We are glad to have Xavi Díaz in what will be the first on a series of interviews with different profiles related to the lute (professional musicians, teachers, societies, luthiers ...) with the main intention of highlighting the impact of COVID on the particular activity of this sector.
I have got to know some really complicated situations and I have also witnessed a good number of very interesting initiatives, born in an environment full of restrictions and difficulties.
I hope this can help to put a spotlight on the situation of this very small segment of the music sector.
If you are interested on posting your own point of view, your initiatives or the difficulties that have arisen, do not hesitate to contact me.
First of all, thanks Xavi for sharing your experience during this difficult time.
The pandemic in Europe locked us all up in our houses around March 2020, in what situation were you at that moment and what do you remember from the first moments?
I was just back from what would be my last concert in a long time, in Prague. Before that, I was at the International Guitar Master Degree in Alicante, together with my wife Tanja.
The first thing that came to mind was: all the colleagues who are not working as teachers, will not be able to subsist. I myself thought that, in a few months, I would have a hard time paying the bills.
... after a few weeks, the restrictions become the new normality and everything indicates that we will spend several months with a very limited activity, first, and with severe restrictions later. How does this situation impact your planning and your projects?
The truth is that once I got over the first impact in which fifty concerts, recordings and masters were immediately canceled, I thought: “I have to reinvent myself, now!”
Not so much because of what had just happened to all of us, but because this situation made me realise how fragile our profession is , and how closely linked to requesting our services.
Whatever type of musician you were, regardless of the payment you were receiving, we all suddenly faced a situation where there was hardly any professional activities.
Right after the first weeks of shock, alternative ways to continue the activity in a non-face-to-face way begin to appear, what initiatives, ideas, projects do you find at that time to continue your activity?
I am a teacher by vocation. I love teaching. That is why I often experience slight frustration when I encounter a student, who wishes to work with me and I cannot accept it, either because he/she lives far away, due to administrative impediments from the school, or because the student can not afford it.
The “major cause” that forced us to adapt our classes to the online system, opened the possibility for all those overseas musicians whom I had never been able to attend, as a part of my pedagogical programs.
I first accepted a reduced number and increased it shortly after, seeing that it worked well. I made sure I had a good online connection, a good microphone, a screen and, ultimately, good working conditions.
Three months later it seemed that things were going better and optimism among my colleagues grew, but I distrusted that situation, and mentally prepared myself to continue like this for at least one more year.
I assumed, that things might improve a little, eventually, but was convinced, that nothing was going to change drastically until we had the vaccine.
In addition to teaching, I was able to dedicate myself to editing the audios and videos. I had several projects pending and in addition, I recorded online concerts, I composed music for theater, I made pedagogical videos and streams on Facebook. I also opened my patronage page, which is aimed at supporting my cultural exchange work and helps supporting my production. The page is hosted by a special website called patreon.com.
These circumstances imposed on me a rhythm that I had not chosen, but I took it as an opportunity to do what I could never do in the last 25 years.
Most of my regular activity before the pandemic was about 70 or 80 concerts a year, in addition to teaching at the ESMUC in Barcelona, the Royal Conservatory of Brussels and the summer courses in the USA. This forced break made me rethink my life.
One of the things that I am most happy about, is that we extended out family, and adopted a dog, that we named Josquin. Acquiring this new responsibility, in a way, gave me an excuse that I give myself to accept less work.
Do you think that the new ways of working that emerged in 2020 will be permanent? To what degree do you think you will continue to develop activities in this same way?
In my case, online classes, especially for people who cannot come to see me in person, have come to stay. Naturally, nothing replaces a face-to-face class, but I can safely say that the classes I have taught with this system have been efficient.
On the other hand, I also like to record at home and share it on the social networks. That too has come to stay, at least in my case.
In general, although in a perhaps more pronounced way in Spain, the focus has been on the difficulties of certain sectors in the face of COVID, such as the hospitality industry, but I consider that music has been the great forgotten. What have you missed during this time regarding institutions or society? Do you think things could have been done differently?
Here are two considerations, and I will start with “the society”.
On one hand, I consider that there are many people proudly consuming music through digital platforms, and many of them even thinking, that they are supporting artists through them. But there is the other side of the coin, I would like to explain: on my Spotify artist profile there are about seven of my publications as a soloist. Of course, even being a Spotify artist, I have to pay the same monthly fee to be able to access, and listen to the music as any other user. But if one of my songs were playing 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for a whole month, it would not generate income even to pay that Spotify user fee … Lastly, that money would not go directly to me, but to record companies.
Regarding the institutions: Disastrous! The state has minored, forgotten, ignored and humiliated the sector of performing artists. I have colleagues who overnight went bankrupt.
We keep hearing that culture is necessary, but here is never anything to support it. At the time of making efforts to maintain the sector, we have been “the great forgotten”.
Of the 50 concerts that have been canceled, only some of them have been compensated, either with the concert fees, or a small part of them. Some of them have been postponed to the time, when the situation will allow it. But the vast majority have simply said “I’m sorry” and that’s all.
On the other hand, while I was hearing that friends from some other European countries received an aid as high as € 5,000, simply for the fact of being artists without work, in Spain I have not received a single euro, despite religiously paying my taxes during the last 25 years!
We have a lot to learn from countries like France, where musicians enjoy the “intermittent” regime; a system that normalises and consolidates the works of artists, ensuring performances through the protection of the local artist at French festivals, and unemployment benefits when this does not occur.
In Barcelona, for example, in the auditorium, the programming is always full of foreign names and very few (or none) local names.
One year later ... how does 2021 look for you? Is the pre-covid activity being reactivated?
The activities are not recovered yet, and I think it will take some time. In my case, I prefer to ensure my teaching, which I love and which never fails me.
I also have a lot of work scheduled at home: preparing recording and pedagogical projects.
The performative part, I’ll take it as it comes. I have around thirty concerts scheduled for the second half of 2021, part of it with maestro Savall, and another with my own projects.
We are going to see if the pandemic allows us to carry out all this activity.
Can you tell us about what projects you have underway and also how we can support your activity?
I currently have a series of recordings in the offing. A recording dedicated to Francesco da Milano should appear on the market shortly. It has been recorded now a year and a half ago, but for various reasons has not yet been released.
I also have a project recorded with “Laberintos Ingeniosos” dedicated to Santiago de Murcia, with three guitars, harp and two percussions, which I have yet to finish.
After these projects, I have at least four more in perspective with the baroque lute and with the romantic guitar, but we will talk about these later ?
Thanks again for your time Xavi and all best for the next months. Take care.
I would like to remind your patreon website and looking forward to hearing more about that new recording