Vermont Arts Council

Art in the Time of Covid: Musicians Uncovered

When the pandemic hit Vermont, musician and youth counselor Emily Musty Zanleoni was quick to adapt her work for a digital world. In fall 2019, Emily started working with a new program of the Upper Valley Music Center (UVMC), Musicians as Mentors (M2), to connect youth with professional musicians. Raised in the small town of Piermont, NH (right across the river from Bradford, VT), she knows first-hand how difficult it can be for rural youth to access the contemporary music industry. Connecting young musicians to their dreams is her passion.

Rather than letting Covid get in the way of her bridge-building work, Emily created “Musicians Uncovered,” a 30-minute “Zoomcast” where teens can meet and speak with local and national guest musicians and producers from all around the country. The tools necessary for this “digital pivot” have been double-edged swords to Emily. On the one hand, meeting over live video allows her to reach more people, particularly those in isolated rural communities—on the other hand, there is no substitution for face-to-face connection.

As part of our series featuring creative professionals’ responses to the virus, Emily shared her thoughts with the Council.

What is the most difficult impact you’ve felt from the coronavirus pandemic?

Not being able to connect in person with people! Technology is great, but we lose up to 85% of the conversation via a screen. I have been a practicing psychotherapist for the last ten years and have always preached, “get off your screens and have a face-to-face conversation!!!” It is harder to create a relationship over a screen, even for those of us that have made it one of our special skills.

How have you gained hope or solace from your arts community since the crisis began?

Though we are getting tired of terms like “pivot” and “Zoom,” the silver lining for my program is that I can reach more of our rural kids now that I am fully online. I think of the kids here in the Upper Valley—in Grafton and Dorchester, NH, and Sharon and Hartland, VT—some of our students spend over an hour on a bus (ONE WAY) to get to school. And with parents/guardians that work full time, and often not the 9-5 shifts, these kids have to take the bus home and therefore cannot participate in a lot of activities outside of school. Putting this program online makes it more accessible to a broader range of kids—which is exactly what I wanted. I’d love to have the ‘problem’ of too many teenagers and young adults wanting to get online with these guests! I am also the executive director of the Hartford Community Coalition, a collaborative group of community members designed to support and promote the wellness of individuals and families working on the issues of substance misuse and suicide prevention, as well as food insecurity. It has been so heartwarming to see the overwhelming numbers of volunteers we’ve attracted and the extreme gratitude from those we have served over the past seven months.

How can people support your organization and the artists your work with through this difficult period?

To support Musicians Uncovered, as well as the traditional and other alternative new classes at UVMC (like my friend Sean Hay’s DJ Academy), please visit:

A screenshot of a recent Musicians Uncovered Zoomcast (Emily Zanleoni top center).

Visit Emily’s website and register for the next Musicians Uncovered session.

Learn more about UVMC’s Musicians as Mentors program.

Learn about Emily’s upcoming Oct. 25 “Virtual House Concert.”

Musicians Uncovered is a 30 minute Zoomcast to hear from and talk to a featured, recording, guest artist. Live access to professional musicians and producers is rare in rural areas of the country. Most of us have no idea how big the music business is! This Zoomcast is designed for teens to chat with, listen to, and ask questions of the guest artist.

Musicians as Mentors is a ground-breaking collaboration between activist artists, social service organizations and community arts organizations to expand and enhance music-driven youth development opportunities.

These programs were designed as part of Music to Life’s Accelerator.