Walking in their shoes: An unexpected musical intimacy during lockdown Jump to main content

Walking in their shoes: An unexpected musical intimacy during lockdown

ISM member and mezzo-soprano, Patricia Hammond talks about diversifying her performances as a result of COVID-19. Her duo with multi-instrumentalist and arranger, Matt Redman has transformed into the creation of their online Youtube channel, Living Room Requests.

When what some of my friends refer to as 'the unpleasantness' happened in March, with those gut-churning two weeks of crossing out every gig from our diaries, my duo had some slivers of light to brighten a very grey sky. Three utterly wonderful fans came forward to offer us payment in exchange for filmed performances. One asked for a specific song of 1940s optimism (Zarah Leander’s Davon geht die Welt nicht unter), one asked us for three recitals of our own choosing, and one chose every song for an hour’s programme, each song dedicated to a different friend of his. The dedicated friends were keen to return the favour, other YouTube subscribers saw these requests and came forward with theirs, and thus was born Living Room Requests.

We set our price at £25 per song, raising it to £33 when we found what kinds of fees PayPal took, and how much effort our increasingly elaborate filming set-up required…not to mention buying the music requested. And the requests! I’d always thought that I reminded people of a watered-down Kathleen Ferrier. Wrong. For the first time in my professional life, I was finding out what people wanted to hear when they were footing the bill directly. Turns out my audience wanted to hear Nana Mouskouri, Judy Collins, Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell.

It was a revelation. Surely people would pay money to avoid hearing my classically-trained voice perform songs by Townes van Zandt, Nina Hagen or Leonard Cohen. And here people were paying me money to DO them. I was fortunate in my duo partner Matt Redman (multi-instrumentalist and arranger Matt Redman, not the Matt Redman who writes pop worship music) who transformed the songs into something different enough that comparisons with the originals were harder to make; not only with his inventive arrangements, but his unexpected choice of instruments.

The results startled people used to seeing us in Classical, Renaissance or Edwardian music. Now I’m starting to believe they’re just wanting to see what happens…we’ve had Billie Eilish, Adele, Elton John and Snow Patrol recently. When performing these I feel less like the singer at an event and more like the streaker who interrupts it. I won’t even bother using the term 'comfort zone'. I’ve left it so far behind it’s now irrelevant as a concept.

But now I feel equipped to perform not just at the church part of a wedding, but the hotel afterwards. If and when those gigs return.

We’re by no means making a killing with Living Room Requests but we’re keeping our skills alive – Matt has, at last count, played over 42 different instruments in these video performances and I’ve learnt over a hundred new songs – and in embodying our fans’ favourite music, we’ve become more like them. We’ve stepped into their shoes, into the precious world of their most treasured soundscapes.

And for me, this is an intimacy at a time when intimacy is forbidden. A sharing that goes even deeper than a face-to-face, old fashioned recital.

Patricia Hammond
Mezzo-soprano and ISM member



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