Wilton violinist finds new audience streaming on YouTube and Twitch

At the beginning of this year, the string quartet PUBLICQuartet had reached a high point in its career after having its album “Freedom and Faith” nominated for a classical Grammy Award. When co-founder Nick Revel attended the awards ceremony in January, he had no way of knowing that in just a few weeks time, the entire music industry would be suffering from the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak. Although PUBLICQuartet didn’t win the award, the nomination itself was significant, and the group had upcoming tours booked throughout the country for later in the year.

The virus outbreak changed all that, and PUBLIQuartet’s tour was called off. However, its performances were made available online as part of a “Music for Quarantine” series the group posted on YouTube. Likewise, Revel began to make and teach music virtually by using Twitch, Zoom and other online platforms to carry on his work as a performer and educator. Revel also continued in his roles as executive director and music director of the Norwalk Youth Chamber Ensembles and board member of Seabury Academy, a music and arts nonprofit in residence at St. Paul’s Church in Norwalk. In addition, he and his wife ran a virtual summer music camp from their home in Sunnyside, Queens. The violinist-composer and Wilton High School graduate recently took time to discuss how he has adapted his musical career to the pandemic.

Mike Horyczun: As a professional musician, how has this pandemic changed you and how has it affected your colleagues?

Nick Revel: The pandemic has crushed the live music and entertainment industry. For the past four months, there have been no concerts or recording sessions in real life. Luckily, my wife Nora and I are also both music educators, and we feel highly fortunate to have had remote teaching work to keep us afloat. As for my colleagues, some are desperate, especially those who made their income from performances alone, particularly tenure orchestral or Broadway musicians. Those who have managed to stay afloat are those who have a patchwork of part-time jobs, recording, performing, teaching, or as administrators.

MH: How have you adapted to teaching remotely?

NR: My chamber program, Norwalk Youth Chamber Ensembles, would meet every week to rehearse works of some of the great composers, until March 13. Since then, we’ve done activities remotely that include music exposure and history, improvisation, remote recording, music theory, recording technique, music editing, and composition. We met in small groups on Zoom, and I used my skills as a recording engineer to help them with all things music tech. The last project involved each student recording a multitrack improvisational composition. We celebrated the creations in a final listening party over Zoom in lieu of a recital, and the results are posted online at nickrevel.com/nyce.

MH: What is the status of the Norwalk Youth Chamber Ensemble now?

NR: I am planning on doing another year starting in September following whatever guidelines for safety I need to. There will be an understanding within my program that when meeting in person is not possible or safe, we will meet virtually and continue our learning as we did this year.

MH: What is Twitch, and how are you using this platform for your music?

NR: Twitch is an online platform designed originally for gamers to livestream their gameplay to whatever viewers are present. It’s free for both streamers and viewers. The viewers are able to interact with the streamer via a chat message box right in the video player, so real-time interaction is possible. Twitch provides the ability to stream in high-quality audio and video, which is far superior to Zoom. I have had a number of performances on Twitch now because I was burning to perform something and stay active. My electroacoustic set “Letters to My Future Self” worked perfectly for the streaming situation. I’ve also experimented with live-looping and live-arranging.

MH: Does the Seabury Academy of Music and the Arts have any plans to hold events or concerts in the fall or winter?

NR: So far there are no official plans, although just in the last couple weeks I’ve seen ensembles in NYC starting to meet. Even PUBLIQuartet will be meeting in socially distanced ways for recording. The fall remains largely unknown and is dependent on how many people continue to wear their masks during the various phases of reopening. If we’ve learned anything from Florida and Texas, it’s that masks work. The programming for our young ones depends on it.