Relaxing on Betty Bloomquist’s backyard deck, Tamara Bertram, executive director of the Greater Grand Forks Symphony Orchestra, mentioned what a great spot it would be for her small, string groups to play.
It was the start of several pleasant, evening “concerts” that, by word of mouth, have attracted mostly retirees, many of whom have not gotten out of their homes for months.
The next one is set for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 23, at the Bloomquist home at 1119 Sunset Drive -- this time featuring Beatles and other popular tunes, including classic wedding music, performed probably by a string quartet, Bertram said. Everyone is welcome.
Bertram, a UND doctoral student in music, has been gathering small groups of four to six string players -- some are her students, others are music teachers or symphony members -- to play outdoors, for free, at the homes of residents willing to host them.
“It’s such a gift to have this music when none of us can get out,” Bloomquist said.
So far, the musicians have played classical music at these gatherings, she said.
“They’re kind of practicing, so they stop and re-do, and we are so much enjoying that. It’s as if we’re involved in their creation process, because they haven’t been able to rehearse -- and you’d think that wouldn’t make for a good concert, but it’s fun to see them. They’re enjoying each other’s mistakes and laughing.”
“They wouldn’t usually do that,” Bloomquist said, “but they have to, because they haven’t been able to rehearse for a while.”
On Friday, June 19, Bertram and three other string players -- on violin, viola and cello -- played melodies by Bach, Beethoven and Schumann, from a raised deck, for about three dozen attentive listeners seated in lawn chairs socially distanced.
“Isn’t this fun?” said Devera Warcup, as she poured herself a cup of coffee inside the garage where Bloomquist had also placed water, brownies and bars for guests. “And the weather is perfect, no wind.”
The backyard entertainment was most welcome, Warcup said, because she’s been cooped up at home for the most part -- not even grocery shopping, her adult “kids” pick up items for her.
Warcup relished the chance to hear talented, live musicians in person.
“The music scene has been so slight this summer,” she said. "(This gathering) is so casual, so relaxing -- even if you’re not close to people, you can still see there’s people.”
What makes this event so entertaining is the performers themselves, she said.
“It’s fun, because they’re having fun," she said.
Another such event was held recently at the home of Gwen Skjold, who lives in a townhouse in a cul de sac in south Grand Forks. People brought lawn chairs and practiced social distancing.
“We invited neighbors and a few people we know,” Bloomquist said. “We had about 20 (in the audience) that night.”
“People really enjoyed getting out,” said Bloomquist, noting that one of her friends who’s battling leukemia attended. “She said this is just so good for her; it was the first time she’s been out.”
Quarantining at home -- and the social isolation that results -- has been difficult for many seniors, she said, but she’s handled it better than she expected.
“I thought I’d lose my mind,” Bloomquist said. “I got through a series of books I never thought I’d get read.”
Another backyard concert, featuring folk music, is planned possibly in July at the home of Harry and Ruth Leichtner, Bloomquist said, but the date is not yet determined.