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Spotlight on David Jacques

Music For A While with David Jacques:
ATMA chats with musicians about their lives in the time of coronavirus.

Part of our ongoing series of interviews with musicians during the pandemic: a conversation with guitarist and lutenist David Jacques. 14 Histoires de guitares (14 Guitars), his latest recording for ATMA Classique, was released in January 2020. We spoke to David in June 2020.

1. What was your last public performance before the lockdown began?

On February 29 I performed Histoires de guitares at the Anglicane de Lévis. I pulled out all the stops. Sixteen of the guitars from my collection on stage, two more than I used for the CD 14 Histoires de guitares! The concert went really well. The house was full and the audience was captivated by these rare instruments, and aware that they were participating in a unique event. I’m very happy to report that those who say you’re not going to sell more CDs in 2020 were proven wrong that night. I gave a few other concerts after that, but mostly I was preparing for an extremely busy spring and summer, with several international tours and dozens of concerts as a soloist, chamber musician, and even with an orchestra.

2. How has the pandemic changed your daily routine?

Spending all one’s time at home is pretty well the reverse of a musician’s routine. I’ve never spent so much time at home. Not having to be on the road left me more time to do other things and to be there for my family, which was experiencing the developing events with a certain anxiety. I really appreciated being at home. Less running about. But before developing a new ‘routine’ — I put the word in quotation marks because I don’t consider ever having a real routine — it took me a good week of walking up and down to get reorganized, reflect upon the situation, cancel concerts… Cancelling concerts, you know, is a lot of work, especially when multiple presenters in different countries are involved, flights have been paid for, grant checks cashed, etc.

3. What have you found to be the most challenging aspect of this new reality

Acknowledging that I cannot give concerts nor see my colleagues would be too obvious an answer!

I’ll add that I find it difficult to see how panicked several colleagues are by this trial. They are not able to imagine themselves doing anything other than music, and this extreme situation pushes them way out of their comfort zone. So I find it difficult to read what they write, or listen to what they say. I empathize, of course, and the situation affects me too (quite brutally!), but happily I have developed other skills, and this has allowed me to stay relatively calm during the storm.

4. How have you been keeping busy since live concerts were suspended?

My colleagues have always seen me studying subjects other than music: law, finance, accounting, mycology, etc. I have accumulated degrees and skills in several other areas, and have done so out of sheer passion, without knowing how it would help me in practice, for I defined myself primarily as a musician. When asked, “Why are you studying that?” I always answered, “I don’t know!”

So I have a plan B (and C, and D) for staying just as busy as I was before the pandemic. In fact, I have not slowed down at all. First, the lockdown was decreed right in the middle of tax time. Yes, you’ve got to pay your income tax, even in times of crisis. Nothing is surer than a job in preparing income tax returns and I have more than 200 clients for whom, for a decade or more, I have been doing so. The great majority of them are artists. I really enjoy doing this. It’s a fresh set of problems and quite honestly, I feel I can be really useful.

Also, I’ve done a lot of online teaching, first at Cégep de Ste-Foy and at Université Laval, for those gigs did not really slow down, but also with overseas students.

Moreover, I am really fascinated by importing, restoring, and reselling old guitars. So I have continued to invest in and sell instruments that are being restored.

Finally, I am a professional mushroom hunter. For several years now, I have been gathering mushrooms, berries, and other non-timber forest products. I supply businesses and entrepreneurs in this field. This activity is perfect for respecting social distancing!

But where does the guitar fit in? I almost forgot to say that I have spent an enormous amount of time with my guitars, working on new repertoire, developing ideas for projects, writing grant applications and, above all, preparing my next ATMA CD, 14 Histoires de guitares romantiques!

5. What music do you find yourself turning to most frequently since the pandemic hit?

I have continued to work on the early guitar repertoire. Every day I browse the archives looking for interesting pieces. If I have a routine, that’s it! And the pandemic hasn’t changed it, other than the fact that now I spend more time at it.

6. Have there been any silver linings/unexpected benefits for you resulting from this time in isolation?

I really like this question. At the beginning I drew up a list of cancelled concerts and lost income, so as to have an idea of the situation and dream up solutions. But then I told myself that it would be much more fair and positive to also list the income I would not have earned if the situation had been normal. In the end, I was very surprised to find that I had gained just as many business opportunities as I had lost, and from then on I began to relax and feel optimistic.

Obviously, there are not only economic factors in the equation. I also had to make a list of the artistic opportunities I had lost: planned tours, collaborations with other artists and orchestras, projects with colleagues, and all the pleasure of getting together with others to make music. But, as with the financial aspects, when I drew up the list of artistic opportunities, I saw that I had been offered several interesting things. To begin with, there is my next ATMA CD, 14 Histoires de guitares romantiques. I will record it this fall, but I have been taking advantage of the lockdown to record and publish my discoveries on social media; to do what amounts to pre-production on this project! The traditional concert is far from being the only gratifying artistic outlet that appeals to me, and shutting down concerts has in no way shut down my creativity.

7. Would you have some advice to give to help us get through this difficult time?

Be more positive.

I don’t want to stick my head in the sand like an ostrich. I acknowledge all the challenges facing the music industry, to which the pandemic and the lockdown have only added. I agree with the many colleagues who have published texts in both traditional and social media on how precarious our status is. Nobody can deny that. But knowing that this is a legislative issue, it seemed sensible to me to plan sources of supplementary income for crises. Other passions, other jobs, even other professions. If plans B, and C, and D are interesting, then doing different things is far from disagreeable. It is not true that to create, you absolutely have to stay in your bubble, you have spent all your days locked in your studio with your instrument. Having other lucrative activities does not impede an artist’s life. That said, we still should do everything we can as a society to ensure the best conditions for cultural workers.

Being more positive also entails stopping and being aware that the devastating effects of lockdown will not last indefinitely. Think about what people had to cope with just in the 20th century: wars, pandemics, economic crises, natural disaster. And we still have music.

Interviewer: Luisa Trisi, Big Picture Communications
Translator: Seán McCutcheon