WHITMAN-HANSON EXPRESS – For many performing artists, the COVID-19 pandemic meant more than an inconvenience — it interrupted a major source of their income.
But for Whitman musicians Jon and Juli Finn, it also created opportunities to explore new avenues of teaching, and composing new music. They are also preparing for a performance — Great Guitar Night — from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m., Friday, Nov. 5 at the Regent Theatre, 7 Medford St., Arlington. The gathering of Boston’s finest performing guitar artists and educators, including the Jon Finn Group will primarily feature Jon’s compositions which he describes as progressive instrumental rock — with some classical blues and jazz influences. Tickets are $30 plus a $3 fee online, by phone or at the box office
Vaccinations or a negative COVID test are required to attend.
“It appeals to a very specific group of people,” Jon said of his compositions, but with the Internet, he said one finds members of that very specific group all over the world.
“The people who do like it, love it, and the standard joke is anywhere in the world we go, there’s like three or four people in any given town that know who we are,” he said. “But that’s it.”
Generally his music is a philosophy of producing music that makes it impossible for the listener to determine if it is easy or difficult to play.
“What I want them to listen to is the story being told and all the emotions and feelings that go along with that,” he said.
Their strings want to resonate with your heartstrings in a way.
“I play all guitars,” Juli said over coffee at Whitman’s Restoration Coffee last week. “My main guitar is an electric guitar, though. The same with Jon. He’s a guitar professor.”
Jon said there is no appreciable difference between the way you play a six-string guitar vs a 12-string guitar.
“They’re different sounds,” he said.
Juli might add a four-string ukulele, which she has been teaching online during COVID. Something akin to “advanced plunking,” she said with a laugh.
“We did collaborative videos,” she said. “We did a few live streams.”
She said that she saw a lot of the trend of people spending the pandemic perfecting hobbies or trying new ones. So she offered a four-week beginner ukulele course, and a 2.0 intermediate course — “advanced plunking” — and Juli’s Ukulele Club.
“It was definitely a change,” she said. “We had to say, ‘Come on, let’s get busy,’ and do everything differently.”
For Jon, when COVID hit, his first job was to try to create a Zoom environment that allowed the best performances given the platform’s limitations. Minute time lags still exist and make live performances difficult, even while edited recordings can solve that problem.
“Instead of just becoming an awkward silence, the music just becomes out of sync,” he said. “I spent a lot of the pandemic trying to find the best way to present myself over a Zoom lesson, and I learned a couple of tricks along the way.”
The Finns both worked on improving video making skills. Jon said he wrote, authored, filmed, notated and released a video course called Blues Building Blocks.
Now, while they are, seeing more requests for gigs, they are also doing some artistic soul-searching, Juli said. After decades of performing other people’s work, she said they decided to concentrate more on writing their own music.
“This is our time to put out new music and record,” Juli said, adding they plan to produce a new album in the spring while she is working on her own project — a tribute to Bonnie Raitt.
“We’re hoping to come out of the pandemic with a more focused approach to what we’re doing,” Jon said.
Juli, who was born in South Africa and later moved to the United States, first living in Utah and then Colorado for many years. She moved to Tacoma, Wash., when she was 14 and later to Massachusetts to complete her degree in guitar performance at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. At the time, Jon said, Berklee was the only college in the United States offering any type of performance degree in electric guitar.
“At the time, it was not a real instrument in their eyes,” he said. During the national tour of “Rent,” Jon played guitar and keyboards at the Boston production at the Schubert Theatre for 228 performances.
“I had the show memorized after about a month and a half,” he said, but a week after it closed, he said he forgot most of it. “My brain kind of did a massive memory dump. … There’s always a lot of projects I’m doing, so once it’s in your rearview mirror, you get used to the idea that now you’re on to the next thing.”
While practice is alwys he said he accepts the fact that he will never be fully satisfied with what he does.
“You just try to get better at it,” he said.
Juli is currently working on her master’s degree in songwriting.
Berklee is also where she met Jon, who was a professor at Berklee — but she did not study with him. His degree is in traditional performance.
“Of course, there was some concern because that’s kind of a taboo in the college [world],” he said. Jon made sure his superiors knew of the relationship and that he was dating a student, but was not a professor in any of her classes.
“Of course, in his infinite wisdom, he said, ‘Is it Juli?’” Jon said with a laugh.
He grew up in Westwood, and lived in the Boston area before buying a house in Whitman.
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By Tracy F. Seelye