The email that I received from Matt Teodori of Line Upon Line Percussion had a subject line that simply read ‘something.’
It wasn’t something about an upcoming concert or something about an exciting new piece the Austin percussion trio had commissioned from an emerging composer, news Teodori might usually drop me a note about.
“We‘ve been struggling to think about music that was meant to be played together,” Teodori wrote.
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As life shut down in March, we’ve all watched as artists — determined to maintain momentum — flood the internet with digital content. While earnest, much of it ultimately suffers: Out-of-tempo concerts live-streamed from multiple living rooms; sadly-shot video tours of empty exhibitions; awkward live chats filled with choppy delays.
Teodori, Line Upon Line’s executive and artistic director, instead spent the first weeks of the shutdown consumed with the logistic of cancellations as the trio saw its entire 2020 performance calendar evaporate. Hours were spent on hold with airlines trying to get refunds. Days were lost applying for federal financial assistance and re-writing grants as foundations shifted focus to relief funding.
“I realized that though we were suddenly dealing with an emergency that immediately changed everything, patience was a good strategy,” Teodori told me when we spoke by phone. “I realized it’s OK even now — maybe especially now — to take the time to think about what you’re doing.”
While he was on hold for hours, or wading through .gov websites, Teodori was also watching the rush of digital offerings coming from his artistic peers.
“I soooooo badly miss live performing, just viscerally miss it,” Teodori said. “But do you do what you did before but on a digital platform? I’m not so sure.”
“I understand — you just so badly want to do something just to still feel like you’re still an artist. “
For Teodori, and his bandmates Adam Bedell and Cullen Faulk, that something is “Quartets for the End of Time,” a series of 90-second concerts.
Line Upon Line started by asking composers to write music designed to be played while video-conferencing. “They’re compositions that account for the inevitable delays of streaming platforms,” said Teodori.
The composers are also invited to join the performance too. Music is written for whatever instruments and objects that the ensemble already have at home. Julie Herndon’s “Video Call,” for example, requires each performer to use a horn made from a rolled up sheet of paper.
Yes, the concerts are deliberately short. “We’ve all had no shortage of screen time lately,” says Teodori.
But no, the project’s title is not a reference to this time as the apocryphal end times. Rather, it alludes to the way social distancing and sheltering in place, makes time collapse.
Announced on the group’s social channels and via its mailing list, the micro-concerts are presented without a strict schedule. To date, six have been posted on the Line Upon Line website.
“This is obviously less expensive than arranging travel and working in person with a composer,” said Teodori. “But it’s still a project with its own unique logistics.”
Several composers are in different time zones and in other countries. And everybody is wrestling with working from home. Both Teodori and Bedell have small children, for example. London-based composer Matthew Shlomowitz, however, wrote “Fanfare” to include a part for his nine-year-old daughter on the saxophone.
To widen their musical social circles at time of social distancing, Line Upon Line asks each composer to recommend another, someone the ensemble doesn’t know.
“It’s kind of a strange way and a strange time to start a professional relationship with someone, but we’ve always been about working with new composers,” Teodori said.
Line Upon Line’s 2021 Composer Festival is still on the calendar, though Teodori admits it’s hard to conceive of things resuming normally in any near future.
“And if somehow this were just suddenly over, would we just pick up and do the next concert on our schedule? That doesn’t seem right.”
“When we do look back on what we’ve done now, we want it be something that was appropriate and be something we are proud of.”