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If a band gives a stellar performance and there’s no one around to hear it — or a painter creates a glorious picture that sits in a corner unseen — is it still art? Sure. But what a tragedy, for artist and audience alike.

Yet how, exactly, are artists supposed to connect with an audience — especially a paying audience — in the middle of a pandemic? Not all of them have the marketing skills or technical equipment to sell tickets, take payments online, or set up a performance with good lighting, audio and the kind of professional presentation their fans are going to rightfully expect.

That was the reality facing a group of musicians and support workers when the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra canceled the majority of its performances in 2020, leaving them without paychecks or a venue in which to perform.

“We wondered how could we stay connected with local audience members and community and still bring quality music performances in this time of separateness,” said violinist Ian Jessee who founded the Allianz Music Ensemble and, with other musicians, created The Great Composers Concert Series.

They envisioned a live, interactive performance that would allow viewers to watch and then interact with performers in a live stream afterwards. Like getting a personal invitation to go backstage and meet the stars, without the crowds.

They turned to the Charleston Creativity Connection’s Mini-Grant program, which aims to support Charleston-area artists by helping bring art-focused projects to life.

With additional assistance from FestivALL, the $5,000 grant helped fund three performances — one still to come — and paid musicians, as well as videographers and production specialists.

The “Magic of Mozart” was pre-recorded at Christ Church United Methodist with a live, online reception that followed on Oct. 11 for anyone who donated at least the $15 price of one ticket. It was a chance for audience members to ask questions, for example, about the “singer’s mask” work by soprano Ashley Dannewitz Miller.

Roughly 3,000 people tuned in to the first performance, with an additional 400 viewers since then. Twenty donors joined the musicians for the live reception, including an 8-year-old who asked how the soprano knew when to come in when she wanted to sing.

“Heights of Haydn” was performed in the same venue on Nov. 15 with Jessee telling viewers, “Ask us questions in the live chat. Send us applause emojis. Make a request for future programming, anything you want. We want to hear from you,” before encouraging them to “grab that comfy blanket, pillow, relax, kick back.”

The third and final part of the series, “Beauty of Brahms,” will be held January. To learn more about Allianz Music Ensemble’s Great Composers Concert Series and to watch previous concerts in the series, visit

Charleston Creativity Connections’ mini-grants are available for visual, music, performing, literary and culinary arts. Individual artists and community-based organizations with an idea for such a project can apply for up to $5,000 at

Bryan Cooper is the Charleston Creativty Connections’ Creativity Connector. He can be reached at