#BeKind21: Keep the Music Playing

September 21, 2020

Erica Mancini is a freelance multi-instrumentalist (accordion/vocals/percussion/keys) based in NYC, who has performed at venues ranging from Lincoln Center, The Museum of Natural History and The Whitney Museum of Modern Art to DIY art parties in Brooklyn warehouses.

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When COVID-19 hit NYC in March and I immediately had a three-month-long contracted gig I had been planning for months get canceled, it started to sink in how real all of this was. Aside from how scary the virus is, I started to fear that I might not be able to be a full-time musician ever again, which broke my heart.

I’ve been a professional musician for the past 10 years in NYC, with the accordion being my main instrument. I always thought that the prospect of being a professional musician was unrealistic and unavailable to me because of how fiercely competitive and difficult it is to “make it.” I thought it was a pipe dream until I met a bunch of working musicians in the city and realized it could be a potential reality for me. From my very first gig with a jazz band, where I took my first baby steps as an improviser, to performing memorized passages in operas and musicals onstage, to learning polka and country western repertoire, to booking shows with experimental rock projects and composing avant-garde accordion music, I fell in love with the life of being a musician.

(Courtesy of Daniel Murtagh)

Going from a lifestyle where I was playing four to eight shows a week (and of course going to hear other peoples’ performances several times a week in addition to that), to having all the music stop so abruptly was an extremely overwhelming place to be emotionally. I then got sick with COVID-19, along with my boyfriend (now fiancé!), which was one of the most intense experiences of my life. Once I recovered, I made it my full-time mission to research what support I could find for struggling musicians like myself. It was a time of total desperation and extreme anxiety, not just because of the current state of my city and life, but also because of how the fragile beams that hold our world together, the one that allows for people to make a living off of their art and music, were exposed for how frail they really are. It was all going to come crashing down.

In my online search, I found MusiCares, a nonprofit dedicated to helping musicians in times of need. I applied for their COVID-19 Relief grant, and received the money, which was a crucial buffer against the unknown of when I could work again. The grant came before unemployment started to come in, and it was a total lifeline. The grants that I received – from MusiCares and other organizations – provided me with the resources to cover my monthly bills and was money that I could live off of as my income from gigs was totally wiped out. It also gave me some sense of security during such an uncertain time.

The MusiCares grant, along with many other blessings, including my wonderful landlord who has helped me immensely, has given me so much hope because I have seen how the music community but also others have reached out and helped musicians, who are so often overlooked. It has really helped heal my soul knowing that somebody out there actually cares about musicians, and they went out of their way to ensure we were being taken care of.

I’m hopeful for the future, as life is slowly starting to show signs of recovery in NYC, as we adapt to our new, strange normal. Though it took a few months, I am thriving again, and starting back up some masks-on, socially-distanced, outdoor gigs. I just played in a free Stoop Music series, in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with a six-piece Peruvian surf band, composed an experimental electronic set for an art gallery opening, have been doing a solo residency on Fridays at Sunny’s in Red Hook. Honestly, I am trying to cram in as many gigs as I can before it gets too cold!

The whole experience turned my life upside down, but also put a lot of things into perspective—what is important to me and what I value in my life.  We are now more than halfway through 2020, and hopefully the worst is behind us. I look optimistically into the future as we continue to heal, grow, and adapt, and no matter what the future brings, we will never stop the music from playing.

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