UM-Flint Jazz Ensemble finds a creative way to showcase live music -- and Flint -- during pandemic

FLINT, Michigan -- Every fall at the University of Michigan-Flint, students in the university’s music ensembles typically perform in a large concert in an auditorium. The COVID-19 pandemic has obviously changed that tradition, but that hasn’t stopped faculty and students from finding creative ways to get music out in the world.


Brian DiBlassio, associate professor of music at UM-Flint, teaches the Jazz Ensemble class. The students still wanted to play music, and in October, they did a social distanced performance on the roof of a downtown parking structure, with Flint’s iconic skyline -- including the Weather Ball -- as the backdrop.


“It (the pandemic) has definitely put a damper on the music, but we’re still trying to find ways to perform, it’s important to the students that we keep doing that,” DiBlassio said. “They all spoke about how important it was to keep music going in their lives. Our idea was to perform in the open air. We’ve managed to rehearse a couple of times per week with safety precautions, and we got really luck with the weather.”


DiBlassio said other ensembles have performed at the Flint Farmers Market, done pop-up concerts, and done video recordings.


Lucas Perro, a Flint native and third-year UM-Flint student studying music, was one of 11 musicians who performed in the Jazz Ensemble. He said that music has been a vital outlet for him and other musicians in the depths of quarantine throughout the course of the year, adding that he has experimented with other instruments.


“At this point, I’m sure almost everyone is aware that music and performance has been completely disrupted and distorted (by the pandemic),” Perro said. “I personally just played around with a lot of the instruments I have at home. I started messing around with a ukulele, I was practicing piano and reading music, and at one point I was learning a bunch of songs on bass guitar for a gig that didn’t work out, yet it helped me see things differently as a musician and a guitar player, so I still find myself picking it up and learning. I sing in the choirs here at U of M Flint, so I felt that I should work on my voice a bit, too. A lot of this was for fun, as a lot of time was on my hands, however the big picture for me was working towards all of these things so I can be not only the best musician I could be, but the best teacher I could be, as that’s ultimately what I want to do with my life.”


DiBlassio said that the UM-Flint staff helped get enough electrical to the parking structure roof to pull the concert off, and the wind didn’t play a big disruptive role to the sound quality with the microphones. Pero said that in one of the rehearsals, the wind played a significant role, blowing sheet music and materials all over the place. They also had to work out logistical issues -- like having extension cords that could reach everywhere they needed to go.


But, despite the challenges, everything came together well on the day they performed and recorded the video.


“Recording day couldn’t have been better,” Perro said. “The weather was perfect, as it wasn’t nearly as windy, the sky was blue, and the skyline looked great for us. Excluding a couple test runs, the recording took the first take, and I personally couldn’t have had more fun.”


Reaction to the video both inside of UM-Flint and to the general public that has seen it on social media has been strong, and a good showcase for Flint.


“The video wowed a lot of the other music people that finally saw it,” Perro said. “I had some people tell me that they thought it was a great idea for showcasing downtown Flint, and that this should be done more, which although may be harder to do constantly on a regular basis, isn’t necessarily a bad idea for the city and for the school.”


DiBlassio said it was a good reminder that music can live anywhere and -- more importantly -- will “outlive the pandemic.”


“We’re always looking for fun and creative ways to perform,” DiBlassio said. “It’s a good reminder to keep getting out in the community. Music doesn’t always have to live in a concert hall.”

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