Music, and the arts in general, are always important, but even more so during times of crisis, says Richard Kravchak, a professor in the University of Southern Mississippi’s School of Music. James Moore, owner of Hattiesburg’s Moore’s Bicycle Shop, agrees.
In order to give Hattiesburgers the opportunity to experience live music while the university (and other music venues) are largely closed, some music students are playing mini-concerts along the Longleaf Trace.
Doing so also allows the students to continue earning while unable to work elsewhere.
As of now, funding for the events “has come exclusively from a generous gift from Mr. Moore,” Kravchak said.
Moore said he’s been missing Hattiesburg’s rich performing arts culture.
“I’ve really missed the performing arts over the last few months,” Moore said. “People need a mental diversion to help them cope with this current crisis. It may help them be able to unwind over the next few months.”
Why the Longleaf Trace? For starters, it’s a largely unpopulated area, and most people are passing through, whether on bicycle or on foot, allowing the requisite social distancing.
In addition, “it’s a place where people don’t necessarily expect it,” Moore said. “You don’t expect Vivaldi coming through the trees.”
The bicycle shop has been extraordinarily busy for the past few months, Moore said, adding that bicycles allow people “to get out, unwind and reset their mind each day.”
Hearing live music, he added, provides the same respite.
“People need something they can look forward to,” he said.
Last Saturday, the featured duo was Ana Sofia Suarez on viola and Federico Franco on violin.
She is from Venezuela and has been at USM for just over two years. He is from Colombia and has been here almost five years. Both of them are working on their bachelor’s degrees in music with plans to continue through the doctorate level.
About 30 years ago, the orchestra director at the time (Jay Dean, currently interim director of the School of Music) saw a need to boost the university’s music program, especially the strings program, Kravchak said.
At that time, there was little in the way of strings education in Mississippi, so the school began recruiting students.
The recruitment started with a few students from Mexico, then was expanded further into Latin America, Kravchak said, adding that when the students come to USM, they first spend a year or two at the English Language Institute. There are usually about 50 per year, and 80 percent are string musicians.
The musicians performing on the Trace (and potentially other locations) will change from week to week. The concerts will continue at least through June 16. The schedule is available through the Hattiesburg Concert Association website, but it will fluctuate from week to week, largely due to rain. Concerts will mostly be in the evening on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
If a concert must be canceled because of weather or other circumstances, the somewhat impromptu season will simply be extended, Moore said.
“This was our first experience doing this,” Suarez said, noting that she thinks she and Franco will be performing again sometime soon. “It’s a great way to help people in this hard time, and a chance for us to give back to people who have helped us.
“It’s very kind of them to give us this opportunity. It’s humbling, and it’s also a wonderful experience to play outside. Right now, as a performing musician, it’s a very rewarding and happy experience to be able to play in front of people.”
Both Suarez and Franco are part of the USM orchestra and other groups because of their academic scholarships, “but even though it is mandatory, it’s also where we really want to be,” Suarez said. “It’s a wonderful experience. This is what we want to do, and where we want to be.”