“I began out of frustration and loneliness. I felt disconnected from everything. Completely isolated. So, one night, I took my guitar and amplifier out onto my balcony and tried to play something beautiful, something moving. Maybe I was trying to send a message to the world. I don’t really know. I just had to play. I didn’t know it at the time, but my neighbors opened their windows to listen and applauded when I finished.”
Thus, began Mikkel Ploug’s nightly lullaby performances from the balcony of his apartment in Copenhagen. Videos posted to Facebook by his neighbors are bewitching. At 8:15 p.m. each evening, Ploug quietly steps onto his balcony, plugs in his guitar, and launches into an arrangement that he worked up that day. Neighbors open windows, mobile phones peak out to record the event, and cheers and applause echo across the empty courtyard at the end of the 5-minute performance. Each night’s arrangement—tonight’s performance will be his 24thconsecutive—is quiet, thoughtful, and proves, as All About Jazz magazine has observed of the guitarist, that Ploug is “an original voice with something to say.”
Ploug is one of my favorite musicians. I first encountered his music when a few years ago a friend emailed me, “Hey, there’s this Danish guitar player who recorded a solo jazz CD playing a Banner Gibson LG-2, and he refers to your book, Kalamazoo Gals, in the liner notes.” I checked it out and confirmed another All About Jazz review: “Whether engaging in angular fingerpicking, strumming serene chords, taking a concept to its furthest endpoints, or digging down to the roots of an idea, Mikkel Ploug finds a way to meld mind and matter into one unified musical sound here. Alleviation is neither the end result of a man’s explorations of a guitar nor a guitar’s expression of its own truths; it’s the product of a marriage between the two.”
Alleviation took me down a Mikkel Ploug rabbit hole that led me through his recorded catalog, to his YouTube videos, and to the moment yesterday when we chatted by Zoom. At mid-afternoon in Denmark, Ploug appeared excited, but professed to being “a little tired” because he had awoken at 3 a.m. with an idea of how to arrange “What a Wonderful World” for the evening’s performance. He happily waived his hastily scrawled score in front of his webcam. We chatted about life under lockdown in Denmark and the US, his lullabies project, and his ideas for the day’s musical arrangement. I then watched in real time when a few hours later he stepped onto his balcony a produced a glorious, angular but soothing, and spectacular performance of one of my favorite tunes.
Ploug has played across the globe. Now, he sits on his balcony, playing to empty streets, but to open windows, hearts, and minds. He creates not despite a global pandemic, but because of it. As darkness settled upon the globe, Ploug attempted and succeeded in creating a spark of life.
The videos linked below provide a charming and moving chronicle of Ploug’s efforts. But I’ve urged Ploug to provide a proper document of his gift of beauty, a testament to the human spirit and heart during challenging times. Hence, he has uploaded a Balcony Lullabies—The Album Kickstarter campaign to underwrite the production of “a high-quality studio recording.” (Click here to support it.)
Do yourself a favor and follow Mikkel via his Facebook page. There, you’ll see all of his video submissions, as they get posted. And, if you’re so moved, please also considering contributing to the effort to preserve the mission properly and, in so doing, to support an artist who, like all artists at the time, has lost his revenue stream.
“What a Wonderful World”
“Solen Er Så Rød Mor”
“Somewhere Over the Rainbow”
“Ain’t No Sunshine – Lovely Day” (on the passing of Bill Withers)
“Throughout” (Bill Frisell)
“Heart of Gold”
“You Are My Sunhine”
“The Nearness of You”