For most of my adult life, I have been a lover of classical music, and especially chamber music. I got my first taste of playing chamber music in the sixth grade in school, as my string quartet played for other classes of students. I remember being awfully proud of being able to play beautiful music for my classmates.
In the 1970s and 1980s, my first husband and I had season tickets to the Seattle Symphony, and attended summer concerts of the Seattle Chamber Music Society. In 1984, I resumed playing the violin after not having played for 25 years, and got back into chamber music. When I divorced in 1991, I could no longer afford concert tickets, so I began volunteering for the Chamber Music Society. I loved working backstage, and being able to meet all the wonderful artists, and watch the performances from backstage. I worked both the Summer and Winter Festivals, until the Chamber Music Society moved to the bigger Benaroya Hall in Seattle, which had its own backstage employees.
When I remarried in 2003, my husband and I could now afford to be audience for the Chamber Music Festival, so I ceased being a volunteer and we became audience, and donors to the Festival. Through a mention by someone we met through the Chamber Music Society, we heard about the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra, and began to attend their concerts, too, and donated to them. Both groups are smaller than a huge full orchestra, and concerts are more intimate. I have always been a very visual person, and watching chamber musicians is a delight to me, because they interact so more immediately than orchestra musicians do.
The government restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic, starting in March of 2020, changed everything. All in-person concerts were prohibited, and we lost the money we had paid for tickets to both organizations. In the summer of 2020, the Chamber Music Festival began a short series of live-streamed performances from their new Center for Chamber Music. Only a few artists could make their way to Seattle to play, and most artists were prohibited from traveling by local lockdowns where they lived. Those intrepid artists who could travel to Seattle did so, and were grateful to be able to play, even though there were no people in the room to listen and applaud. Also, due to Seattle City rules, all the performers were required to wear masks while performing.
In 2021, the Chamber Music Society put on a full series of concerts in the Winter and Summer. More musicians were able to travel to Seattle, and they were very happy to be “let out of their cages” to come and play music. The Seattle City regulations were nearly as onerous, with vaccination mandates for all musicians and staff, and also audience. No one could enter an indoor venue anywhere in King County without a certificate of vaccination, which prevented many patrons from attending in person. The Chamber Music Society had mastered the art of the live-stream, however, and they were able to put on a full slate of performances both in-person and streamed. The majority of performers still wore masks, including the piano page-turners. Since my husband has refused vaccination, we bought the live-stream tickets, and watched all the concerts.
The situation for the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra was much more difficult. The City had extensive rules regarding how many musicians could be on stage together, which necessitated cutting down the number of players, and only programming pieces for small ensembles. Since a jazz big band is formed mostly of wind and brass instruments (with drums, piano, and stand-up bass), the musicians had to be spaced six feet apart on stage (where they could not easily hear each other), and were forced to wear masks when they were not actively playing. They even had to mask their instruments! This is another brass ensemble, to give you an idea what that entailed (sorry, I couldn’t get a pic of the SRJO performers on stage).
I felt so sorry for all the musicians who had to play under such intolerable conditions. But I also found my feelings about the music changing. My husband and I agreed that, in the absence of in-person concerts and events, our ties with the organizations were changing. The City of Seattle abandoned its vaccine and mask mandates in late 2021, but the damage had already been done to the psyches of many of the musicians and patrons.
The SCMS Winter Festival went on as “normal”, but with significant differences. Many of the musicians still chose to wear masks while playing. Hubby and I agree that, since we are fully aware that mask-wearing has NO effect on the transmission of the Covid virus, the masked musicians diminished our pleasure in the performances. As I said before, I am a very visual person, and being unable to see the musicians’ facial expressions reduced the benefit I get from listening and watching chamber music. We agree that there is nothing we can do to persuade the musicians to change their behavior. The misinformation being spread by the so-called “public-health authorities” has possibly irretrievably changed the musicians’ emotional makeup, making them permanently afraid of being with other people without face coverings.
As to SRJO, they are still not back to full strength, and even though they are still putting on concerts, their halls still have capacity restrictions, so they can sell fewer tickets. Their “gala auction” in March was 100% virtual, which leaves out all the real fun of a benefit auction and dinner. We did not attend, and we find that it’s easier to just not tune in to the live-streamed concerts.
As I have said here before, we believe that the pandemic restrictions imposed by governments have severely damaged society in America, making everyone afraid of all other people; isolating people from one another, and contributing to social breakdown. They have succeeded in our case, in loosening the ties we used to have, to our favorite musical presenters. We no longer feel the connections we used to have, to the staff and musicians of both organizations. My husband’s accordion band, which is led by an elderly woman, has not met in over two years; that’s another tie loosened to the breaking point.
We agree that watching musicians in masks makes us uncomfortable, and less likely to gain pleasure from watching a chamber music or jazz concert, in person or live-streamed. We very much regret what the Health Nazis have done to our beloved musical groups and their staff, but it is what it is. And so we will be less inclined to watch, or to monetarily support, organizations that form the lifeblood of the performing-arts community in our area. It is a crying shame, and we are very unhappy.