Over the last year or so, everyone who wears glasses has had to struggle with lenses fogging up because of the mask covering your mouth and nose.
For Dan Baker, it’s been an occupational hazard.
When the Washington jazz guitarist recently ventured back to play at Al ‘an Ruben’s Bar and Grill, where he had played frequently before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, he found that looking at sheet music while condensation gathered on his spectacles made his job a little harder.
Nevertheless, “It felt good to be back,” he said.
After months away from playing regular shows, the 44-year-old Baker said he had “underestimated” the physical and mental work involved in strumming his custom-made electric guitar in front of an audience.
In the 12 months since the coronavirus brought the curtain down on in-person arts and cultural events and performances, Baker has hardly been the only performer who has had to worry about losing reflexes while clubs, theaters and other venues remained closed. The coronavirus has had a devastating impact on much of the arts and cultural world over the last year, with multinational corporations that put movies in multiplexes and put hot-ticket tours on the road losing millions upon millions of dollars, and nonprofit organizations that rely heavily on admissions doing their best to stay afloat.
When the pandemic started one year ago, Baker offered online concerts, but eventually cut back because other musicians stampeded to the virtual world.
“I played in the basement, but I scaled it back,” Baker said. “Everyone has been doing it. Am I really going to be able to compete with John Pizzarelli?”
Baker has also taught some students, but he has been reluctant to have strangers coming in to his home during the pandemic, since he has two young children.
The full extent of Baker’s monetary losses in 2020 became apparent when he recently tabulated his earnings for his taxes and found that he made $20,000 less last year than he did in 2019.
But aside from lost income and lost opportunities, Baker also points out that during the long months of the pandemic, he and other musicians missed playing as ensembles in front of paying customers, and the give and take that can come with that.
“You can practice all you want,” Baker said. “Playing live is where you learn. You learn by playing with other people. It’s like being a fighter.”
Like many people in all kinds of professions, Baker is looking eagerly toward the time when we will be able to resume our lives unencumbered by pandemic concerns. He believes the live music scene will be slow to creep back to life, and even if he is booked somewhere, “It’s hard to know if people will show up.”
There’s been a loss of income and he hasn’t had as many chances to play with other musicians, but there have been some positive developments for Baker over the last year. The time off from regular gigs has led him to rethink the material he was playing and his approach.
“I had a schtick I could do all the time,” he said. Before the pandemic, Baker had about 50 songs he would shuffle around, but as the pandemic dragged on, “I started to really think about what I really wanted to play as a musician.”
To that end, he is thinking about incorporating more rock classics into his repertoire, and putting together a solo record of Christmas classics.
“In a way, it’s been a good thing,” he said.