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The Shed's new digital commission addresses mourning in the time of COVID-19
Troy Anthony and Jerome Ellis, Up Close #3: Passing Notes (2020, music by Troy Anthony and Jerome Ellis, lyrics by Jerome Ellis). Video still courtesy The Shed.

NEW YORK, NY.- In Passing Notes, musicians Troy Anthony and Jerome Ellis create a virtual sanctuary on the Zoom digital platform in which the public is invited to participate in a collaborative ritual loosely based on the seven stages of grief. The two have composed original music and text, collaborating as if passing notes to each other at school. For one evening only, on Sunday, May 17 at 6 pm ET, the artists will open a space for participants to honor the healers in our communities, address the racialized and gendered injustices exposed by the coronavirus, mourn those who have died during the COVID-19 crisis, and celebrate new habits, practices, and relationships that have been born during this time.

Passing Notes is the third installment of Up Close, The Shed’s digital commissioning program. The concept arose out of a conversation between the artists and The Shed shortly after Ellis’s grandfather passed due to complications from COVID-19. Like many families, Ellis’s relatives have not been able to hold a funeral due to restrictions on gatherings, and Anthony and Ellis began to question how they could intentionally and creatively use Zoom to bring grieving loved ones together. Inspired by sources including Assata Shakur’s poem “Affirmation” and the hymn “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” with original music and text composed for this event, the artists have imagined a new way to use online communication platforms as alternative spaces for collective mourning.

“The ritual we have created with Passing Notes explores the same elements of ritual that you’d find in a theater or concert hall or a sanctuary, but in a virtual space. It’s rooted in our superpower to connect with each other in deep and meaningful ways,” said Troy Anthony. “A part of healing is not only understanding how we are traumatized at this moment but also how we find hope. How does this crisis realign our own value practices?”

Jerome Ellis added: “We are making space for people to remember loved ones at a time when it’s not possible to come together. As a medicine, music can treat many forms of pain and trauma, not just what we are experiencing at this moment. It is my hope that the recorded artifacts that remain from Passing Notes are accessible to people six months, five years from now, in healing ways I could never imagine.”

Passing Notes is intended to be experienced as a live, participatory event, making space to share grief in real-time while separated from each other. Documentation of the ritual will be posted online so that future visitors might use these digital artifacts to build on the artists’ intention in the work.

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