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New York songwriter returns to the piano in peaceful Bermuda

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In Bermuda, Rivky rediscovered a lost sense of calm and returned to her music.

She’d put it aside for much of 2020. Initially preoccupied with the challenges of living in New York City during a pandemic, by the time she was inspired to create again she was more interested in writing.

A children’s book is due out soon.

“In those first few months [of the pandemic] there were a lot of things going on,” said Rivky, a singer-songwriter who, through her own struggles with a form of schizophrenia, has become an unintentional advocate for psychosis.

“I had to move to a new location because my landlady needed her space back because her dad was sick – everybody’s been kind of transitioning or picking up and moving – and that kind of stopped a lot of my creativity. I had to focus more on self-care. Even that was work. I spent a lot of time doing as most people are right now – just walking or doing extra stretches, giving that priority over anything else including creativity.”

The book somehow “ignited more music”. Rivky is preparing to release the video to the single she recently produced, Neki Neki on the Zoom Zoom, on streaming platforms on March 31.

It was only once in Bermuda however, that she felt moved to get back to playing the piano.

She arrived on holiday a week ago with her partner, Magda.

“I wasn’t going to travel at all but she swayed me into coming here,” the singer said. “I’d never been here before. Bermuda has been a very calming space.

“I don’t know what it is – maybe it’s the aquamarine water that’s sort of out in the distance that’s giving me a calmness. I stepped away from my music for almost a year. I hadn’t really touched the piano and the irony is that in Bermuda, out of all times, I managed to get a piano, a Roland, from one of the musicians here.”

The gift from Tony Brannon allowed her to practise for an impromptu Covid memorial concert in New York that she joined via Zoom yesterday.

“I was invited to share my music and I have the first song I ever wrote which is a eulogy, years ago, which is very personal to my heart. And I created a memorial Covid-themed video as a sort of farewell and a tribute to those who lost.

“[The music came] all of a sudden, after a year of not doing much just focusing on writing. And then, in the last month or two, just an inspiration to write Neki Neki on the Zoom Zoom.”

The song is a departure from the typical “folksy, bluesy, jazz” music she usually creates and performs.

“I got a little bit of an inspiration because of Covid and the Zoom online stuff that people have been doing,” she said. “It’s more hip hop, spoken word, kind of rap genre … an oddball song which is kind of silly and funny and poking light at all of it.”

Rivky was raised in Brooklyn, New York, in “a small, insular community, in the Orthodox Hasidic and Yeshivish culture”.

As a young child, because she was shy and had “a lot of mental health challenges”, she kept to herself and focused on her talents.

“I feel like creativity was more of something that helped me to survive but I hadn’t known that it was a tool that would help me moving forward in my life,” Rivky said.

“The more I did it, the more I played piano or even painted or wrote music – that kind of propelled me inside the world of music and the arts generally.”

While composing for off-Broadway productions she met Brian Sanders, a two-fingered cellist she now often performs with, who encouraged her to continue making music and to believe in herself.

“I started off painting before I started singing. Because I was so shy I didn’t think I would even be able to have the ability or the strength to be up in front of an audience or to really compose,” said Rivky, who started composing professionally nearly a decade ago.

“But I met a lot of people in the creative industry in terms of theatre and I had worked with a playwright who wanted to use my music for his play. He wanted me to do some acting and be a narrator on the stage, which I had also never thought I would do. It was really just kind of mind-blowingly unexpected in a sort of self-identity discovery.”

Along the way she started talking with audiences about her schizophrenia, eager to clear up the stigma attached to the disorder because of how people with it are portrayed in the news and movies.

“I’m not so keen on labels but I am on the spectrum. When I was first diagnosed I didn’t understand what it was that was going on with me. I had been isolating and having a hard time interacting with people for a number of years and I was able to get help from some incredible organisations [such as] one called Fountain House.

“That kind of really propelled me to focus more on my strengths rather than just the simple diagnosis. I redirected my energy to focus on the beautiful things that I have rather than the obstacles that may have made me feel like I may not have been able to do much because of my diagnosis.”

Her way of describing her challenge is that her “brain processes things differently”.

“People don’t really understand the spectrum of these things and I feel like it’s just so much scarier when you [learn about it from a screen] rather than when you hear somebody speak who has the diagnosis. I feel like the news and movies have kind of slanted it for so many years and people like me really have the opportunity to let folks know that it’s just a diagnosis; it’s just people receiving information differently, processing the world a little bit differently.”

She continued: “There are certain things that are just a little bit sharper and so I have to take it in a little more slowly and kind of understand the signal a little bit. It just takes me a little bit more time. Sometimes I’ll take things a little more literally.”

Amid all the sadness of the coronavirus pandemic there has also been “a sort of reawakening” of just how important it is that we connect with each other, she said.

“In that way it’s sort of been a light inside of the darkness … especially for those who deal with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, autism – things that are more sensory and people who deal with isolation. I feel like Covid can make it worse because we’re not really connecting with our support. It’s more difficult. So it’s so important to make sure that people have a team or friends, or parents, to call them and say, ‘Hey, how you doing? How’s it going?’ Even those who don’t deal with sensory experiences and neurodivergent brains, even normal folks are having a tough time. We all need a sense of community and to know that human touch and contact, just to say hello. It’s an important time to do that even more.”

Follow Rivky on Instagram: @Rivkyisms

Singer-songwriter Rivky rediscovered a sense of calm in Bermuda (Photograph by Louis Fishman)
Singer-songwriter Rivky rediscovered a sense of calm in Bermuda (Photograph supplied)

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Published March 19, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated March 19, 2021 at 7:16 pm)

New York songwriter returns to the piano in peaceful Bermuda

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