Portland musician Michael Allen Harrison creates online content
Like most musicians, Michael Allen Harrison scrambled to figure out what to do next when COVID-19 and government restrictions hit.
Shows got canceled. Future shows were sent into limbo.
It was mid-March, and Harrison turned immediately to what he does best — music and entertaining people in the form of online videos and performances that he tabbed the "The Anti-Anxiety COVID-19 Music Channel" on YouTube and Facebook. As of Monday, July 13, he had put up videos for 120 consecutive days, posting them and sending out email notices about them in the early mornings.
Harrison, who famously puts on the Ten Grands and Christmas at The Old Church events, said it's a nice alternative to use the power of music to help people.
"I just felt that a lot of people were feeling anxious and a lot of music is calming," said Harrison, a Portland native. "I wanted to do my part and send something out to the community that helps people relax."
He also posts live weekly performances at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays from his Canby Pioneer Chapel & Concert Hall. (Events are taking place at his Canby concert hall, with crowds limited to 25 people).
"There's no place for me to play (for large crowds)," Harrison said, "so I'm basically unemployed. You can't take the music away, even though there's not a venue for me to share. The venue is online."
For his daily posts, Harrison has made videos centered around his own music and such songs as "America the Beautiful" and Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass' "Taste of Honey."
He'll either post video of himself playing the music, or mix the music with video, some from a subscription service.
Harrison's first one was a video with his new song "New Intentions for the World," and it used a pastor's poem. "People really loved it and reacted to it," Harrison said. "That's when I decided to do more; it was the first day of the lockdown. If you want to know how many days we've been locked down, check my channel."
The anti-anxiety videos have been put into an anti-anxiety playlist.
"I've decided to continue it till there's a vaccine, so, who knows?" Harrison said. "When I first started it, it took several hours a day to make a video. Now I'm really getting fast in learning how to video edit and spend an hour or two putting together a video."
Being an old-school musician who makes a living with live performances, Harrison has also shifted to learn about Pandora, Spotify, iTunes and more. Although his business survives during economic downturns, Harrison estimated that 80% of his income has been affected by the current health and economic crisis.
His Ten Grands on the Diamond event had to be canceled, and the main Ten Grands event has been moved to Nov. 15. And, Harrison worries about the status of Christmas at The Old Church, which features events in December. Tentative concerts are planned with audience limitation and health protocols.
"I'm worried about my financial future, I'm worried about whether I can make my mortgage payment," Harrison said. "I've already sold the car that I was making payments on. I'm scaling down TV channels, cutting down on everything. I'm trying to protect myself for the long haul.
"If this keeps up and I don't have a holiday (concert) season, by this time next year I'll be putting my house on the market. I can pivot and we can move into a little two-bedroom apartment and start taking the bus and maybe just have one car. And thinking about it, if I can't perform and monetize what I do online to a large enough capacity, I'd think about doing something else for work other than music."
Harrison takes solace in the music and videos he does create, and he has used the time to reflect on Black Lives Matter and his role in social justice and awareness of racial inequities.
Harrison's Snowman Foundation has benefited young musicians with lessons and instruments throughout the years, much of it through Ten Grands events. His Play It Forward program has provided lessons for about 150 students and gifted 450 instruments to students, community centers, schools and churches in the past three years.
Play It Forward plans a fundraising event for 7 p.m. July 25 in which people will be provided with door-delivered meals and wine while also being able to tune in, via YouTube and Facebook, to a concert by students (and an auction). It's a take on the supper club genre.
"We want to give the community a deeper idea of what we do for our program," Harrison said, "and how it benefits kids and how we pivot to doing lessons online and keeping kids engaged and teachers employed."
About 40 kids attended the Play It Forward summer (online) camp.
"It's really crucial to keep this program going," Harrison added.
For ticket info: pifmusic.org.
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