by Scott Sechman
September 18, 2020
I first encountered MaryAnn Toboz at a day-long jam session in Nags Head a couple of years ago. I was leaving and she was arriving, and I didn’t realize at the time that I’d been in touch with her before when she was a coordinator at Tidewater Arts Outreach, a nonprofit she started in 2003. I’d just recently arrived on the Outer Banks from California but having spent my formative years in the Tidewater area, I was looking for some way to get
my foot in a musical door in the Norfolk area. So, I contacted them to volunteer.
Fast forward a few months and I’m at another session at the same location, and there was Toboz playing harmonica with local blues woman Ruth Wyand. Then the professional jealousy (all musicians have it, whether they admit it or not) surfaced in me because she could play much better than me. What are ya gonna do? Love it or live with it, I’m over it now (insert winky emoji here). She’s currently playing with guitarist Cole Stevens in the delta blues duo Cole and MaryAnn.
Little did I know that she is much more than a harp player.
What has been the hardest part of dealing with the pandemic?
The hardest part has been the realization that our lives have been changed forever. Social institutions that we love and need for our well-being have been missing from our lives since March. I feel for the working parents with school-aged children and I grieve for the loss and isolation this has meant for older adults. My dad would have had a really hard time dealing with the hand washing, masking and distancing, had he lived to see the pandemic. Older adults need physical connection, too. It’s just often much harder to come by, for them. And now, it’s nearly nonexistent.
What have you been doing during the shut- down?
Our gigs have slowed down, but not stopped completely. My regular job at the Outer Banks Community Foundation keeps me quite engaged. We’ve been working throughout the COVID crisis to help nonprofits and community members make it through the shutdown, taking advantage of a Rapid Response Grants program for nonprofits that the community foundation board and staff created during (Hurricane) Dorian, in response to the great need for support that our local charities experience in times of crisis. We were just catching our breath from Dorian when COVID came into view, so it’s been busy.
Have you started or completed any projects?
The shutdown has been the perfect time for me to study music. My work with Cole has been a deep dive into the blues. I hate to admit it, but I had not made the time before then and I’ve been playing catch-up. After playing acoustic guitar for decades, I started playing electric guitar about a year ago; the shutdown has allowed me time to work on my technique and tone. I’ve been having a blast using YouTube to study and learn about the blues greats, about guitar technique, and to hone my harmonica skills. It’s given me plenty to do!
What have you missed the most?
I miss getting together with people. I miss jam sessions. Hanging out with older adults and giving them love. Holding babies. I miss live music offerings up and down the beach. My last was presenting therapeutic
music and arts programs for older adults into settings like nursing homes
and assisted living facilities in Hampton Roads. We had programs at art galleries and theaters, too. That all dried up with COVID. The artists lost rewarding income streams, and young people and volunteers lost inspiring, creative programs where they could connect with older adults through the arts. Our older adults lost this precious opportunity for meaningful social interaction and selfexpression. They are extremely isolated – at a time when they need and deserve human contact the most in their lives.
What concerns you going ahead?
I’m concerned for the nonprofits that depend on fundraising events and community contact to meet their missions. Also, that individuals who are old and weak are being marginalized through this pandemic.
Is there any music that has helped you get through this?
Outside of friends’ virtual concerts, and events like The Courthouse Sessions and online radio, I haven’t had time to specifically move through particular playlists.
What makes you smile or laugh?
I love watching the babies and pre-schoolers play at the beach.
Who or what keeps you centered?
My husband, Dan. He keeps the home fires burning and is always a steady source of advice and support. Having my son nearby is awesome. Being a block away from the beach has been a huge help. I really appreciate being able to get outdoors to bike, swim or walk.
What has encouraged you during the pandemic?
New music equipment and that practice seems to be paying off.
If you are gigging, how are you keeping yourself safe? Is that solely your responsibility?
Cole and I are both over 60, and neither of us wants to take chances. We’ve only accepted gigs at venues that are outdoors, where physical distancing is built into the footprint, and where the three W’s are honored. Our hand sanitizer is always nearby, and we just keep our distance from folks.
When you are out working, what are you seeing with respect to compliance to masking, social distancing and capacity limit mandates?
It seems that clients are taking their cues from the venues, and the venues where we’re playing are complying with the state mandate.
Are there any new insights you’ve gained or new activities that you’ve engaged in that you’d like to maintain going forward?
I’ve had more discretionary time. While I miss being with friends and social activities, I’ve enjoyed a less hectic schedule.
What has discouraged you during the pandemic?
What has surprised you the most?
Transplanted to the Outer Banks from the wilds of the L.A. area, singer-songwriter Scott Sechman has shared stages with Bill Medley, Tom Rush, Al Wilson and the Grass Roots during his ongoing music career. He has also contributed to Mojo and various online outlets.