When Tahoe musicians go online instead of onstage

From the stage to a laptop: Jenni Charles teaches music online.

First in a series about music in the time of Covid-19.

Music is received through a single sense organ, yet it stimulates almost all of the brain-releasing, feel-good endorphins that help people forget about pain and sorrow.

This is a seemingly rare effect for one organ to have. Sex is another activity that stimulates much of the brain releasing a similar endorphin effect and they both reduce blood flow to the region of the brain that causes anxiety.

Procreation is necessary for human existence, so does that mean music is a basic human need? It’s assumed most people would answer a resounding yes to that question.

The music industry was one of the first and hardest hit as a result of Covid-19. Given 21st century musicians rely more heavily on revenue from live performances as opposed to royalties from record contracts — and the human need for music — musicians must find ways to remain in the public eye while honoring the California and Nevada stay-at-home executive orders.

Since they can’t turn on the stage lights, many artists are turning up the lights at home, gazing into their computer or mobile device and connecting with their fans using the information superhighway.

Using that superhighway to connect with these musicians might help to put into perspective how Covid-19 has affected the industry. Jenni Charles agreed to meet with me on Zoom.

Zoom Video Communications is one of the few companies benefiting from the Covid-19 pandemic. The video app reached about 200 million daily meeting participants in March, an increase from 10 million in December.

Zoom has taken some criticism for “Zoom-bombing,” where unwanted guests hijack a meeting and use the platform’s screen-sharing feature to project graphic content to all conference participants. There are some simple workarounds for this, but more about that at the end of the story.

Jenni has been a fixture in the Tahoe music scene for more than 20 years. She and Jesse Dunn are the cornerstone of Dead Winter Carpenters, a nationally recognized Americana/roots rock band based in the Lake Tahoe region.

Zoom launched and my computer screen lit up with Jenni, and her 3-year-old daughter, Mable. Jenni wore a teal and pink knitted beanie and a blue Nevada Wolfpack hoodie, Mable a fuchsia hoodie with a cartoon character up by her left shoulder.

Jesse’s head popped in from the left and for a moment the entire family occupied my screen. Jesse waved, “Hi,” then slipped off the screen. Mable waved goodbye and slid off her mother’s lap, exposing white walls a white piano with several small stickers plastered on its side, the piano poised next to a whitewashed stone fireplace.

Jenni picked up her computer and began talking as she walked through their house.

“It’s so funny to be watching all these live streams of people feeding their kids in the background while they’re playing music.”

The room transitioned to a wood-paneled hallway and a painting entered the screen on one side then exited on the other. We ascended a staircase and Jenni sat down and set down the computer.

This room is where Jesse does all of his work, Jenni explained, “He also books for a venue in June Lake called the T-Bar Social Club. He books all the bands there, and books for an agency (Blue Mountain Artists).”

For Jesse, that means everything he does to generate income is tied to the music industry.

Jenni teaches music from home. “I took the Music Together teacher training, which is music for (infants) to 5 year olds,’ ” she said.

The program is about connection and Jenni thinks it’s crazy to be teaching her first class online, sharing “the program is all about connection and ritual and singing with other people and how that affects us as human beings and now it’s all virtual. I don’t know how I feel about this, we have to do it there’s no other choice.”

The classes she’s teaching are 10 weeks long and open to the public, her first class begins on Friday, April 10. To sign up for the class, click HERE.

Jenni Charles also gives private lessons, including fiddle for Rory Wallach and guitar for Stella Hering.

The conversation transitioned to live streaming and she began talking about her experience, “We’ve done some live streaming from stage and every once in a while when we were in the van or something, mostly they were videos… something that was short, but never on this level where we’re inviting people to our home and just having it be so personal. It’s a totally different experience.”

Are there some technical challenges?

“Not so much for us because we’ve done it so much. We don’t really have the right holder. We used Jesses’ phone to do the live stream from because he has better sound. If you do it from the computer you get a mirror image and I keep watching all these other musicians looking at them playing left-handed.”

She put up both of her hands framing her face, bringing them in tight until her palms were flat on each side of her head and she was grabbing her beanie with her fingertips, “Ah, I can’t even watch that! So what we do, we have a funny little system.”

She held one hand up as if holding a phone and turning it over.

“We turn his phone over so we can’t see anything so we set it upright in the right spot on a mic stand and then I set up my computer below that. I log into the stream and I can see all the comments coming up. We can read the comments as people are watching it. I share it to my page and we’ve been live a lot on Live From the Living Room Lounge. When you go in there, I can see everybody’s name when they login to watch us.”

Her eyes get wide, she raises her eyebrows and turns her head from side to side, “It’s really strange, it’s so different from playing live. From playing onstage to watching all these comments come up as you’re playing. You’re in the middle of a song.”

Jenni takes two fingers from her right hand and starts rhythmical tapping on the palm of her left.

“You better know your song well if you’re going to be reading these comments while they’re coming up … then at the end of the song, you’re able to respond to what people said during the song or see who logged in.”

Jenni then takes the index finger of her right hand and makes circles in the air around her right temple as she explained how she needed to take mental notes about what was happening during the song. “It’s so cool ‘cause it’s as if everybody is having a conversation with you while you’re playing.”

This is happening with people from all over the country instead of just Tahoe People or if you’re playing in Idaho, Idaho People.

Emotion fills Jenni’s face when she describes their “great little tight-knit fan base. It’s really fun to have all of our fans connected.” The fans are conversing with each other live, sending out requests as they play and they get to watch it all.

“It’s just really cool … as awful as this whole situation is, it’s extremely heartwarming and has helped us get through some hard times … a wild and totally different experience.”

Dead Winter Carpenters’ single “Cornerstone” premiered on April 2. Jesse wrote the song as a tribute to his mother, Donna, who succumbed to a rare form of ovarian cancer in the fall of 2019. This single is the second single Dead Winter Carpenters is premiering in advance of their EP, “Sinners ‘n’ Freaks” due to release on April 24.

Using Zoom safely

Jenni is also using Zoom to teach private music lessons, you can contact her HERE to find out more about her online lessons. Be aware, the workarounds for avoiding Zoom-bombing are pretty straight forward, some are free and others are only for paid subscribers. The simplest way is to use a unique meeting ID and only share that with the participants.

If you have a meeting that’s open and you need to share the meeting ID with the general public, there are settings in the Zoom application that allow you to control what features the attendees are able to access. You can block attendees from hijacking the screen or chatting with other participants, ultimately making the conference, “comment and view only.” PCMag does an excellent job of describing how to prevent Zoom-bombing.

-Michelle Gartner

ABOUT Michelle Gartner

Michelle Gartner
Michelle Gartner was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago where she discovered her love for blues and roots rock. After riding the wave of the digital revolution in motion picture film postproduction, she began pursuing the written word. She relocated to the northern Sierra more than 20 years ago and began writing about her passions.

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