This is the second story in a row that came about through my connection with The Bluz Junky, a gentleman deeply committed to the blues music community. He gave me an email address for Michael Beling, a Bates College piano and organ instructor, who is doing weekly concerts — titled “Once More, with Beling” — on his Facebook page, and considering the state of affairs with the lack of live music availability a phone interview was arranged with this talented artist. I called him April 10 in the late afternoon at his home in Falmouth.
Beling: Is this Lucky … how are you doing?

Q: Not too bad. Is this a good time to chat?
Beling: It’s a good time — I just finished teaching some online lessons, ate some food, and I’m good to go.

Q: All the essentials are covered. Now, usually I do interviews with artists who are going to be having concerts in local venues, needless to say, in these times that’s not possible, right?
Beling: Yeah, we’re all doing the best we can.

Q: Well, to prepare for this interview I’ve been watching the videos, to get the feeling for what you do. I would imagine, though — in this case of live streaming — you’ll be performing solo?
Beling: Yes, it’s a solo performance, and I’m fortunate in that, as you might have noticed in the videos, that I can play bass lines with my feet …

Q: Yeah.
Beling: In the current situation that is a great benefit (laughter). I’ve been experimenting, though not on all songs, with using a drum loop application to give me some rhythmic elements. You see, I do a real mix of stuff. I do some straight-ahead jazz, some stuff that’s kind of a mix with different types of world music, and I really like funk a lot, too. So certainly for that stuff I’m using drum loops some of the time.

Q: You’re primarily a keyboardist, correct?
Beling: Yeah, I’ve been playing a mix of organ, electric piano and piano and then bass with my feet.

Q: When will these performances be happening and where can folks find them?
Beling: They’ll be happening on my Facebook page which is — I stream right on to there. You do not need a Facebook account in order to view them because you can access public Facebook pages without a Facebook account, so that’s one benefit. I’m performing every Saturday from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Eastern. I’ve been doing that two weeks in a row now and will continue to do so. Another thing, if people can’t catch me during that time slot, the videos are kept up so people can see them even after the performance. I like performing live, and if people are there when it’s live I’m able to interact with them — they can comment on the video, and I’m able to respond to that in between songs — have some banter with the audience.

Q: That’s nice. You’re the first person I’ve talked with that’s keeping the shows up and having an interaction with the viewers — very cool. Now, how do you go about putting together a set list? As a solo performer I guess you can just go with whatever moves you at the moment.
Beling: Yeah, and I will say traditionally in my shows I’m not always great at sticking to a set list. I work with musicians that are very flexible (laughter). I usually have a pool of songs from which I’m going to play — I don’t always know the order — but I’ve been approaching it that way, too. I’m primarily focusing on my original compositions. I have a fair amount, and I really enjoy playing them.

Q: Are there any benefits to this “new normal” for you?
Beling: I think one advantage, if you’re looking for a silver lining of this situation, is because it’s just me performing my own music I can jump from genre to genre pretty easily, so it’s given me a lot of flexibility. Also, I don’t want to mess too much with copyright law with performing videos online, so I’m trying to stick to original compositions and public domain stuff like old jazz and blues standards from the ’20s. I’ve also played some hymns, and I like gospel music so I have some of that stuff.

Q: Do you ever get into the vocal end of things, seeing you’re playing hymns and gospel music?
Beling: I’m starting to, and this pandemic is pushing me into that. I have some singing background, but I’ve never really emphasized it that much. But I did last week, I sang a couple of old blues standards, and I’m taking vocal lessons now online starting next week. So, I’m going to try to work more and more of that into my performances.

Q: Another thing I wanted to ask deals with your teaching — could you explain that a little more?
Beling: I teach online piano lessons. I have converted my bedroom into a teaching and performing studio. I’ve got a keyboard I teach on; I’ve got my organ with its pedal set-up; I’ve got cameras and mic stands and lights (laughter) — I’ve made a rapid change into this. I’ve been doing only online teaching since March 15 and will continue at least until things are safe for in-person teaching. And that’s good because it’s actually expanding the people I can teach. It’s mostly been local people, but I can teach people from different parts of the country or world through video conferencing, so it expands the possibilities for me.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to have passed on to the folks reading this article?
Beling: I’d just encourage people to do what they can to bring positivity into their own and others lives, and try to have some fun every day.

Lucky Clark has spent over 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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