On Sunday, the Oregon Symphony launched a new video series called “Essential Sounds,” intended to honor those on the front lines of the pandemic, and inspire unity through music and storytelling.

The first episode begins with percussionist Sergio Carreno telling the story of his younger cousin, Natalia, who is driven to become a doctor and ends up contracting COVID-19 while working in New York. Carreno dedicates a performance on xylophone to her.

Carreno’s story and performance comprise just the first part of this episode. Another segment takes you to a kitchen conversation and cooking lesson with composer Kenji Bunch, leading into one of his compositions played by cellists Marilyn de Oliveira and Trevor Fitzpatrick. Performances by Storm Large and a violin/piano duo of Sarah Kwak and Cary Lewis round out the program.

This first episode also highlights another organization: The Oregon Nurses Foundation COVID-19 Relief Fund. 

“Essential Sounds” was funded through a loan to the Oregon Symphony through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), part of the $2.2 trillion CARES act, a fiscal stimulus measure passed by Congress this spring to mitigate the effects of job losses this year from the COVID pandemic. In all, “Essential Sounds” will include seven episodes.

The ambitious project was led by Oregon Symphony Creative Chair Gabriel Kahane, and directed by singer-songwriter Holcombe Waller. Kahane says the series became a way to express gratitude in the present time. “Once we settled on the idea of making a series that would exist in conversation with this moment, we determined that we wanted to use our resources to shine a light on those front line workers who have kept our society churning along — nearly always at great personal risk. We asked for stories from our musicians that would connect to workers in these sectors in the most personal way possible.”

“We then asked our musicians if there was music they’d like to play during this time, and to describe how it connected to this moment, to any individuals, family or friends whom they might want to honor through those performances. What resulted is, I think, an extraordinary collection of deeply vulnerable interviews that help frame the performances that follow.”

“Essential Sounds is meant to be seen by the community as a whole. One lovely unintended consequence of this series is that we have an opportunity to demystify concert music. For those who aren’t classical music aficionados, this series is, we hope, super approachable. “

One way the pandemic has affected Kahane: He and his family were already in Portland in early March, spending a week working with the Symphony. But on March 13, news of shutdowns rippled across the country, and the Symphony’s planned tour was canceled. Kahane’s friends in Brooklyn urged him to stay put in Portland.

“Much of our family is on the West Coast, and we’d been eyeing a move to Portland at the tail end of this year, but we ended up moving earlier than intended. We’ll finally move into our own home next month,” Kahane said.

The next episode from “Essential Sounds” will be released Sunday, June 28 via the Oregon Symphony’s website and YouTube channel.