Art in the time of COVID-19: Tara McGovern

Tara McGovern plays just inside the entrance to her home teaching studio. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

Today is St. Patrick’s Day. It’s been my favorite holiday since childhood, and a big part of that has always been the music, the love of which was passed down from my mother and grandmother right along with the family lore and recipes. That music, at least the live version of it, will be largely silent today, because of the impact that COVID-19 is having on our community and the world.

When fiddle player Tara McGovern announced on Facebook on the morning of March 13 that she was canceling all of her upcoming gigs, it was the first such post from an individual artist that I’d seen. It helped drive the reality of this crisis home for me, and (once my head cleared from our whirlwind production weekend for the current issue, on stands today) it inspired me to start this series. A musician specializing in Irish music walking away from gigs during the height of demand, just four days before St. Patrick’s Day, was the bravest thing I’d yet seen, and I knew that I had to find a way for Little Village to highlight the musicians and other artists struggling, many with no social safety net, during the worst part of the impact of this pandemic. If you would like to recommend someone to be featured in this space, please reach out to me.

Tara McGovern, fiddler

Tara McGovern has been a professional musician for the past 26 years, since she was a teenager — though she first picked up a fiddle at age 3 1/2. She has a degree in music therapy from the University of Iowa and is a neurodiversity advocate. McGovern’s performed with Taylor Mac and Foreigner, as well as with her many local collaborators. She also teaches fiddle and piano lessons at McGovern Music Studio in Coralville.

Last month, her band Coppers & Brass collaborated with Champagne Irish Dance studio on “Feet of a Dancer.” The proceeds from that single were directed, in their entirety, to United Action for Youth. You can see a “making of” preview of this single below.

Normally, over the month of March, she would make an average of $3,200 as a musician. (“That’s in no way a usual month in the year,” she notes. “March is my most lucrative month by miles.”)

Current associated acts: Coppers & Brass (traditional Irish), the Soft and Low (folk-rock duo, with Jeffrey C. Capps), Hot Tamale Louie (multimedia jazz ensemble), Family Folk Machine (intergenerational community choir) and Champagne Céilí Band


Purchase: via CDBaby (all linked here)

How many gigs have you canceled or had cancel on you since serious social distancing kicked in?

Eight canceled gigs and 96 canceled music lessons between now and April 13 (projected date; could still change). My partner just got permission to move his work home and he will need to work in the space where I usually teach so it’s not likely that I’ll be in a position to accommodate online lessons in any real sense.

Where do pandemics rank, on your list of primal fears?

I’ve been privileged to have never considered it a fear before now. Even now it’s not the pandemic that scares me. It’s our devastated infrastructure and a dangerous portion of citizens’ cavalier approach to public health.

What is the role of art in a crisis?

I can think of no wiser words than those of UI film professor Christopher Harris: “The arts are the reason we want to make it to the next day. They are what’s worth living for.”

What’s your favorite corny aphorism that you find actually helpful?

I’ve always liked “love what is” and it still feels true.

How can we help?

I’m lucky to have a safety net and good neighbors and I hope we can all continue to be good neighbors to each other by listening to each other’s stories and meeting each other’s needs.

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