Women in music during Covid19: Penny Stone, musician
Songleader, teacher, singer and composer based in Edinburgh, Penny Stone, answers our questions on how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted her working life as a musician. She explains to us how she is preparing herself to get back to business when the lockdown eases, reflecting as well on how the future will be for working musicians like her. She also shares with us some of her fears about the future, offering at the same time a piece of advice for women working in music these days.
What are your main professional activities and financial income?
Teaching singing groups, teaching singing individuals.
Since the lockdown started, was your (or some of your) work affected? How? What work activities have been cancelled? Which ones were you able to continue during this period, and how did you adapt your activities to the new circumstances?
All singing groups and all singing teaching stopped. I am continuing to do video sessions for my health related music groups which I am being paid for. I do a zoom with one monthly group, and make a short ‘song a week’ video for each of my other groups. I make ‘vocal exercises’ for my individual singers. I don’t want to teach via zoom, as singing teaching is about how the body works as an instrument, and it just doesn’t work well for me via zoom. I also don’t want to be stuck behind a computer all day every day!
Are there any resources that have been useful for you to continue your work?
Zoom for video meetings. Youtube for putting up videos. I’m keeping tech simple as many of my singers are older.
Did the pandemic and lockdown affect your income? How have you managed to live financially during this period? Did any public or private entity help you financially? Or did the help, if any, came from other sources or networks?
I am being paid to keep doing two of my singing groups (for Dementia and Parkinson’s) on video. I have set up a ‘donation’ button on my website and have been sharing videos and songs there for people to access for free. Plenty of people have been generous with donations, which has helped a lot. I was also in receipt of a UK government payment for self-employed people.
How are you getting back into business?
Keeping going like this, for now, will reflect in the Autumn when we know more. Likely to facilitate some outdoor singing in the Autumn but not start face to face singing groups again until 2021. We will likely need bigger rooms, open windows etc. and this will be more expensive to run groups.
What are the things coming up that you are enthusiastic about?
Organising local and international communities in creative ways.
What scares you about what comes next? How are you overcoming these fears?
I am scared at the capitalist backlash that will follow this time. I hope we can build a better way to be a society. Also, how will we be able to show international solidarity with so much less movement? I hope I can go back to Palestine someday and make myself useful and visit friends. I hope that my friends with family in other countries are able to reconnect soon, but that we can change the way we do things globally so that the climate and social justice can be addressed urgently across the world.
If you have to give a piece of advice to other women working in similar things as you today, what would that be?
Roll with it! I keep a marble in my pocket to remind me that ‘our heads are round so that our thoughts can change direction’, which is a quote from the French artist Francis Picabia. I find it to be useful advice always, and never more so than now. We do what we can from where we stand. That is all.
Interview by Eileen Karmy on 11 June 2020
*Penny Stone is a songleader, community musician, songwriter, singer and activist. She runs various community choirs and health groups in Edinburgh. Penny also teaches individuals and sometimes do one-off workshops, and makes scratch choirs happen in different environments with one or two rehearsals. She is part of the Natural Voice Network and the Campaign Choirs Network. On her website, she has put together various resources that might be useful for people interested in singing, teaching, songs and activism: https://singlouderthanguns.com/resources/