The Journal Gazette
Friday, January 15, 2021 1:00 am

Making music in pandemic

Local artists finding time, new outlooks

Keiara Carr | For The Journal Gazette

Violetta Todorova always planned to record Johann Sebastian Bach's sonatas and partitas for violin ... eventually.

It was a dream between her responsibilities as concertmaster for the Fort Wayne Philharmonic and violin professor at Taylor University.

“I'm the kind of person who likes to be busy from morning to evening – not consciously – but that's how I always end up being,” Todorova says.

It was bittersweet, but Todorova finally found time to work on the two-disc project after the Philharmonic announced it was suspending concerts first for fall 2020 and later for the entire 2020-21 season. She set up a GoFundMe page with a $5,800 goal to help pay for professional recording sessions in Indianapolis.

“I have a whole day to think about my ideas and to think about each note, I can map out the structure of the movements – I map out the high points and the low points, all the ideas and the characters and emotions I want in that movement,” Todorova says.

In the absence of travel and crowded gigs, creative energy is forced to flow in other directions. Recording music during this time is a reinvigorating outlet for some music artists.

Lee Cliff, bassist for local rock outfit Calder the Band, says last year was a blessing and a curse. Despite only playing live twice in 2020, the band added three members. The new lineup released the EP, “He'll Come Around” in May and a new single, “Canon in D,” in early January. It is available through online music services.

“We had an influx of new creative energy, new ideas and a lot of momentum with the additional three new members,” Cliff says.

Matt Kelley who plays mandolin and guitar for The Legendary Trainhoppers, says the local band was able to include original drummer Jon Ross in their latest project because of the pandemic.

“When we reformed, Jon was not able to come back to us in 2015. He works at the Brass Rail – his schedule is kind of flipped with the rest of ours so we were never able to sync up,” Kelley says. “With the closing of bars, Jon found space. Jon wanted to fill that time he had with creating, and he's an exceptional musician.”

A sense of optimism is captured in the new song, “(When We're All) Back Together (Someday).”

“In the midst of lockdown, I think we were starting to feel a bit of hopelessness in our networks and even in ourselves,” Kelley says.

“Hard Times” is a collection of recordings from 2019 to 2020 recorded at Berry Street Records. The two-disc album includes five new songs written and recorded with Ross, his first recording with the band since their 2006 debut.

The new songs also feature Derek Reeves, a violinist for the Philharmonic, and vocalist Susan Stephens.

The project includes a short documentary. John Burkett, owner of Red Tide Productions filmed writing sessions “warts and all,” Kelley says. Burkett then filmed the band performing the songs live for the first time in 2019 and recording them in the studio. Recently, the band filmed interviews to include in the documentary.

“I think it turned into this beautiful little film,” Kelley says. The album is available on and Spotify.

Calder the Band's “Canon in D” also came from a place of optimism. The band has a rehearsal space they use to independently record. Cliff says with more time to write and play together, there's a stronger sense of confidence among the band.

“I don't know – I listened to a lot of bummer records this year,” Cliff jokes of 2020. “Not to say that bummer records or sad songs are bad, I think that maybe the joy of having five guys to make music with is something that really came out in that track, and we loved sharing that. We want to be as genuine as possible, and the genuine truth is that we had a pretty good year.”

Technology played a prominent role. Kelley says in his network of musicians, he is seeing how technology has helped them recoup missing income from gigs, whether it's live stream performances, or fans funding new projects through digital fundraisers.

Todorova offers special incentives at different levels of support through her GoFundMe campaign. She's hoping to finish recording the project in eight months if it's successful. She's raised more than $1,400.

“It would be a great help to have the money,” Todorova says, “Because if there isn't more money raised, I really don't have a way to fund this on my own right now. So I would have to wait indefinitely.”

She has also launched a YouTube channel at to expand her audience.

Calder the Band meets up to record, but they are also learning how to record remotely for future projects.

“There's just an infinite amount of things – an infinite number of YouTube videos you can watch about how to make your songs the best ever, and that can be exhausting. Then there's five dudes all watching different YouTube videos, all exhausted from learning how to make the best song ever. That's definitely a con, but the pro is just the convenience of it,” Cliff says.

Not everything can be converted digitally. Kelley believes there's a charm in playing in person. The band continued to practice social distance or perform outdoors when they could.

“There's a certain magic that happens when we play together,” Kelley says. “We like to be just on the cusp of falling apart and doing that together.”

Performing alone isn't much of a bother to Todorova. She has spent a lot of time isolated in rehearsal rooms. Her comfort during these challenging times is found in Bach's movements.

“Whenever I play them, not to sound cheesy, but I'm really transported to a different world. Like a parallel universe where I can connect with his spirit,” Todorova says, “ There's so much beauty in it. Every time I play, it's like connecting with his soul and reaching a different level of existence.”

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