Getting the Band Back Together

I’ve done as I was told during the pandemic, staying home, wearing a mask, socially distancing and washing my hands. For the most part it was no big deal—I was already working from home before the pandemic anyway. The only routine I had to change was in my musical life. 

As COVID cases were growing exponentially in New York State in March 2020, my band Watkins and the Rapiers was beginning a residency at Rochester’s Little Theatre Café, scheduled to perform every Monday in March and April. 

We kicked things off March 2 accompanying our music with a silent auction of recently banned and “soon-to-be-vintage” plastic shopping bags (five) that just two days earlier were free at area retail stores. I wasn’t sure what was more curious, that people enthusiastically bid on the bags contributing a total of $22 (which we put in the Little Café server’s tip jar) or that the run-of-the-mill Walgreens bag shared the highest bid with the classic smiley face emoji bag. 

At any rate, it was a normal Monday of music and distraction. 

Losing Normal

At the time, our area had no known COVID cases, though the virus was wreaking havoc eight or 10 counties away. That soon changed, as our first case was reported March 4. Our next gig on Monday, March 9, turned out to be our last. 

Yes, things moved pretty quickly. We practiced March 11, learning some Irish songs for what would have been our day-before-St. Patrick’s Day performance. The next day the NHL and NBA shut down, a seemingly unthinkable turn. Soon after the Little Theatre canceled all café performances. 

And the band went on hiatus. 

Truth be told there was something liberating about abandoning the cat-herding required to schedule practices for a six-member band, and the set-in-stone gig dates that always thwarted some social or vacation option or other. Of course, the social and vacation options were also dwindling, so…. 

Watkins and the Rapiers performed “Sturgis,” a “Woodstock” parody, on Oct. 17, 2020 in the socially distanced parking lot of the Little Theatre Café, Rochester, N.Y. 

Pandemic Reunions

Yes, we’ve had a few performances and get-togethers since then.

  • In April 2020 we did three live streams, but because we were socially isolating, we didn’t perform them as a band. Rather we treated them as song circles, performing solo tunes one after another from our homes, taking advantage of the format to include former band member Rob Goodwin, who joined us for the first time in 20 years from his home in Montana, and to reach out-of-town folks who rarely had a chance to see us. These sessions were gratifying, but they lacked the musical interactions that make us a band, and really, the sound and visuals aren’t great on live streams. Three dates seemed like enough. 
  • The band also played two socially distanced gigs on outdoor stages last fall, one in a backyard, the other in a parking lot, for which we had one outdoor practice in a driveway. Those were like reunions—momentary glimpses into what life sort of used to be like. 
  • Attempts to initiate recording projects whereby each of us would contribute parts from our home studios failed to take hold, but we did manage to keep alive our tradition of presenting new Christmas music each year by posting YouTube videos of five original songs by four of our members recorded individually in home studios. 

And just as we’d waited out the summer, we settled in for the long pandemic winter. 

Watkins and the Rapiers rehearse on April 20, 2021, lower left to right: Scott Regan, Steve Piper, Marty York, Rick McRae, Kerry Regan (in foreground) and Tom Whitmore.

Ready for Another Bite

Not long ago, we began hearing from some of our FWGs (friends with gigs) about booking some outdoor performances this summer. This was more or less how I imagined the return to musical normal: a few outdoor summer gigs, then by fall, maybe enough people would be vaccinated to make indoor performances safe again. 

And sure enough our band members have been getting vaccinated, and by last week, we had all gotten our second shots. It was safe to practice again. So we got together indoors for the first time since March 2020. 

After a year of solitary woodshedding, resuming our former routines around playing in the band was both familiar and exotic, peppered with occasional rushes of euphoria that were probably more than the music warranted. It was like normal with a footnote saying that normal’s not normal and could be a mirage. We brushed up on some older songs, introduced a few new ones written during the pandemic, and ate some of Tom’s homemade cookies. 

How strange, how fortunate to just pick up where we left off, to be moving forward again, as if we hadn’t missed any beats at all.

Photo at the top of the page: Then-freshly reunited Finnish death metal band Abhorrence live at Tuska Open Air2013 pretty much looks the way my band does in my dreams about returning to the music scene. Photo By Cecil – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27029831

The Public Sink of the Future

Of course!

That was my reaction when I first saw a sink that grouped the three hand washing enablers inches apart in proper deployment order: soap dispenser, faucet and hand drier. A one-stop washing experience made especially convenient by motion-activators. Soap dispensed with a swipe of the hand. Water ready when you are. Then the coup de grace: the hand drier. No more hands dripping walks to nearest paper towel dispenser—or worse, waiting in line for one. It’s like the automated car wash for hands. What more could you ask for?

Well, actually, the coronavirus gives us a glimpse of a new frontier. 

Proper washing requires 20 seconds of scrubbing, healthcare professionals remind us as we attempt to stop the spread of the virus. So how do you time it? With a timepiece? Your watch is on your wrist, which is involved in hand washing, so it’s not ideal. Your phone probably has a stopwatch, but then you are pressing and swiping, which isn’t convenient, and you’re doing it in a watery environment, which may damage your phone. Timing it in your head isn’t reliable. Some suggest singing a 20-second song like “Happy Birthday,” but that gets old after say, your 10,654th washing.

Then there’s the boredom factor. Twenty seconds is a long time to invest in a repetitive act that offers no distractions from TV or social media. 

What to do? In the future, I believe we’ll have sinks with voice-activated timers that play 20-second songs to signal the proper length of a hand-washing session, thereby addressing both the timing and the boredom factors. Sink users could select a song they know or ask “Siri de Bain” to select one for them. 

Standard selections might remind washers why it’s important to give their hands the full 20-second treatment. See “20 Seconds” and “Let’s Talk About Your Hands.”

20 Seconds
Let’s Talk About Your Hands

No doubt some will offer tongue-in-cheek observations, as in “I’m Washing My Hands.”

I’m Washing My Hands.

And some experimental artists will forgo hand washing altogether to provide more of a 20-second experience. Give a listen to “No Time For Fooling Around.” 

No Time For Fooling Around

With multiple sinks in the public restroom, this could result in cacophony, so the enabling technology will need to provide a methodology for precisely controlling sound waves to be audible within tightly prescribed areas. Something like the Get Smart TV series’ “Cone of Silence,” but invisible. 

So there’s the vision. Technologists: make it a reality.