Beating the Pandemic Blues: Three Stories of Hope and Resilience from Lexington Musicians

Noah Harrington, a jazz bassist, composer and arranger with Maurizio Fiore Salas, a guitarist and Venezuelan cuatro player. Together they are Noah y Maurizio. The two musicians met at Berklee College of Music.

 

By Jane Whitehead


For musicians worldwide, the outlook changed brutally in March 2020 as COVID-19 shuttered venues, cancelled gigs, and raised a gigantic question mark over the future of live music. We heard from three professional musicians with strong Lexington ties how they rode out a rollercoaster year, and what it takes to hold on to their artistic vision and find inspiration at a time of radical uncertainty.

Noah y Maurizio Wins Iguana Music Fund Grant

In December 2020, the Boston-based string band Noah y Maurizio was among 24 New England-based musical groups to be awarded an Iguana Music Fund grant by Passim in Cambridge. For band co-founder Noah Harrington, a jazz bassist, composer and arranger, the $2000 grant was a welcome boost at the end of a challenging year.

In a recent conversation, Harrington, a 2015 Lexington High School (LHS) graduate and prize-winning alum of the LHS Jazz Combo, described the joy and frustration of melding an international group of youthful virtuoso string players into something like a musical family, only to have everyone “scattered to the cosmic winds” from Minnesota to Brazil by the global pandemic.
Noah y Maurizio evolved out of friendships and musical collaborations Harrington formed at Berklee College of Music, and at the prestigious Acoustic Music Seminar at the Savannah Music Festival. Maurizio is Maurizio Fiore Salas, a guitarist and Venezuelan cuatro player, composer and arranger. (The cuatro is a Venezuelan folk stringed instrument in the guitar family.)

Harrington and Fiore Salas met while studying jazz composition at Berklee and exploring their shared interest in mixing traditional and contemporary music of North and South America. At the Acoustic Music Seminar in 2018, Harrington was enthralled by the musicianship of cellist Parker Ousely and Canadian fiddler Clara Rose.

Rose’s visit to Boston in February 2019 was the catalyst for a week of intense rehearsal with Harrington, Fiore Salas and Ousely, together with prize-winning mandolinist Ethan Setiawan and Brazilian guitarist João Perrusi. “In a little under a week the group was born,” said Harrington. “The chemistry just felt so good when we started playing together.”

Following a bunch of successful gigs, the group recorded an entire album of new material, released with the title Acoustic Travelogue in March 2020, and praised by cellist Mike Block as “an inspiring display of brilliant solo and ensemble playing, as well as beautiful tune writing and arranging.”

Recreating that chemistry to create a second album is Harrington’s priority. He’s currently raising funds to add to the Iguana Fund grant, to cover the costs of bringing the group together again for a week of intensive recording in May at a studio in the Maine woods, with appropriate COVID-testing and quarantining measures. (Since Rose’s return to Canada the crucial fiddler’s role has been filled by bluegrass virtuoso Sofia Chiarandini, he noted.)

The concept for the album is for “a composer/performers’ collective” with everyone contributing compositions. Harrington is prepared to back the project with his life savings if necessary. “I really believe in the vision of what we’re doing,” he said. “I believe in the players and I believe we can make art that is meaningful and that can help a lot of people in this time.”

Lorelei Marcell – Solo Singer-Songwriter, Heading West

Above: Lorelei Marcell, a Lexington senior and solo vocal artist will be heading to LA after graduation to pursue her career in music.

“I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember,” said pop singer-songwriter Lorelei Marcell, 18, a Lexington High School senior with a serious online fan-base (52,000 followers on Instagram, over 500,000 streams on Spotify), and a professional management team based in Los Angeles, where she hopes to build the next stage of her career.

That ambition is no pipedream. Marcell has worked with professional managers since she turned 16. Her collaborations and friendships with established musicians and producers have resulted in a half-dozen professionally produced music videos released on YouTube.

Her first release of 2020 was “Dreamin About You,” described on the music review website neonmusic.co.uk as “a catchy pop anthem steeped in nostalgia” with “polished confident vocals” from Marcell, who co-wrote the song with Valerie Broussard, Stefan Litrownik, and her song-writing friend and producer Shannon McArthur.

As COVID struck in March, Marcell admits that her usual optimism was dented. “That was like an ‘oh gosh, what am I going to do?’ moment,” she said, “because no artist has ever experienced this before, especially when they’re up and coming and trying to get their name out there.”

She decided to amp-up her social media presence, live-streaming several gigs over the summer and going ahead with the August release of her latest single “Eyes Closed,” co-written with British-born Grammy-nominated songwriter-singer and producer James Abrahart (JHart), who has written for Justin Bieber, Keith Urban, and Usher. That connection came through Shannon McArthur, who was once Abrahart’s roommate, noted Marcell.

Although Marcell has reached her largest audience online, she has always enjoyed live performance. From age 10, she’s sung at open mics, performed at local Lexington benefits, and entertained diners in restaurants from Boston to Concord. One thing that COVID has taken away, she said, is the biggest thrill of singing live: “that intimate connection with people you don’t know, people you’ll probably never meet again.”

The pandemic did however give Marcell and her friend and frequent accompanist David Moore a unique live gig experience. Thanks to a contact of Moore’s, they were invited to perform for patients and frontline health care workers at the Boston Hope Hospital, a temporary field hospital set up at the Boston Convention Center in mid-April to care for COVID-19 positive homeless adults, in a line-up that included Alicia Keys and Yo-Yo Ma.

Marcell credits the choral program at Lexington High School with supporting her development as a well-rounded performer. Although “it’s very different from what I do in my own career,” she said, singing with the school’s renowned chamber chorus, Lexington High School Madrigal Singers, affectionately known as “Mads,” has opened up “a whole new world of musicianship.”

After finishing high school in May, Marcell plans to move to LA in September to pursue her solo career full-time “in the hub of everything.” The prospect of moving to a new city is both scary and exciting, she said, especially with the wild card of COVID thrown in. But pandemic or no, her goal is clear: “I want to have as many people as possible listen to my music and hear what I have to say. There’s a lot that comes with that, but I’m so ready for the challenge,” she said.

Music of Hope and Defiance – Lizzy and The Triggermen

Singer-songwriter Lizzy Shapiro grew up in Lexington and counts LHS drama and music teachers Steve Bogart and Brian McConnell as mentors. She fronts the ten-piece band Lizzy and the Triggermen and is based in Los Angeles.

With a growing reputation as one of the hottest swing bands in Los Angeles, noted in Elmore Magazine for the “powerhouse vocals and femme fatale swagger” of its leader, singer-songwriter Lizzy Shapiro, the ten-piece band Lizzy and the Triggermen anticipated a banner year in 2020.

Shapiro’s team of seasoned jazz musicians includes virtuoso trombonist/arranger Dan Barrett, who collaborated with Benny Goodman, and over the last two years, the band’s packed live dance shows at storied LA venues including the Wiltern, the El Rey and the Troubadour have gained rave reviews and a devoted following.

“We had our biggest year yet scheduled by February 2020,” said Shapiro, speaking by phone from her home in Los Angeles. Back then, the band was prepping for the annual South by Southwest festival held every March in Austin, Texas, and for a cluster of gigs around the launch of their first album, Good Songs for Bad Times, including a New York City debut at The Cutting Room.

On March 6, 2020, Shapiro was driving to San Francisco with the band’s instruments and bandstands for a big show at City Hall, when her phone lit up with texts announcing the cancellation of everything. “By the end of that week it was pretty clear we were not going to do any of the things we were planning on doing for the year,” she said.

After initially deciding to hold back the release of the album – written and recorded pre-pandemic – Shapiro was struck by how eerily prescient one track now sounded. Her composition “Dance Song (For the End of the World)” starts with a foot-tapping beat under a British male voice sampled from an archival BBC Radio World War II broadcast announcing: “All gatherings for purposes of entertainment and amusement are prohibited until further notice.”

The parallel was too striking to ignore, said Shapiro. So she and the band decided to release the album in May 2020 and produced a music video to go with it. They reached out to artists in 15 countries, from Argentina to Vietnam, with one instruction: “Film yourself dancing at home.” The resulting music video went viral, and Good Songs for Bad Times reached #3 on the iTunes Top 40 US Jazz Albums chart.

“I don’t know that that song would have resonated with so many people if we’d released it at any other time,” said Shapiro, who grew up in Lexington and whose early mentors included inspirational drama and music teachers Steve Bogart and Brian McConnell at LHS. She studied music and comedy at Yale, and trained as an opera singer before moving to the West Coast in 2005 where she made a name as a comedy writer, producer and actor, creating and starring in an Emmy-nominated TV show for the History Channel, The Crossroads of History, 2016.

That background in film and TV now enables Shapiro and the band to bring Hollywood production values to virtual events from live-streaming gigs to corporate and private parties worldwide. “That’s a space I’m really excited about,” said Shapiro.

Shapiro finds hope in the Depression-era music from which the band takes its inspiration. “There’s a kind of defiance and hope that emerged from the music in response to what was happening in society,” she said. Uncertain as the future of live performance is at present, she sees another cause for optimism in the longing for human connection awoken by the pandemic.

“It’s easy to take something for granted when there’s no fear of it going away,” she said, so “when it’s safe to gather again and do live shows, there’s a hope that people will be really hungry for that in a way they weren’t before.” And surely that’s a hope shared by performers of all stripes, all over the world.


To learn more and hear their music, follow these performers online:

NOAH y MAURIZO
noahymaurizio.com
instagram.com/noahharringtonbass
facebook.com/NoahHarringtonMusic
LORELEI MARCELL
Instagram: @loreleimarcell
Spotify/Apple Music etc: Lorelei Marcell
LIZZY AND THE TRIGGERMEN
Lizzyandthetriggermen.com
Instagram: @lizzyandthetriggermen

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