Percussionist, conductor and teacher Monette Marino, 52, is the founder of seven-year-old Mo’Rhythm from San Diego. Percussion school. Her most recent recording is the 2020 single, “Sira”.

My last gig before the lockdown was, strangely, Friday March 13, 2020. I was playing with guitarist Bruno Serrano and my 13-year-old daughter, Nasira Keita – she’s an aspiring percussionist – at Hacienda de Vega, a Mexican restaurant in Encinitas. It was our third time playing there and it was significantly less crowded than usual.

The people who came that night weren’t afraid of spreading germs. They danced, laughed, sang, hugged and did not seem concerned for their health or safety. And the group aimed to create this festive atmosphere for the audience. At the end of our concert, almost everyone in the restaurant was dancing, singing and clapping to the Gipsy Kings song “Bamboleo”.

The best part of the concert was that I got to play music with my daughter and watch her immerse herself in the music, play congas, cajon and bongos. She experienced how music brings joy to the world and brings people together. This was just the start of our family musical adventures, and we looked forward to playing together more often.

But that wasn’t in the cards for 2020. We all knew the coronavirus was present in the United States, but it was still quite far from our personal experiences, so it was more of a distant concern. I remember having a glass of tequila at the end of the gig with the guitarist, and we jokingly said that at least the drink would kill all the germs in our system.

On average, I usually played 12 to 16 concerts a month, before the pandemic. All have been lost due to the pandemic. The shutdown not only interrupted our musical momentum, it stifled our motivation, raised doubts as to whether or not music was a viable career choice and most importantly, cost me a lot of my income. I had to quickly find an alternative.

I’m just a percussionist, which isn’t really conducive to live solo performances online. I decided to focus on teaching rather than performance. My daughter and I did a series of YouTube videos that we called “Djembe & Dunun Challenges” and asked for donations, but it didn’t generate much income. So, I jumped on the Zoom platform and reorganized my classes to work virtually.

As a result, I expanded my student base beyond San Diego and gained students from all over the United States and overseas. Before the pandemic, I taught an in-person class every week at Encinitas, which had an average of eight to ten students. Online I now teach two lessons per week with an average of 12 to 16 students, plus six to 10 one-to-one lessons with students from all over the world.

Beyond that, closing has helped me rebalance and redefine my life’s priorities. It really became evident how much I was running around town, filling every second of my day to and from concerts, teaching, rehearsing, etc. Not having to do this allowed me to focus on my personal health and happiness and to spend family time with my daughter. For this I am grateful.

There is no substitute for playing live, and I miss it with all my heart. Above all, I miss the connections and the energy exchange that takes place between musicians and between musicians and the audience. I miss making people smile and feeling that warmth of sharing my joy when I play.

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