Pritesh Walia is an incredibly accomplished jazz musician and music educator who’s been performing, recording, and teaching for many years.
Walia works as a composer, session player, performer, and teacher, even giving masterclass clinics in India as a way of providing top-quality music education to students who might not otherwise have access to it.
Despite this impressive pedigree, Walia, like so many other music professionals, was blindsided by the sudden changes that came about when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Live gigs disappeared, and all teaching efforts had to be shifted to online spaces.
For a music industry professional, these aren’t just inconveniences– they’re serious threats to someone’s livelihood.
Walia has moved through these challenges, of course, and in his opinion, he’s better off because of them.
Still, we think it’s important to catalog the effects of the pandemic on artists in different disciplines, and some of the changes necessitated by the pandemic will continue to affect artists and their audiences for many years to come.
How did pandemic restrictions affect your work?
Walia: I think the pandemic really affected the arts community tremendously, especially the performing arts community. As a musician, my daily survival was based on performing, teaching, and collaborating with other musicians, but the pandemic put a sudden halt to the entire process, which definitely created a void and a feeling of discontent in me.
Even though survival became difficult, I also started looking at life from a whole new perspective. I started to focus on developing my craft more and writing more music. Composition became my new outlet for self-expression in some ways.
Was it difficult to lose the communal aspect of music creation for a while?
Walia: Absolutely, The entire bliss of making music comes from the fact that I get to do it with other people. Being a jazz musician, my outlet for expression revolves around improvisation. Social interaction and community play an integral role in the music-making process.
Losing that aspect of my life for an indefinite amount of time left me feeling very unhappy and uninspired. Musicians are a small community and the communal aspect of being a musician is one of the reasons I chose to take this career path.
As musicians, we depend on each other, and losing the ability to interact musically and socially with other musicians made it very hard to find the inspiration to write music and practice.
Have you been able to return to live performances in recent months?
Walia: Yes, almost instantly. As soon as the cases started declining, I started getting offers to play. I think everyone in some shape or form was exhausted with the entire process of self-isolation. They were eager to leave their houses and experience live music and entertainment.
As a result of the pandemic, most functioning venues that promoted jazz music or live entertainment closed down due to their inability to pay rent and afford their upkeep, which resulted in musicians losing a lot of opportunities.
In a city like Boston where there is only a handful of local venues that support live music, it made the competition of getting a gig even harder because the city is surrounded by an overflowing amount of talent and very few venues that want to host live music.
However, I was still able to find opportunities and at least feel some form of normality of collaborating with other musicians.
Do you think a lot of musicians are feeling extra excited about going back to business as usual?
Walia: Absolutely. As musicians, the excitement of playing music stems from the ability to communicate and interact with other musicians. There’s no fun in making music if there’s no one there to listen to it.
Going back to this “new normality” gives us musicians a purpose and inspires us to be better players, performers, and educators.
Have you been working on any studio sessions recently?
Walia: Recently I recorded my debut album, “Hope Town.” This record is a culmination of music that I wrote and organized over the pandemic. I guess in some way the pandemic gave me a sense of purpose and provided me with enough time to formulate something cohesive that I could one day share with the world.
Other than writing music and recording my own material, I have also been doing a lot of remote collaborations. I played for a couple of Jazz big bands over the pandemic. One of them included Henry Godfrey, who also won the ASCAP award for jazz composition.
I also played on multiple records as a guest solo feature which was very exciting and inspiring.
Do you think your many years of experience prepared you for the changes of the last couple of years?
Walia: No, absolutely not. I feel like no one expected things to take such a drastic turn. My years of work, practice, and experience in performing music and playing live did not equip me for this sudden change, and I feel like most musicians share the same sentiment.
As an educator, I had to educate myself to better understand new technologies that can help make the music teaching and learning experience better. In some ways, this pandemic was also a learning experience for me.
What was your biggest takeaway from the pandemic isolation experience?
Walia: I would be lying if I said that I was prepared with all the tools and solutions on how to deal with the pandemic. However, I do think that this isolation gave me a new perspective on life and music.
It made me work out different revenue streams available to us as musicians and educators that can help us stay afloat financially. My biggest takeaway was knowing that there are a lot of online opportunities available to musicians, big databases of technological tools, and educational resources that I would have never implemented in my work if it wasn’t for the pandemic.
In your opinion, will remote music collaboration, especially for recording, become more common?
Walia: Absolutely, not just remote collaboration but remote teaching, remote recording, and remote live performances. This pandemic made musicians and educators aware of all the tools available to us through technology and it created a lot of new opportunities that now exist in the virtual world. I believe this is just the beginning of a new era of music and musical collaboration.