At a time when concert halls have fallen silent, and society is struggling to deal with the coronavirus crisis, music is becoming even more important and many singers and artists are going online to give the public new strength, faith and hope. In the third part of a series of interviews with Czech artists living in the United States, titled Artists That Never Give Up in the City That Never Sleeps, the Czech Centre in New York features Czech musicians in the Big Apple. Marek Milde spoke to jazz singer Martina Fišerová about her work, her life in New York and the impact of the coronavirus crisis.
“I had just gotten back from a short vacation by the sea, which after many years, I had a chance to indulge in thanks to Laco Deczi and his wonderful wife Catherine. But I had to work it off in the end - Laco won't let anyone relax when music can be made. It was about a week after returning that I became ill with all the symptoms of the coronavirus. Fortunately, the course of the illness was of the milder sort.”
For the upcoming period, you had a series of concerts planned, here in New York and also in Prague, which unfortunately cannot take place now. How are you coping with that? Do you find the energy to create?
“Well, of course, I am taking this quite badly, because even last year was not one of my most productive ones due to recurring health problems. All the more so I was therefore looking forward to breaking through this year and planning to record with one of my musical heroes. Due to the situation, however, I will probably not be able to afford it. The question is if I can even afford to stay in New York. I was also looking forward to the June performance at the Prague Proms Festival, where my songs were to be played in new arrangements and in a more colorful instrumental cast. However, this is not lost yet, we are discussing a new date.”
You have lived in New York for many years. Could you tell us how New York influenced your work, what inspires you, where has New York taken you?
“I've only been here for the seventh year, so I'm still a bit of a rookie New Yorker. Of course, New York has influenced me incredibly, in many ways. I was initially attracted to the city mainly by my desire to taste the authenticity of the music on which I grew up, meaning all forms of jazz. Experiencing the environment and energy, breaking through to a certain emotion, having the possibility to talk to musicians who were demigods in my eyes, and getting a blessing from them on my musical path. The anonymity one has in New York helped me and allowed me to feel more free to create and experiment, and I moved from singing original jazz standards to creative work of my own. I love people, I love the diversity that is actually extreme here, as well as a lot of pain and suffering that makes you feel frustrated with your own helplessness every day. I have experienced unique adventures, stories, miracles as well as quite severe downfalls. Above all, however, I am always trying to improve my craft, searching for music lessons and workshops, and listening to live music as much as I can.”
People find consolation and encouragement in music. Besides singing and playing, you have also engaged in music therapy. In the current situation, music helps many of us withstand difficult times. Do you have any recommendations on how to perceive music more deeply? What do you listen to as a singer?
“Everybody probably imagines something different under the term music therapy. In the anthroposophical approach that intrigued me, we looked at the observation and exploration of the phenomena of silence, time, and the individual elements and qualities that make up music. This helps me calm down internally and is a stronger need for me now than indulging in listening to music. When I do, I practice it more as research because I try to catch up with a lot of unfinished work. I admit that under the current circumstances, it is difficult to motivate yourself and concentrate, but if you disconnect from your devices for a while, your mind will feel relieved and you can then consciously occupy this space. It's a daily battle.”
Besides music, what helps you find balance and support in these precarious times? Would you like to tell people something encouraging?
“The basics are helpful: keeping a certain daily routine, practicing yoga, occasionally taking a walk or relaxing with a movie or book. For example, my favorite book Citadelle by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is now available in audio libraries, masterfully read by Jiří Dvořák. Of course, contact (via telephone) with my friends helps me a lot, human closeness is something that we have to keep an eye on, as well as our freedom.”
Martina Fišerová is a singer and musician with a jazz background who currently works in New York. She is known to the Czech audience for her acoustic projects and long-term cooperation with many prominent personalities of the domestic and international scene: Laco Deczi, Impuls, Walter Fischbacher or Jaryn Janek (author and vocal collaboration on the album Ty Lidi). For many years, she also sang as a vocalist in Kamil Střihavka's band. She released her first, jazz-imbued CD Clearing Fields with Blue Season Art Agency as well as her latest album Shift with solely original content, which was recorded in part in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and the USA. Martina was recently honored to perform at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
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