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Westminster alumna presents virtual concerts

06/08/2020

Westminster Choir College alumna AnnaLotte Smith ’17 expected to spend this summer performing in England and France. But when COVID-19 ended those plans, the ever-resourceful pianist took another approach to sharing her talent — this time with an audience that particularly needs the comfort and connection that only music can provide: people who are hospitalized and healthcare workers.

Since mid-April, Smith has been presenting virtual concerts, titled “Spirit of Harmony,” from her home in Princeton for medical centers in Indiana, New Brunswick, Boston and New Orleans. The concert format varies for each hospital. Saint Peter's University Hospital in New Brunswick uses a Zoom webinar format. On the day of the virtual concert, the hospital includes the Zoom link on cards placed on food trays for all patients and emails the link to the staff.

“I’m able to share digital programs and respond to comments and requests that come through the Zoom webinar, but I can’t see any of the patients, which was an initial challenge,” Smith says. “But I try to make it as interactive as possible so that we can make a community setting.”

The concerts are recorded and streamed over the medical center’s television network during the days when she’s not performing live.

The New Orleans concerts are also presented via Zoom at Tulane Medical Center as part of Tulane’s Arts in Medicine program.

In Boston, she was paired with a doctor who asked her patients in advance if they would like to hear music. Smith later joined the doctor via Zoom as she walked around her floor with an iPad and checked in with patients.

“That concert was very personalized because I only played the type of music they requested, such as soothing, happy or pop,” she says.

Smith says the most profound moment she experienced involved a Russian patient in Boston who was limited in his ability to communicate because he didn’t speak English.

“He was elderly and very disoriented as he kept trying to speak,” Smith says. “The nurses hoped that listening to music would calm him down a little bit. So we went back in the room (via Zoom) and I started playing something I hoped he would recognize, Bach's first prelude in C. His eyes grew larger and he seemed much calmer and indicated he wanted to hear more so I played Satie's Gymnopédie next. It was a humbling experience that really spoke to the power of music to transcend so many boundaries.”

Smith says that performing online has been challenging because she feels simultaneously isolated from the audience and called upon to break the “fourth wall” of the screen.

“I've had to rethink the meaning of stage presence and the complete 'concert' experience to make it a meaningful interaction,” she says. “I’m usually really exhausted after these concerts because I feel like there is a lot of energy being sent into a void of the screen, and I miss the human element of interaction. I’ve worked on connecting more through comments and letting the audience choose the concert from a concert 'menu.’  This has helped me feel more connected to the process. I also enjoyed the privilege of being able to see a patient's face in the case of Boston.”

In addition to her hospital series, Smith is also presenting recitals using Facebook Live that are open to anyone, and viewers are encouraged to submit requests.

You can learn more about “Spirit of Harmony” and AnnaLotte Smith on her website, annalotte.com.