Musical Bridges Around the World wants to shine a spotlight on volunteer and UTSA Music Marketing student Rolando Ramon, who participated in a concert focus group for our latest February 2021 concert, Harp vs. Harp. Rolando went above and beyond, producing an in-depth review of the concert, not only praising the production but providing a noteworthy critique. Read the full review below!

Virtual Concert Review: Harp vs. Harp

by Rolando Ramon 

 I’ve become familiar with the digital concert format throughout the pandemic and the problem with a number of these is that the idea of providing a live music experience via computer screen is a rough concept due to the nature of its presentation lacking essential elements of attending a live concert. Some of these elements cannot be recreated virtually in realistically viable ways (physically being in the environment of a live venue, socializing in person, being close to the performers) that sufficiently mimic the real life experience. However, this Harp vs. Harp utilizes other methods in order to achieve the same effect that those elements create, which is a sense of personal connection to the experience.

Where this video shines is with its implementation of high quality recordings and interviews combined with the more “raw” ZOOM sessions and intimate performances, as well as the general good spirits and welcoming energy radiating from the musicians. The presentation’s ability to be personal with its audience is what made it more engaging than other virtual performances that were either solely just a concert without the interviews, or simply too polished to seem genuine enough to create the same effect that attending a show in-person. A prime example of this would be when Edward Castañeda is playing “Colibri” on his harp in a ZOOM session and laughs off a wrong note. All musicians make mistakes in live performances, but not (always)because they are ill-prepared or incompetent, but because they are human. Humanity is a keyword when creating content to engage viewers, because it is what makes us all related in some way to each other and things that we are able to see ourselves in are easier for us to connect to. Laughter, for instance, may be one of the most identifying characteristics of humanity. What made this one moment more humorous was the fact that the rest of the performance was seemingly flawless and an engaging display of virtuosity, and Castañeda even blazed through the music as he laughed over his mistake. Personally, I felt this portion of the video was its strongest and most engaging point, but that’s not to take away from the higher quality performances.

Starting the video off with a full live performance might seem ideal to set the premise of a music based experience, but I believe starting off with an interview proved to be more effective. I got to meet the musicians and in this case, their personalities drew me in before the music. I will say, not all musicians may have this same effect and certain audience groups may be more or less engaged with different personality types, but these two in particular, plus the vocalist Andrea Tierra, had personalities that simply worked with creating a connection to me personally. But it was the performance following this initial interview portion that really opened the floodgates. The selection of music and the chemistry between the group was mesmerizing, immersive, and it radiated off of them enough to create an environment entirely out of music. To be rather poetic in describing the experience, it was as if the trio was the room and the music defined the dimensions of said room. The ambience created by the harp combined with the trade-off/echo happening between the harmonica and vocalist created an experience that skyrocketed my level of engagement.

After this initial segment, I did feel as though the video lost a little momentum. Even though the ZOOM interview and performance in the second half of the video were a strong point, the second interview in the video’s first half dragged on just a little too long to describe the musicians’ backgrounds. And although performing with Sir Elton John certainly is a feat that is once in a lifetime for most, I felt as though that point detracted from what I perceived the video’s focus to be on, which is how Edward’s harp and musical background melds and contrasts with Gregoire’s harmonica. This idea is better explored in the latter half of the video.

 I also felt as though the second performance was not as engaging as the first. The first performance was intimate and immersive, and while the second was equally as impressive, it didn’t quite resonate as strongly as the first. There are a multitude of reasons this may be, a few being the size difference of the group performing, different mic set-ups, and a difference in style as well, with the first being slow and romantic while the second was rather upbeat and very swingy. I felt it didn’t quite have the intimacy that the first did, which is the main reason why I was able to get lost in the first performance. It felt as though I was watching a concert that already took place rather than feeling as though I was right in the center of the music, in that same room. Even though the entire video is pre-recorded material, there were big moments where it truly became immersive and personal as a live performance might be. I’m sure some of this may be a subjective matter as well. From what I can draw thus far however, capturing intimacy and immersion seems to be best for keeping an audience engaged.

The second half is a very strong note to conclude on, taking the viewer up close to the musicians. Though the credits is probably where the majority of viewers will exit simply due to it being the credits, the video performance at the end was quite lovely and very much in the spirit of today’s world, perhaps giving an offering of hope to better days ahead. Overall, the documentary was a strong showing and hit the nail spot on the head when it took the audience to the personal level of the musicians and emulated that up close feeling of a live concert.The video analytics will have more accurate insight, but based on my personal reaction, it seems a formula for an engaging online experience may have revealed itself within this musical documentary.