Musicians for Troubling Times

Music and artists to the rescue. As we are quarantining, as perhaps never before, we are experiencing the value of music and the arts. We’re finding ways to collectively enjoy it virtually, by QuaraStreaming concerts, opera, chamber music, and individuals playing solos. We’re giving music lessons, creating curriculum for kids at home, and giving free advice. Individuals are using hashtags #songsfromhome #songsforcomfort on Twitter, and streaming on Facebook, to console one another. We’re also virtually touring museums, reading and sharing books, and telling stories—all from our living rooms. Musicians and artists are keeping our spirits up during this challenging time.

Perhaps the most poignant rendition I’ve seen is the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra’s Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Keeping together, or what we call ensemble, is difficult enough with a conductor and everyone together onstage. I can only imagine the complexity of broadcasting from several members’ homes. Somehow, they put it together in a way that is moving thousands of us to tears.

The Toronto Symphony just posted a lengthier work—Copland’s Appalachian Spring. Several musicians from the orchestra participated. Working together has never been quite so challenging and yet so imperative for musicians. We have a burning desire and mandate to share music with our audiences however we can.

Young people are also participating. Listen to the California’s Chino Hills High School Chamber Singers sing this stunning arrangement of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. The Chino Valley Unified School District (CVUSD) Choral Festival, scheduled for March 18th, had to be postponed, but they decided to make music anyway and “through technology we’re able to appear together as a family again.”

The Greensleeves Gospel Choir based in Italy, virtually got together to sing Total Praise for Humanity and the result is quite breathtaking and uplifting! For more about their activities here is their website.

Other musicians are figuring out how to play together virtually. Two cellists from the New York Philharmonic, Sumire Kudo and Nathan Vickery, play the first movement of Barrière’s Sonata No. 10 for two cellos while miles apart! And it sounds quite beautiful.

The Met Orchestra musicians are sharing videos from home, which can be viewed on their website, and on Twitter with the hashtag #MusicConnectsUs. Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the maestro of the MET, music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Montreal Symphony, and the Rotterdam Philharmonic makes a personal appeal, with his cat quietly grooming in the background, to continue to enjoy music because it joins us in an essential way.

Individuals like cellist and hero Yo Yo Ma, have offered their playing online, and have made statements. “In these days of anxiety, I wanted to find a way to continue to share some of the music that gives me comfort. Dvořák Going Home is one of them, and this is for the healthcare workers on the frontlines — the Sarabande from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 3. Your ability to balance human connection and scientific truth in service of us all gives me hope.”

Others are posting daily performances. Some are well-known musicians such as violinist Renaud Capuçon and pianist Anton Nel, and others are less well-known professionals and students. But it’s all comforting—the great works of Bach and Beethoven, or lovely music such as the Canzona by Amy Beach.

There are still some live concerts being broadcast from empty halls including chamber music.

Although I want to keep as positive as possible there are worrying signs in our industry. Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, the largest performing arts organization in this country, citing Force Majeure, cancelled the MET season, and has laid off the orchestra, chorus, and soloists, and this of course affects the stage crews, electricians, lighting and costume designers, and dancers. The orchestra will not be paid after March 31st. The Oregon Symphony, Opera Australia, the Canadian orchestras, the Calgary Philharmonic, and Victoria Symphony, have followed suit, laying off the orchestra, conductors, and staff without pay. Others will follow soon enough.

Arts organizations are hard hit such as theaters, museums, and Broadway shows. Cirque du Soleil, is laying off almost 5,000 employees. As I mentioned in a previous article, several museums have posted virtual tours of their collections online, and even world-famous monuments can be toured. (See additional offerings here.)

While orchestras and operas are broadcasting free performances this doesn’t help individual musicians or the arts organizations long-term. One association is rallying to save our artists— Help Musicians UK. German Culture Minister, Monika Grütters, has promised government support to cultural organizations and artists whose livelihoods have been threatened by the virus. You can also help. I know of some people starting funds for individual musicians and please consider donating tickets you have previously purchased to save our great arts institutions. Most important, we musicians cannot communicate in a void. We are in this profession to share our music with you and to bring us all closer as human beings. Enjoy these Quaranstreams.

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