A break from lockdown: pianist connects neighbors with music

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Louis Auxenfans

Pianist Laura Fenster has played for friends, neighbors and the public during the pandemic. She gave open-air performances in her backyard and online concerts through Zoom. “There’s something that’s just electric when it’s live that I think just doesn’t come through with recorded concerts,” Ms. Fenster said.

Louis Auxenfans, Reporter

After opening up her windows and doors, Laura Fenster sits down at a piano and begins to play a Chopin etude for her backyard audience. Her fingers, slightly wrinkled by decades of piano playing, stroke the keys as the music lifts up into the clear sky. The audience sits quiet, attentive to each note. After the concert, they chatter about the performance, united around a common experience. 

Ms. Fenster’s open-air and online performances during the pandemic helped people connect with one another and take a refreshing break from lockdown. 

A resident of Hyde Park, Ms. Fenster performed on stages in the U.S., Canada and Asia, in addition to teaching piano students in her private studio. Each year, she sets a goal to give two or three concerts to the Hyde Park community. During the pandemic, she has instead performed several times for friends, neighbors and the public. In March, she gave a pre-recorded concert of Bach’s Goldberg Variations provided by the Music Teachers of Hyde Park Artists Series and will give another performance on April 21.

Last summer, she invited a handful of friends and neighbors to sit in her backyard for mini concerts, opening up the windows of her house to let the music through. She gave concerts during the pandemic because, she says, it is an act of communication crucial to performers. 

“Communication is the basic thing to me that music is about – both the history of the music that I play and the actual touching the lives of the people for whom I am performing,” Ms. Fenster said. 

Communication is the basic thing to me that music is about – both the history of the music that I play and the actual touching the lives of the people for whom I am performing.”

Her performances also filled a deep craving in people for live music concerts. 

“They were so clearly hungry for live performances, and getting together with other people,” said Ms. Fenster, smiling. “What other excuses are there to get together with people in a group during this pandemic?” 

Constance White, a friend and fellow piano teacher, noted that Ms. Fenster’s open-air performances provided a sense of intimacy that is lacking during a pandemic. 

“When it is live, the person performing is really totally open and vulnerable as he or she is in any performance,” Ms. White said. “Watching that person perform under that kind of pressure and situation I think does make you feel you have just had a human encounter that’s out of the ordinary and more intimate than probably the constrained relations that we all had during the pandemic.”

For friend and former student Paula Taffe, Ms. Fenster’s concerts also gave her audience an escape from the pandemic. She attended Ms. Fenster’s online performance in March and had never heard the Goldberg Variations.  

“In anticipation, it was, ‘Isn’t this a great thing to do before the pandemic?’ But after the concert, I wasn’t even thinking about the pandemic, I was thinking about how beautiful the Goldberg Variations were,” Ms. Taffe said.

Reflecting on her experiences throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Ms. Fenster said her music was a very important experience of finding ways to stay connected without being actually isolated. 

Ms. Fenster said, “Music – sharing it with pupils, and during this past summer, sharing it live in performance, was an extremely important thing that made life very interesting and raised my spirits.”