At one point during the COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down in-person performances in 2020 and part of 2021, Michael Allen Harrison talked about possibly needing to find work — as in something other than music.
He had bills to pay.
But, Harrison, a native Portlander and renowned pianist, continued to make music every day. By the time vaccinations started to help people open up performing arts venues, Harrison had made a music video with original tunes or covers for 485 consecutive days. In the meantime, he also used much of the new music, and some covers, to produce 23 albums. You read that right.
And, lo and behold, it worked. Some royalties rolled in. Mortgage and car payments were made, and life was again normal. Now he'll play his traditional "Christmas at The Old Church" live Dec. 10-27, for the 30th time. Last year's event took place without an audience, shown on KGW-TV (8).
"We're ecstatic, so many people are happy that we can bring the show back," he said. "With CDC guidelines (including masks and vaccination requirements), we're able to be at full capacity, and don't have to be spread out." The Old Church also has a new air filtration system.
Tickets are still available for most of the 23 shows. "We're probably going to have 40% less of an audience than we had in 2019, which is fine," Harrison said. Along with COVID-19 fears and hesitancy, and part of the population unvaccinated, "people have a perception that downtown is still dangerous" from potential protests and violence. There'll be security at The Old Church, Harrison said.
"We want people to feel safe in every way," he added.
He'll be joined by singer Julianne Johnson once again, as well as saxophone player Renato Caranto and 13-year-old pianist William Leonard, a ragtime, blues and boogie-woogie performer who'll do a rendition of "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town."
Drummer Israel Annoh, singer Haley Johnsen and others also will perform. There'll be an appearance by legendary Blazers broadcaster Bill Schonely.
"I'm getting ready for these holiday shows, so that's getting me back on my feet," Harrison said. "I think I scheduled too many shows — 23 shows at The Old Church. But, all shows are selling. Whatever we have is what we get. We'll be ready to feel something special.
"It's a tradition for many families, and for me and my family and the cast. It's a meaningful time for us."
Harrison has become a musical institution in Portland, where he grew up and attended high school. But, the pandemic and government restrictions derailed his normal music career, as it did with all musicians.
"I've been persevering, figuring out how to monetize online royalties from music," he said. He released the 23 albums, which you can find on Spotify, iTunes, Pandora, Amazon, etc. It's everything from originals to covers such as "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" to Disney songs.
"I did an album called 'Heavy Mellow,' arrangements of classic rock but done in a meditative way, like 'Smoke on the Water,'" Harrison said.
He also did some consulting work and projects at his home recording studio. "It worked out, but it was bare bones," he said, of surviving the pandemic. "We used some savings, and had some government assistance and unemployment for awhile. I feel stable."
The incredible thing is he kept up his music and video making for 485 days, posting them on social media and sending them out via email. He called it Anti Anxiety COVID 19 Music. It served as the basis for his albums, as "it just kind of flowed together." He would record music and select images for the video — photos, and some of his own video footage and licensed library footage.
It became a daily routine. Harrison estimated that he wrote and produced 380 new songs.
"On weekends I'd do 10 songs in one day," he said. "Remember, there were long stretches we were all staying at home.
"I started winding them down when vaccines came out. … I enjoyed it very much, it was definitely feeding my soul in the best way. Now I'm back in the world of worrying about ticket sales, marketing, etc. — that layer of stress. It all feels new to me again."
Tickets ($32.50-$62.50) are available for "Christmas at The Old Church," 1422 S.W. 11th Ave., at www.tickettomato.com.
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