Shannon Heaton’s Irish Music Stories project explores Irish, Scottish, and other Celtic traditions. Each podcast episode explores a different topic (like parenting, immigration, humor) through a traditional music lens.
To accompany these aural collages of music, conversation, and narration, Shannon’s essays and poems offer bite-sized meditations on Irish music and dance.
The Irish Music Stories Podcast has run since 2017. Until 2020, most interviews were conducted in-person. That all changed with Covid. The episodes made from March 2020 on (Seasons Four and Five) included just a few pre-pandemic conversations. But like all the music lessons, festivals, and sessions, the newer podcast interviews moved online, to Zoom.
There are probably very deep and lasting effects of this paradigm: positives like bridging miles easily, more contact with far-flung friends, fewer travel-related carbon emissions; and weird negatives like dissociative disorders and computer-related injuries.
And then there’s always the end of all these interactions.
For years, teaching flute has helped me pay the bills. I’ve given some lessons on the road, in between gigs. But mostly I’ve taught in my home studio. It’s just a little sunroom off the living room. But it always did the job.
Because private lessons were part of my job, at one point a friend built folding panels to help screen the space a bit. Then finally, at the start of 2020, we renovated our home. By March I had an enclosed room, with a solid-core door. But Covid cancelled all my lessons, before a single student could enjoy the new studio. It also required me to interview folks remotely for my Irish Music Stories Podcast.
So I moved to Zoom. I had done distance learning and a few video chat interviews before. But now this was the only way. And it was the normal way. Most of us quickly figured out how to take turns instead of playing together; how to share audio and video examples; how to position cameras to see hand and mouth positions; how to take turns speaking and allow a little extra space between thoughts (not a bad new habit).
Meanwhile my 10 year-old was leading break-out groups with fellow remote 4th graders in his room, while my husband live-streamed concerts from the basement. Like many other people, our best laid plans and concerts and tours and school had cancelled. We were just moving on with Plan B.
And what used to be a side job for me—teaching—became more of a deal. People were coming to me to work on their flute playing, as a way to get through their quarantines, to have something creative and immersive to work on. And despite the isolation, or maybe because of it, a lot of my students made great progress. Zoom lessons were working.
I thought about my students in between lessons. I sent them video links and recordings. I worried about everybody. I hoped their music was making life less scary, and less lonesome. I really tried to be present during our video chats, and I became quite comfortable with this way of working together.
But the one thing I struggled with—still do—was the end of the meetings. In one moment we’re together, connecting from our homes. And then the meeting is over. Instantly, my student is gone from the screen.
Or with a group class, one square after another vanishes. Now you see ‘em, now you don’t.
Back when I was teaching in-person lessons, at the end of the hour students would take their flutes apart, clean them, pack their bags. I’d walk people to the door, or maybe out to the street. They’d forget their keys. I’d forget to ask for the parking passes back. They’d forget to pay me. End of lessons were gradual, a little messy.
But on Zoom, the parting process is neat, clean, and immediate. Which is not how musical journeys or friendships work. After the lessons, before hitting the red End Meeting button, I’d tell the blank screen, “Be safe. Take good care of yourself.”
Of course nothing and no one lasts forever. Plans fall apart. We adapt. We languish. We flourish. So far the 2020s have taken the tag line “Everything is ephemeral” and whispered it all around the globe, grid style, one sign-off at a time.