When you care to send the best, send music.
From murder hornets and killer caterpillars to so many hurricanes that they’re named after Greek letters, the self-isolation and quarantine-filled pandemic year of 2020 has been tough on everyone.
That may be where University of Virginia musical care packages come in.
The brainchild of President Jim Ryan and staff, the care packages are like those greeting cards that play snippets of favorite tunes. The difference is the packages provide the whole tune in tune and are recorded by real musicians.
The packages are created and delivered by University Records, a UVa organization made up of staff, students and community members. They are delivered for a small fee that is split between University Records and the Charlottesville Emergency Relief Fund for Artists, which helps to pay bills for musicians and artists in the community left financially stranded by COVID-related venue and gig closures.
“President Ryan is a big proponent of the arts, and he feels that they’re a way to bring people together. The pandemic has made performing difficult for musicians and just as difficult for audiences,” said harmonica player Matt Weber, senior special assistant.
The packages include recordings sent via internet or in-person performances in public settings on Grounds at a distance of 10 feet or more and with face masks. UVa’s COVID-19 rules prohibit students from entering others’ dorm buildings or private residences.
“They’re kind of like singing telegrams,” Weber said. “It’s a way to create moments of joy and being able to connect.”
Weber said Ryan’s support for the arts led to the president hosting the Arts on the Hill program this fall that brings musicians and artists to Carr’s Hill for virtual performances. That led to the care package idea.
“You have all these people who love to perform but who can’t and people who want to enjoy the performances but can’t,” Weber said. “There is a need to bring performance into people’s homes and a need for artists to perform. What we needed was a place to bring the performers and the audience together.”
The idea quickly led the president and staff to contact University Records, a sanctioned group of musicians, vocalists, rappers, songwriters, producers and graphic artists who support each other and create music.
“We had the idea and then the question was how do we put this together?” Weber recalled. “The first thought we had was call Veronica. We bet she’d know.”
That would be Veronica Merril, a guitarist, singer and fourth-year student majoring in architectural history and music. She was the creative force behind parts of UVa’s virtual graduation ceremony last spring.
“Matt contacted me because we have a precedent of working together and we have 300 musicians working with us,” Merril said. “Our club is comprised of people from all years, all majors, graduate students, staff, people from the community — anyone who loves to play.”
Picking a package is easy. First, determine what you want to send, say perhaps “Escape (The Pina Colada Song).” Go to the organization’s website at musiccarepackage.com and click on the order tab and follow the directions.
The request will be put on a list and participating musicians will record the song and send it out via the internet, or play it on Grounds.
“We have a bunch of different musicians who play different instruments and in different styles,” Merril said. “I’m sure there are some things we probably can’t do, but I think we have some talented people who can play just about anything.”
A virtual music care package runs $10. An in-person package costs $30. The money is split equally between University Records and the Charlottesville Emergency Relief Fund for Artists.
Sponsored by New City Arts and The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative, the fund had provided more than $48,000 to 167 area artists as of Sept. 10. The artists live in Charlottesville or Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa, or Nelson counties.
“We know the entire community is hurting during [the pandemic] and especially the artist community, and we wanted to do something for those who can no longer make their living,” Merril said. “The fund has done a lot to help artists in the area.”
The care packages are beginning to take off. One of the first was sent to Ryan, himself.
“I played ‘Thunder Road’ by Bruce Springsteen for him,” Merril said. “I changed the words to ‘Rugby Road’ and made it a bit of a spoof.”
Ryan said he hopes the care packages can keep musicians, artists and their audiences connected during COVID-19.
“While they may not look the same as they did eight months ago, I believe the arts remain an essential part of our human experience,” Ryan said. “These musical care packages are creatively connecting our community and spreading some joy, both of which are especially needed in this time of distance and uncertainty. Many thanks to all the students who are sharing their gifts and talents through this initiative.”