“Hello Gwendolyn! This is Etienne. We are two violinists traveling and performing for employees of organic farm and wineries,” read the text. Friends of mine told Etienne I helped harvest grapes at Clos des Amis Winery on South Mountain above Santa Paula in Ventura County’s Heritage Valley. “Maybe we could join too, play, capture some images? We make videos of our encounters and about the craft and life of the artisans we meet.”
What would you do as a violinist if a pandemic cancels your concerts? Buy and renovate a 1971 VW bus, take your show on the road, of course, and make videos!
At least that’s what Los Angeles based violinists Etienne Gara and YuEun Gemma Kim decided to do. And now their 14 episode series Delirium Musicum’s MusiKaravan is nominated in the category “Best Streaming Series 2020-2021” in this year’s Audience Choice Awards of the San Francisco Classical Voice! And I’d like to encourage you to CAST YOUR VOTE HERE so Delirium Musicum’s MusiKaravan will win!
“Delirium Musicum won this award in 2019-2020 for “Best Early Music/Baroque Performance”, and to be nominated again, this time with such an important project as MusiKaravan is a beautiful sign of recognition for something that took our hearts and lives for 1 year, more so, a very special and unique year that changed our lives,” said Etienne Gara in a recent email. “To be nominated with MusiKaravan is particularly beautiful because it was such a bet for Delirium Musicum to start this project against all odds, but its humanness and artistic meaningfulness was specially important during these times of hardship, where music can make a difference in accompanying, bringing comfort to people, and bring them together in unprecedented times.”
The MusiKaravan project, continued Etienne, “turned a challenging moment into beautiful human connections and discoveries beyond all possible boundaries like social, cultural, religious, ethnic, and beyond. Music was the element to made this experience possible, and that brought so much preciousness to each interaction that was made possible through this journey.”
Here’s an early teaser (much of it produced in my driveway!) featuring video from that fateful day when we met in September 2020:
It’s important to violinists Etienne Gara and YuEun Gemma Kim that they share their journey with as many people as possible, because they want to inspire people beyond the limits of geography.
“This is how we got into filming our adventures,” reported Etienne. It took them five months to edit the fourteen videos that make up the first season and which have been presented by The Soraya, where Etienne has been named Artist in Residence. “We hope our story can inspire others to reach out to the people that populate the world with us. There are so many beautiful things to share, and it’s amazing to learn about other customs and traditions.”
MusiKaravan’s story has been picked up by many NPR stations and media outlets, and this is hopefully just the beginning of a long and inspiring journey.
Here’s the finished episode from the day we met:
Amazing, isn’t it?
Voting ends Wednesday August 18th, at 9PM (Pacific Time) but there’s no better time than the present to VOTE! In their first season, Delirium Musicum streamed 14 video episodes of MusiKaravan, presented by The Soraya, and which share their musical journey during their life-changing road trip traveling from the Mexican to the Canadian border.
During the pandemic, they traveled along the west coast staying at wineries and driveways of VW van afficiados as well as campgrounds. That’s how I ended up meeting them and loading them and their gear plus my cattle dog in my Honda CRV one smoky September morning early on their adventure where they played music in the Malbec for crews of harvesters, and then writing about them for the VC Reporter, making the cover!
During their trip, they spread music, made new friends, and celebrated those working hard.
“What struck us most was the friendliness and sense of community of everyone,” said Gara. “Everyone knew someone who knew someone, and we could just follow the trail of word of mouth and meet amazing people, who opened the doors of their ‘home.’”
By home Gara means not where people live and sleep, but the places that are dear. “The beautiful nature of Ventura County made great harmony with our music,” said Kim. “The birds, the leaves rustling in the wind, and dogs made a natural acoustic background for the violins.”
A few weeks later, I connected MusiKaravan with Jim Morris VP of Guest Relations at Charles Krug where hundreds of first responders and PG & E utility workers established a tent city to operate out of during the recovery– where they would eat, sleep, shower during the duration.
The idea was for MusiKaravan to perform for the workers. Except when MusiKaravan arrived in their 71 VW bus, most everyone was in the field: the low humidity and high temperatures were a recipe for disaster of the fire kind.
Not to worry: they were able to brighten the day of many while they visited.
And now I want to drink and tell you all about the Charles Krug Malbec, but I will be patient– I heard there may be a CD coming out!! (Read about the 2016 Charles Krug Cabernet Sauvignon Cold Springs Vineyard Howell Mountain, Napa Valley here; and here you’ll find our article about my 2019 visit to Charles Krug along with tasting notes and pairings.)
So who is MusiKaravan?
Raised in France, violinist Etienne Gara played on Leonard Cohen’s last album and created Sketches of Miles, inspired by the work of Miles Davis. Since 209, he served as Artist in Residence at USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute where he recorded his French Recital CD on the Leonora Jackson Stradivarius from 1714. A graduate of the New England Conservatory, Etienne studied with Donald Weilerstein, Midori, and Itzhak Perlman.
Through Gara’s studies with Midori at USC he met YuEun Gemma Kim. Raised in Seoul, Kim earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s in violin performance from Seoul National University, then graduated with her Artist Diploma as a Starling Fellow on full scholarship from the USC-Thornton School of Music. A YouTube superstar, Kim has 6.6 million views for her “Chopin : Nocturne in c sharp minor for violin and piano” which is part of her project to arrange Chopin for violin. According to Midori, “YuEun possesses an incredible passion for the violin. She is a driven, committed player with a unique personality and voice.”
After doing courtyard concerts for socially distanced audiences as well as a Delirium Musicum performance of “Ciao Bella” from The Money Heist recorded on iPhones on three continents, they came up a new plan: Travel from place to place to play their violins in vineyards and perform fugues on farms, COVID compliant, and camping on site in their VW van. They would take photos and videos and share their journey on social media.
MusiKaravan is a side project for Delirium Musicum, of which Etienne is artistic director and YuEun is a founding member. Delirium Musicum’s purpose is to “Envision a world that is inspired by the ecstatic interpretation of music!” With MusiKaravan, they continue to achieve the goal of Delirium Musicum: to build a special bond with its audience, to bring joy, and to inspire people through music.
“We delighted in their vision to hit the road and play music alfresco for the joy of laborers in the orchards, fields, and vineyards. It sent us back to the time when our lives could be the freedom to have a plan to have no plan,” recalled Clos des Amis co-owner and co-winemaker Gretel Mays Compton. “We like to invite our Amis to help pick the grapes at harvest and do winery tasks such as bottle wine. There are often new faces that show up unexpectedly and when Etienne and YuEun Gemma drove up in their perfectly restored VW Vanagan, it caught Bruce’s attention instantly” bringing him back to the time when he’d restored his VW van.
“Many cultures have harvest songs, songs they can sing together in the vineyards to make the centuries old ritual of picking grapes a more enjoyable shared task,” reflected Freeman.
“Having MusiKaravan play their beautiful violins in the vineyard for our 2020 harvest transcended time and place to help lighten the load of every bucket of grapes we picked,” said Compton. “They made our Malbec harvest a memorable experience and the wine we are crafting from those grapes promises perfection!”
Now it’s harvest time again! If you’d like to join our circle of friends, find Clos des Amis and like them on Facebook for notices of events.
So what’s next for MusiKaravan?
“We have many ideas about how and where to continue to film future episodes of MK, and we hope to partner with TV channels or companies like Netflix or Hulu to materialize these projects,” said Etienne by email. “For now, we are finally preparing for live concerts again, and we’ll be touring with Delirium Musicum in November in Arizona, as well as recording in January for a major record label.”
REMEMBER: Vote for MusiKaravan for “Best Streaming Series 2020-2021” at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/7XBB5C5