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  • Catriona Delaney

The Year the World Lost Music

Music breathes life into isolation. It fills a void in space and time and a deeper empty space inside. The arts are one of the hardest hit by COVID19 - not infected by the virus but completely and utterly affected in a deadly way. The world of live performance is on the brink of ruin. Millions of artists the world over have been rendered obsolete.


While other industries, such as hospitality, suffered similar pangs during the initial shut down, government bodies at all levels have made substantial inputs to keep those businesses afloat. This includes creating environments where they can continue to work and sell and serve the public.


In live music, it's a very different story. Virtual performance is neither broadly appealing or lucrative for an orchestra (and the world of dance); our losses are keenly felt. A new understanding of technology and music is required for any reasonable success in this format. The cost involved in live streaming performances on a stage are more or less the same as a live staged performance, without the revenue. In the absence of funding for ALL orchestras, most will not survive.


On an individual level, the sobering reality is many gifted, educated, dedicated professional musicians will put down their instruments and go look for other work. More demoralizing is the dismissive, derisive attitudes of those who are staring at our shattered careers, who breezily suggest "get another job, do something else." These are sentiments we would not easily express to engineers, lawyers, doctors, or other professionals. But persistent stereotypes of musicians as transient workers as opposed to dedicated, degreed, professionals permit others to look down them. And we are staring down a dark hole of competing for employment we weren't trained to fill.


During this COVID experience, musicians have not been permitted to work in many cases. This is true for orchestras. While others go out to public venues, weddings, restaurants, events, after work or on weekends, musicians have complied with restrictions longer than most, with the most substantial loss of income and the least government support. People who refuse to wear mask and who attend superspreader events and ignore restrictions are actively keeping musicians from employment.


Funding, is the only way forward for an orchestra. Without it, we will disappear. The government should find a blanket funding solution for all registered orchestras (and other performance groups) that can be disseminated and used for virtual projects to be delivered to isolated groups such as seniors and others in quarantine as well as pay per view platforms. Permit funders such as the Canada Arts Council, Ontario Arts Council, the Toronto Arts Council, Celebrate Ontario and Trillium to oversee the preservation of art during the pandemic and its recovery.

Live performance should be a public service fundamentally supported by government to preserve the arts and to provide a safe platform so musicians can continue to perform and be paid, administrators can work on real projects (not wishful thinking plans for when COVID is gone), and isolated people can have live performances where they live or in isolated spaces that need to be filled - like our souls.

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