For many, one of the pandemic’s silver linings was extra family time. Quarantines, self-isolation, remote work, virtual schooling, and the prolonged domestic existence caused by the coronavirus – especially for musicians used to touring, live gigs, and studio work – forced artists to re-examine how they earned a living, and to develop new skills.
For classically-trained musicians (and SOCAN members) Drew Jurecka and wife Rebekah Wolkstein, who met in music college and perform together in the Payadora Tango Ensemble, this meant taking a deep dive into the unknown world of video production. They decided to take their three daughters along.
Thanks to his ongoing production work and a steady stable of clients, Jurecka, a veteran of the Toronto music scene – who’s written for or played on more than 150 albums, and created arrangements for artists ranging from Hailee Steinfeld and Dua Lipa to Bahamas and Royal Wood – already had a home studio built before the pandemic hit. So, he was kept busy. Meanwhile, Wolkstein saw her regular gigs vanish overnight. She was also tasked with helping her three daughters – Sylvie (8); Annie (6); and Maya (one-and-a-half) – complete their schoolwork. This left a void that she needed to fill. That’s how the Wolkstein Jurecka Family Orchestra was born.
Flash back to March 2020. When COVID-19 suddenly cancelled all of Wolkstein’s performances, she set about to create a family music video. The first was their take on the Shirley Temple tune, “An Old Straw Hat.”
“I’ve always loved jazz, and grew up with Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals and stuff from the Great American Songbook,” is how Wolkstein describes the choice. Drew produced, recorded and arranged the song while Rebekah filmed the video. Both created simple choreographed moves for the daughters. The response was overwhelming; the video has already eclipsed 15,000 views. Wolkstein was on to something. Not to mention, she was also having fun.
So, they made another video, “Like My Sister.” The mother of three wrote this original song in between nursing Maya. The composition speaks to the joys – and the pains – of sibling bonds. “Sylvie and Annie were fighting, and it got me thinking about their relationship,” says Wolkstein. “So, one night, rocking my baby to sleep with my iPhone in my hand, I typed out the lyrics. I had to edit it down and make sure it had the best rhyme scheme, but all the material came easily and straight from watching how my kids do, and do not, get along throughout the day.” In this newest video Sylvie and Annie play violin, piano, harp, and sing, while baby Maya also dances and sings along.
What’s next for the The Wolkstein Jurecka Family Orchestra? Wolkstein has already penned a new song: “Years from Today,” on how children yearn for adulthood and adults yearn for childhood, and just needs to rally the family together to shoot the video.
On top of the orchestra’s success, Jurecka recently received his first-ever Grammy nomination, for his string arrangement work on the Dua Lipa song, “Don’t Start Now.” During the pandemic, the married couple also found time to collaborate and co-write songs together for the first time. “This project has definitely brought us into a different creative sphere than we were in before the pandemic, which has been a lot of fun,” says Wokstein.
“What’s come out of this experience for Rebekah and I is that it gave us a framework to collaborate as creators of music,” says Jurecka. “We’ve always had a good collaborative relationship as players, and have worked together in groups, but we hadn’t really done any co-writing up to this point. We’ve even pitched a few kids’ TV shows, and landed one synch in a pilot – which I can’t name until it airs.”
Charmed listeners can support the family orchestra on Patreon.
Tango in the Dark
As if motherly tasks, writing songs in the middle of the night, and playing the odd virtual show weren’t enough, Jurecka and Wolkstein also made a film with their band (Payadora Tango Ensemble) and PointeTango – a group of talented ballet/tango dancers from Buenos Aires. Tango in the Dark features the dancing of Erin Scott-Kafadar and Alexander Richardson, and the score is original music composed by the ensemble. Richardson is also the director of the movie, which takes a journey into the shadows and the mysteries of the city, and tells a tale of two dancers moving to the rhythms of the night in the Argentine capital. You can stream the film online and pay what you can, and it’s also set to be part of various Fringe Festivals in 2021-22.