The guitarist and GRCC instructor’s “Familiar Places” concerts have unfurled at venues ranging from a jewelry store to a printing shop, available for viewing by fans online amid the COVID pandemic.
On Jan. 1, 2020, many of us rang in the new year with bright eyes and an abundance of hope for a fresh spin around the sun. Searching for deep significance in an arbitrary number, bottles popped, fireworks crackled and we sang in a chorus of celebration.
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Amid our joy, however, loomed darker days for which the majority of us were not prepared.
In just two months following our sparkly cheer, the first cases of COVID-19 would be confirmed in Michigan. Immediately, our world as we knew it would be forever changed.
In an attempt to avoid exposure and more death due to the pandemic, a stay-at-home order was placed and nearly everything was shut down. Schools, restaurants, shopping centers, sports and businesses all over would be halted and closed indefinitely.
Live entertainment was instantly paralyzed. Stages fell dark, stadiums were abandoned and seats went cold. For many, the escapism in live performance would be sorely missed.
The producers that brought the music to our ears and art to our eyes would also suffer greatly. Unless these performers and their crews found a way to adapt, their careers and dreams threatened to seize up for good.
But one thing creatives do best is the pivot.
Jonathan Marshall, guitarist of 25 years and an instructor in the Grand Rapids Community College Music Department, decided this was not the time to sit around and let his strings collect dust.
Shortly after the arrival of COVID-19 in the United States, he reached out to Zack Collins, CEO of Ludus/Anywhereseat, to find a way to exhibit the talents of the students and faculty in GRCC’s Music Department.
Located in Holland, Collins and his team became a “saving grace” for the department, mentoring them through the virtual ticketing process and offering a new platform to reach an audience who were now tethered to their homes.
As months trickled by, virtual performances began to pop up online everywhere. As more musicians began to follow suit, a recasting of the old live entertainment model was beginning to blossom.
And that’s when “Familiar Places” was born, the end result of Marshall’s search for innovative ways to bring his own performances to a wider demographic that stretched far beyond the Great Lakes.
TAKING HIS PERFORMANCES ON THE ROAD AND STREAMING THEM ONLINE
As director of the GRCC International Guitar Series since 2017 and operator of Jonathan Marshall Guitars, he set out to film a series of performances to stream virtually and make it as accessible as possible: offering the showcase for free or for donation to support the GRCC Guitar Competition and Festival.
But this virtual performance also offered a visual twist: He would perform each solo classical guitar piece at a different and unusual West Michigan location.
Beyond what Marshall mentions as his “home stage” of GRCC Music’s Linn Maxwell Keller Recital Hall, some of his favorite local businesses allowing him to set up shop were Paul Medawar Jewelers, Robinette’s, Grand Rapids Public Museum, Swift Printing, RIT Music, Sawyers Brewing Company and a house under construction by Bosgraaf Homes.
Owners of these local businesses were responsive and hospitable to Marshall’s idea and lucky enough to be serenaded by his incredible talent – showcasing composers of Renaissance, Baroque, Neoclassical, 20th-century eras and three pieces of his very own. (Marshall is also part of the Grand Rapids Guitar Duo with Brian Morris.)
The audience response has bordered on ecstatic. “All so beautiful and creative,” wrote one viewer in online comments. “Flawless execution,” wrote another. “Astonishing, breathtaking,” commented still another.
These past performances – appropriately titled “Familiar Places” – can still be viewed online at grccmusic.anywhereseat.com for free (though donations are accepted). And Marshall will continue to post his live performances for on-demand viewing.
In addition, two more live, in-person concerts will be offered during the winter of 2022 by guitarists Brian Morris and Kyle Thompson, with the performances later available on-demand. Morris’ solo guitar concert takes place on Feb. 3; Thompson’s performance on March 24.
Guitar aficionados also will want to keep their eyes peeled for the GRCC Guitar Competition and Festival, slated to take place in autumn 2022.
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