I teach music at four schools: Queensborough, SUNY Purchase, Juilliard, and an after-school program in the Bronx. One by one, the pillars of my world evaporated last week as they each shifted their classes online to mitigate the spread of Covid-19. School leadership calls this practice “distance learning.”
I love being in the classroom, seeing my students’ faces — whether they’re smiling or not. Teaching for me is about connecting with people and helping them find their own connections with the ideas and skills we study. There’s a moment when you watch an idea spread across someone’s brain — the muscles in their face shift, and their eyes take on a new color. Those connections are much harder to make online.
This is the adjustment we have to make in order to ensure that the most vulnerable among us can remain safe — it’s part of living in a society that we all make compromises in order to live together. Knowing that doesn’t make it any easier, though.
Amidst refreshing Twitter, calling my friends and family around the world, and reading notes from you, I’ve spent the last few days going through a range of emotions: anxiety, sadness, worry, frustration. But I also found ways to connect with other musicians who are each facing different challenges — and coming up with new solutions — as their work evaporates.
I want to share with you a few stories from around the musical world of what’s happening for other musicians right now. Some of their concerns might be the same as your concerns. Maybe something of the obstacles they’re facing are things you would have never considered.
Loss of all income
We’ll take a closer look at the economics of music making in an upcoming discussion post, but the closure of all presenting venues, large and small, has a huge ripple effect in lost income for musicians, coming without warning and without precedent.
By all accounts, the next few weeks or months will be financially catastrophic for many musicians.
Some organizations have made a promise to pay the musicians they’ve hired for gigs through June, even though these concerts won’t take place. This list is long, but there are many other concerts that were simply canceled, with no chance for the musicians hired to ever receive payment for the work they put in to prepare for those concerts.
My approach is to be kind and as understanding as possible. I curate a concert series in Brooklyn and had booked an artist to play on March 14. I postponed the show on March 12 and paid the artist for his time — when we reschedule the gig later this year (fingers crossed), I know he’ll put on a great show then.
Creating new resources
Musicians in New York City have created a Facebook group to share resources, tips, and advice for getting through a possible stretch of several weeks with zero income. Other musicians across the country have contributed to a shared Google doc with help and advice for people whose income comes mostly from freelancing (it grew so large they turned it into a website). Other musicians are working together to promote their music through Twitter, working to make new connections with people they can collaborate with in the future, and sharing best practices for individuals and organizations.
New musical interactions
One group of musicians is exploring ways to make music online, together, without being in the same place or time. You can check out their new Discord here.
The Society for American Music has also created a new digital platform for music researchers to present their work to others, which would otherwise be impossible with the cancellation of conferences this spring. SAM will let a different musicologist present their work every day.
One of the easiest ways to curb transmission of all diseases is to wash your hands thoroughly. Twenty seconds — the recommended time you should spend lathering at the sink — is a long time! Singing a song to yourself as you do can help you meet the time limit, and people have been using a PSA-style poster to personalize with some of their 20-second song lyrics (Oprah’s website helped spread the word).
Other musicians are composing 20-second long pieces that you can wash your hands to.
A touch of light
In Italy, where a lockdown has been going on for almost two weeks (and is scheduled to end on April 3, assuming infection rates decrease), neighbors have been singing to each other through their open windows (click through for a charming video), finding a sense of solidarity and community through music.
The world we live in touches upon music making in many ways — just as music making touches the world in which we live. Feel free to share adjustments or innovations you’ve seen in just the first week of closures and social distancing here in the City. They’ll all affect how music gets made, is heard, and experienced.
PS – There are still ways for you to experience classical music performances during this shutdown. The concerts page has been updated with links to a variety of free streaming performances so you can still get an aspect of the concert-going experience.
A reasonable fear in all this is that, instead of embracing a new opportunity to reach and educate audiences, the same music will get played as it always does (i.e., the “famous” composers), even when marketing departments can’t blame a fear of decreased ticket sales on the lack of music by female, minority, or other marginalized composers.