave a letter for some children I had never met, stuck to the wall of the train station. Two rounds of Ontario Culture Days at the Centre of Ontario (literally) , one frantic but thrilling "COVID solution" collaboration with The Worst Pop Band Ever and In The Soil Arts Festival last spring, and one superhuman effort to bring real-life work online over the summer cemented that for me, the doing of it will always be live. [From September to December I was] in the community, playing music, hearing people's stories, working as an occasional casual EA at the public school, and exploring all the myriad of ways that music and art keep us connected, safe and sane, and the role that we can play to extend the care that we show to each other to the communities that ultimately support and sustain us.

Here is the story of a pretend mall (watch on Facebook), as imagined by the Worst Pop Band Ever, combined with the story of a real mall. The apartment building I [most recently called] home in Hornepayne is the only (sort of) part of that building that is still used. And it was our first collaboration with a couple of young artists who have become really dear to my heart. Plus you get to see Tim Shia as a puppet.