Orchestra Iowa maestro turns to live chats to connect with audiences during pandemic

Timothy Hankewich (right), Music Director of Orchestra Iowa, talks with Dennis Green, General Manager at

Timothy Hankewich (right), Music Director of Orchestra Iowa, talks with Dennis Green, General Manager at KCCK, during a
Timothy Hankewich (right), Music Director of Orchestra Iowa, talks with Dennis Green, General Manager at KCCK, during a Facebook Live chat on stage at the Opus Concert Cafe in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, June 30, 2020. Hankewich began hosting the live video chats from his home and has since relocated to the cafe, welcoming Green as his first guest on the series. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Instead of cuing downbeats for Orchestra Iowa, Maestro Timothy Hankewich is staying upbeat with listeners far and wide on his weekly Facebook livestream, “Happy Hour with Maestro Tim.”

Subtitled “A time for conversation and cocktails,” it’s a casual pour-yourself-a-drink and settle in for 30 minutes or more of evolving formats.

Airing at 5 p.m. Tuesdays on Orchestra Iowa’s Facebook page, eight episodes have been filmed for what Hankewich calls “Tim TV.”

He began chatting via his home computer, but after discovering his Wi-Fi wasn’t up to the task — sometimes dropping the live feed — the episodes have moved to the Paramount’s Opus Concert Cafe in downtown Cedar Rapids.

Not only is the Wi-Fi more reliable there, the room where it happens is large enough to accommodate social distancing for two sound engineers and a guest panelist. And because Opus has a bar, Hankewich can mix up the drink of the day. He may even add some cocktail recipes.

The learning curve has been pretty steep for the maestro, who is steeped in classical music, not technology.

“Unfortunately, I’m a bit of a Luddite,” he said. “I can walk into a room and everything that has an electric current going through will explode.”


The jovial Hankewich is known for his animated audience discussions before the concerts and from the podium between pieces, so he jumped onboard when Sadie Pederson, Orchestra Iowa’s new director of marketing and communications, suggested the weekly online chats.

“This is our real fun way just to keep our message in front of the community and make sure that people know that we’re still out there,” Hankewich said. “But also to catch up on the physical scene of what’s going on in town and how other people are handling the pandemic — and hopefully having a little fun and information on the way.”

On June 30, the format expanded to include a guest, with Dennis Green, KCCK radio’s general manager, in the hot seat for some lively banter.

“I have learned that monologuing for a half an hour is really, really, really difficult,” Hankewich said. “I’m always good at sustaining a conversation. When we were meeting in person, our free concert talks have always been a success, but that requires human interaction. When you’re speaking to a screen or your kitchen wall, it’s hard to replicate that sort of back-and-forth energy. Which is why now that we have the capability of split screening and having other guests on, makes this a whole lot easier — and more interesting.”

In the early episodes, Hankewich has discussed his educational background, his process for preparing and arranging music, his most memorable bloopers onstage, and other glimpses into his personal life.

He’s also discovered that because anybody anywhere in the world can tune in, he has to choose his words carefully.

His family and friends are tuning in from Canada, as well as his U.S. colleagues, college friends and current and former Orchestra Iowa musicians and administrators.

“I talked about where I grew up in Dawson’s Creek, which is in very northern British Columbia, and then all of a sudden, I saw some of my high school friends that I haven’t seen in decades start popping up,” he said. “That makes me feel really good, but it’s also telling me that I need to be careful what I say,” he added with his trademark laugh.

But talking about himself week after week isn’t all that easy.


“To find a topic that I could just riff off for half an hour without interruption is really quite a strain,” he said. “Until now, it’s just been past anecdotal experiences I’ve had throughout my career, and I’m pretty much tapped out on that — just in time for us to figure out how to get guests on this, as well.

“So now it’s going to be more personality-driven and the conversations are going to be a whole lot more fluid. But I’m not sure what the topics are going to be, because these conversations can go anywhere.”

While Orchestra Iowa personnel continue deep conversations about staying viable during the COVID-19 pandemic and restarting a season, Hankewich’s summer plans have evolved, as well. Like usual, he’s written a couple of Holiday Pops pieces, but he and his wife won’t be taking any exotic vacations, as in past jaunts to the North and South poles, or visiting their families in Canada. So naturally, he’s turned to music to help get through these uncertain times.

“It’s really important for people to find projects that are stimulating and keeps their creative juices going, regardless if there is a market for it right now,” he said.

“I’m staring at a first violin part to the St. Matthew Passion. I know I’ve spoken about this in some of my past Happy Hours. This is one of my all-time bucket list pieces.

“This is a project that is going to take months and months for me to complete to make sure that every note has a dynamic or an articulation and make sure I have all these parts ready to go, so on that glorious day, one day, sometime in the future, when I get to do this once-in-a-lifetime work, all the work will have been done. I can give everybody my parts and away we go,” he said.

“This is a lifelong project that I’ve been thinking about for decades, that now because I have the time, I’m doing it. And just being occupied with something intellectually and artistically stimulating like this, even though it’s not going to be realized in sound for a long time, it’s actually been a real godsend.”

To Watch

• What: Happy Hour with Maestro Tim: A time for conversation and cocktails

• Host: Tim Hankewich of Orchestra Iowa

• When: 5 p.m. Tuesdays

• Where: Facebook.com/OrchestraIowa/

• Cost: Free

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