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Reflections on Covid and the Arts

Updated: Apr 19, 2021

Speaking generally first, Covid has been a disaster for the arts in

general, and musicians specifically. Any business model that requires

a full hall is dead in the water. Many require 80% or so attendance

to break even, so even when allowed half a hall, that will not help them.

Government programs that subsidize part or even most of the salaries,

rent, and expenses does not help if there are zero ticket

sales to support any expenses whatsoever. In Canada, orchestras

with significant government funding such as NAC, Montreal, and

Vancouver continue operating, but all others are shut down in part or

altogether indefinitely. Musicians as independent contractors have no

benefits, no severance, no compensation of any type. Collective

bargaining agreements can be dismissed as "Acts of God" carrying no

liability. Epidemics are specified as one such condition. This is not a

simple slow-down, not a recession for the arts, but for some a total

shutdown, and for some potentially a career-ender.

So we see orchestras shuttered, theatre programs closed, Cirque

du Soleil declaring bankruptcy (that alone means thousands of arts

jobs gone), commercial conventions are likely history, for nobody

thinking clearly will book a big convention involving flying in people

nationally or internationally and hiring musicians for receptions or

dinners. Large weddings are not an option, special events and large

festivals are on hold, not for months, but very likely for a couple of

years.

So is all doom and gloom; is the end at hand? No, some are

finding new ways to engage. Musicians are writing, recording, and

streaming. Private teaching is going online. New developments are

beginning to enable live streaming concerts performed from multiple

locations in real-time.

Speaking personally, times are changing, and although things may

never be quite what they use to be, things are looking up. A year ago I

could look at my book and tell you 10 months ahead many show runs I

would be performing and many of the concert piano tunings I would be

taking care of. Now, for the first time in a few decades, I am looking

week by week at what is next, not sure. It requires a little more living

by faith; this is not a bad thing.

Looking ahead, despair is slowly being replaced by hope. The

vacuum is being pushed aside by new opportunities and new methods

to embrace. I may not be quite as busy, continuously running from gig

to gig and from tuning to tuning, but the new projects carry with them

value and vision artistically. There is a saying that in the end, "all

things work together for good"; time will tell, but the vision is being

restored.

We need the arts. So much of what we do is functional; providing

for the things we need and consume, fulfilling the demands of the path

we have created, creating an easier path with technology. For what, to

survive? The thing that makes us human, that is our essence, that is

our inheritance — hope, love, creativity, imagination, faith, invention,

creating an invisible spiritual connection, all rooted in intangibles that

defy measurement and defy quantization. The arts are an outward

expression of such things that at their deepest level are unknowable,

but touchable in part through this window into the soul that arts

provide. The human race needs the arts to keep on keeping on for the

health and sanity of individuals, and of society. The arts must continue

to seek, to search, to provide a vehicle for the human soul to express

pain, joy, love, even anger, to provide encouragement for the soul, and

ask the hard questions.


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