Performers in the time of COVID: Sara Feldmann Brummer
I met up with Sara Feldmann Brummer, a soprano of rare clarity and lyricism with a quirky sense of humour, in the middle of February. She spoke to me from the bright, light-filled living room of the house in Hertfordshire where she and her husband and two year old daughter have recently moved.
I wondered if Covid had inspired the move and Sara agreed that though it had been on the cards for the future, 'the pandemic definitely made moving out of London both a more viable and more sensible option'. Sara, like many of us, had received a short sharp shock in March of last year. Having given up her full time position with Tri-borough Music Hub two years previously to look after her new baby, she was just emerging back into the world of work. Not only had she been appointed as a cantorial soloist at Westminster Synagogue and started to fill the diary with engagements of her vocal ensemble, The Kitchen Quartet, but she had bought a franchise to run a mother and baby choir in SW London where the family had been living. She described all this to me with an edginess to her voice. I think for all of us, remembering what life was like before March of 2020 is a difficult exercise.
Sara told me about the sense of unreality she experienced at the beginning of the first lockdown. It was heartbreaking, she said, to watch all her plans unravel over a matter of days and she was left with what she described as a sense of shock and grief. She was aware that, as her husband was still working, she was in the fortunate position of not having to face financial difficulties. Yet 'in the first weeks,' she said, 'I was bursting into tears all the time. I felt as if I was grieving my old life.' For Sara, being stuck indoors made it far more difficult to keep her daughter entertained. 'We were used to being out and about all day,' she said. And singing, which she thought might have provided some solace was impossible. 'I didn't feel in a state to sing,' she said. 'I had a lump in my throat. At first I produced a couple of vocal videos to continue to promote the choir but it was strange to be doing that in a vacuum. I couldn't see the point in an online choir of people who had never met in person.'
The turning point for Sara came in September when she was singing for Westminster Synagogue's High Holy Day services. 'It was just myself and two wonderful musicians (tenor Yoav Oved and organist Alexander Knapp). I remember the moment when Yoav and I opened our mouths and I heard those harmonies... The Jewish liturgical music is so beautiful but this year it took on a new resonance. After one of the services we spoke to the Congregation via Zoom. One of the congregants started to sing and I nearly cried. 'It made me realise,' she said, speaking slowly as she searched for the right words, 'that the music in the service is a sort of glowing golden cord that connects people with each other and with their prayers.'
Sara said that the services were videoed and stayed on Youtube for several days so she was able to go home and watch herself singing later. She said it was instructive to realise that moments when she had felt she was not doing her best were not apparent to her on the videos; her perception of what was being projected wasn't always accurate. 'Knowing that has improved my confidence.'
The house move and all it entailed proved to be a wonderful distraction throughout the autumn. Even after arriving in the new house the day before Lockdown 2 ended, there was still the painting, unpacking and minor renovating to attend to. Sara said that the best thing was that they are now only 5 minutes away from family, a long-held dream, although that has proved bitter-sweet because they have only been able to have doorstep chats. 'I can't wait until we can go inside and have a cup of tea!'
Since moving the couple have set up a home studio with a professional mic and an interface/mini-mixing station and Sara has done some spoken voice-over work for adverts. And this week she is beginning mentoring training with Stagecoach Performing Arts in order to coach and support their teachers.
I asked Sara if she felt she had changed over this period. 'I feel more resilient,' she said, 'and more aware of the resilience I already had. I have realised how important it is to live in the moment and to find joy in little things. And I am so grateful for this precious time we've had as a family. My daughter will be starting Nursery in the autumn so these months of all three of us being together have been very precious.'
As for her future plans, she looks forward to eventually returning to the kinds of musical collaborations from which she always drew inspiration and to being able to sing in the synagogue rather than via Zoom which has been the state of affairs in the last months. And she would eventually like to run her mother and baby choir in Hertfordshire. 'Having said that, I am not chasing any more. I have a more relaxed attitude. Although it horrifies me to imagine that my daughter might never be able to go to a concert or a theatre production, I remain optimistic that one day she will be able to experience live performance.'
I think that with people like Sara around we are unlikely to find ourselves forever bereft of live music. You can read more about Sara at: http://sarafeldmannbrummer.co.uk
Photo credit: Sarah-Ann Wright