WW presents "Distant Voices," a daily video interview for the era of social distancing. Our reporters are asking Portlanders what they're doing during quarantine.
When COVID gives you lemons, make music. That's advice from Ben Landsverk, a Portland musician who misses playing to live audiences.
"I miss it more than I thought I would," he says.
Like so many, Landsverk has adapted. Instead of playing out, he plays in—in his girlfriend's living room in St. Johns, to be exact, where he has his studio.
From there, Landsverk leads a sing-along called Low Bar Chorale. It used to be live at Revolution Hall. When COVID hit, Landsverk and his Low Bar collaborator, Kate Sokoloff, thought their new venture was finished. But, like so many improvisers, they decided to try it online.
They expected 100 or so folks to log into the first virtual show, which they called "O Solo Low Bar." Instead, thousands have showed up. Now, Low Bar Chorale is weekly, it's huge, and it still has a cast of Portland rock stars that back the singers.
Landsverk, 43, is among them. He has been playing violin since he was 3 years old and can play anything with strings, plus keyboards. And if you're among the millions who listen to the hit New York Times podcast The Daily, you know his work: Landsverk and local musician Jim Brunberg have a band called Wonderly that wrote and recorded the theme song.
Landsverk credits Low Bar with keeping him sane during the pandemic.
"There are so many times that music has saved my life," Landsverk says. "And this is one of them."
To that end, Landsverk is also working with frequent Low Bar guest Ruby Friedman on new tracks.
Low Bar is also helping keep Portland musicians solvent. The sing-along is free, but they invite you to buy a "virtual drink," leave a tip, or make a donation. Because so many people do, Low Bar can pay its musicians the fee they would make playing live.
Landsverk is proud of that. He feels very lucky to have work himself through Wonderly. He and Brunberg are doing podcasts and scoring movies, including a low-budget queer thriller called Last Ferry that he is really proud of and a documentary by Portland director James Westby called At the Video Store.
Feel like singing? Check out Low Bar Chorale on Facebook Live every Tuesday at 7 pm. Buy a virtual lemon drop while you're there, and help Landsverk and the Low Bar band make more music out of COVID's lemons.
See more Distant Voices interview here.