It’s been an absolute joy and privilege over the last couple of years to put together exclusive mini-gigs for our readers. What started as a lockdown alternative to live shows has continued to be a way for performers to connect with audiences around the world. Today’s mini-gig, recorded specially for AUK, comes from Philadelphia singer-songwriter Avi Wisnia. Both the song themes and Wisnia’s performance are deeply personal. This recording shows how successfully a mini-gig like this can capture artists at their most intimate – Wisnia could be in the room with you. It’s delightful to see him utterly absorbed in the music, especially when his fingers become fluid with the keys and the notes really begin to flow. Vocally, Wisnia shows his range and warmth as he sings these contemplative songs: ‘Come Home To’ and ‘Catching Leaves’.
Both songs are taken from Wisnia’s new album, ‘Catching Leaves’, his first for more than a decade. It’s a reflective piece of work, full of the feelings and the detail of love and loss. It was written following the deaths of Wisnia’s brother, who introduced him to music, and his grandfather, who helped him to rediscover it. Wisnia remembers: “I had just finished touring my first record when my brother passed away. He was the person that introduced me to the joy of making music, the first person I ever played with, and when I lost him, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I retreated away from everything that I loved. In order to make this album, I had to learn to lean into my grief and sadness and all the feelings of loss and uncertainty I was dealing with. I had to examine the moments that felt so overwhelming and learn to see the beauty in them.” Musically, Wisnia’s career was taking off, having released a critically acclaimed EP and album, when he was derailed by the loss of his brother, a frequent musical collaborator and best friend. Left with doubt and uncertainty, Wisnia almost stopped creating music altogether. Then, an invitation to sing with his grandfather brought him back: “My grandfather was a singer and a holocaust survivor and, while he wasn’t one to really talk about his emotions, he always spoke through his music, using it to help tell his story. Performing with him helped me find my purpose again. He taught me that we can carry a lot of pain and grief with us and still see the joy and the beauty in life; that it’s okay if we are unable to move on from loss, because we can always find ways to move forward with it.”
Wisnia moved to Philadelphia and immersed himself in the life there. He began annual fundraising concerts for the National Brain Tumor Society and spent time writing new music in Palumbo Park, surrounded by nature. He explains: “The weather and the seasons, particularly the autumn, helped color all of the songs I was coming up with at the time. In nature, there are so many things that happen that are entirely beyond our control, and I think it’s good to be reminded of your place in the world. We have all experienced a lot of isolation and grief and sadness and loss during the pandemic but the silver lining of this time for me was being able to focus on the music without the hustle and distractions of everyday life. Now we are all trying to navigate how to re-enter the world, and trying to imagine what that world even looks like, which is really what this whole record has been about all along.” The recent loss of his inspiring grandfather added to the poignancy of the new record. The resulting work is an affecting exploration of what binds us, acceptance and, ultimately, peace. For this mini-gig, stripped back to just Wisnia’s vocal and keys, all of that gentle, intimate reflection comes through. As his voice rises and falls, and as the notes tumble from the piano, it is the lyrical honesty and sincerity in the performance that disarm the listener.
Many thanks to Avi Wisnia for the care and attention that went into this mini-gig, which was actually recorded at the home of prolific songwriter Oscar Hammerstein. In the comfort of your home, sit back and absorb this moving show. Then seek out Wisnia’s new record, ‘Catching Leaves’ for further listening and meditation.