Due to Government Edicts all over the United States and the entire world, performing arts organizations have essentially been prevented from staging their symphony concerts, big-band jazz concerts, chamber music performances, choral concerts, and even rock concerts, due to fears of spreading the Wuhan Coronavirus.  They range from world-class orchestras like the Seattle Symphony, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, to stage plays on Broadway, to the Seattle Chamber Music Festival, the Northwest Chamber Chorus, and Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra.  Smaller groups have smaller cash cushions to get them through half a season with no presentations.  Groups have had to cancel needed fund-raising events like dinners and auctions, further reducing their available funds.

Many orchestras, especially the large ones like New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia, have audiences that skew older.  But even places that cater to younger audiences, like nightclubs and rock concerts, have been closed down.  The venues themselves are in trouble, not having any ability to stage the events that keep them in business.  Will arts organizations like this be forced to deny tickets to older people, “for their own good”?

What will the future look like for these arts groups and venues, when the government holds their future in its hands?  Will a concert hall like the Kimmel Center Verizon Hall in Philadelphia, be able to stay in operation if its audiences are limited to 25% capacity? Will the Philadelphia Orchestra be able to continue under those circumstances?  The Arts are a part of life that makes living worthwhile.  Millions of people all over the world spend time watching and listening to music of all kinds.  What happens when the “music stops”?

What will be the future of the Arts, if a vaccine against the Wuhan Coronavirus takes longer than anticipated to hit the market, or never does?  Will Governments insist that there be no concerts, or performances, or plays for audiences larger than say 50 people?  Will Arts organizations agree to commit suicide, because that is what they will be required to essentially do?

This spring and summer in Seattle, everything has been canceled.  We are very unhappy that the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra, the Seattle Chamber Music Festival, the Northwest Chamber Chorus, and the Seattle Symphony, have all not been able to stage one concert.  We are very sad that we will not have the wonderful experience of sitting in Benaroya Recital Hall listening to our favorite musicians play their sublime chamber music.  They have even canceled the outdoor concert scheduled for August!  And the Leavenworth International Accordion Celebration was also canceled, preventing Hubby’s band from performing.  Some groups have been staging recorded, or live-streamed performances, of which the Seattle Symphony was a pioneer.  We get to hear the music, of course, but it’s still not the same experience.

We are very unhappy and depressed about what is going on, but if we are feeling that way, just think of what the musicians and the Festivals are going through right now.  This is their livelihoods, and that hangs in the balance.  People who make their living playing music need an audience, and those audience members need that music.  We are not allowed to make our own decisions about whether to take the risk of being in the same room with the rest of the listeners and performers.  Government has deemed that we not be allowed to attend concerts, because we might be infected.

I have heard of medical “experts” stating that everyone might be forced to wear masks when outside the home, and keep six feet away from everyone else, “for several years”, indicating that this “Emergency” which has lasted nearly seven months now has no endpoint.  Most arts organizations are operating today with the assumption or hope that this situation is temporary.  What if it’s not temporary?  Perhaps orchestra musicians could wear masks during rehearsals and performances; audiences could wear masks all the time, when not eating or drinking; and everyone could try to stay six feet from everyone else (what would be the total audience if that were true?).  But this might spell the end of all choral singing, since singers can’t wear masks, and singing is seen as “super-spreading”.  Except for maybe Early Music groups, singing groups also skew older.

Funny, but you don’t see concerts being canceled during flu season from October to March, in case someone might catch the flu from the person next to them.  Flu kills thousands of people every year, but the world does not stop turning.  I wonder what the ongoing effects of the Wuhan Coronavirus will be on the performing arts, that add such love and excitement to life.  Will the organizations survive?  Will patrons still donate to groups they can’t see in person?  I’m betting that the governments and public health officials, whose livelihoods are never in danger, don’t think of that.  But we do.

3 thoughts on “What now for the performing arts?

  1. With a system like the internet for dissemination, the organizations should be able (with all the “necessary” precautions, of course) to stream performances. This would work for concerts. I’m actually kind of surprised that some of them haven’t already explored such options.

    1. The Seattle Symphony is already live-streaming. It’s nice to watch on the TV, but it is definitely not the same as being there in person. Ray and I are supporters of and donors to the Seattle Chamber Music Society, and the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra, and we value the in-person experience. As a donor benefit for the chamber music society, we get invited to post-concert dinners with the artists, and that’s just not suitable for live-streaming. Sorry, but the live music experience is best, and we will fight for it. Hugs anyway!

      1. The schedule has been posted for the all-virtual live-streaming Seattle Chamber Music Festival. The venues will be both live from the new downtown Center for Chamber Music, as well as remote sites mixed in. Every concert except one day will begin and end streaming from Seattle and will include from zero to four pieces streamed from unamed remote locations. The entire first week of Beethoven will be streamed from Seattle. Pieces have been moved, removed and substituted, artists reassigned. Some world premiers have even been scheduled, except the one originally slated for tenor and ensemble.

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