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Thoughts on the Pandemic

The pandemic of 2020 stole my voice.  I have created music in some form or fashion almost every day for the last 60 years.  Music has been my constant companion, it has empowered me, it has comforted me, it has completed me. But the Pandemic of 2020 relegated me to the role of observer rather than practitioner.  While sporting events returned, live musical performances remained silent or, at best, became a two-dimensional, remote experience that undeniably assuaged neither participant nor consumer. The live concert experience offers enormous emotional gratification as the sum of the many individual talents coalesce into something far greater. The live experience encourages us to take risks and marvel at the results.   The pandemic created a discernable void in the hearts and minds of many, a void that performers are desperate to fill once this vile time has passed.  We have been taught how precious the expression of music truly is, and how it can lift our spirit and give us hope.  Music can transcend the ugliness that we have endured and offers us peace in time of turmoil.

I am extremely fortunate in that the pandemic did not seriously affect my financial wellbeing.  While I did see the evaporation of my ballet conducting opportunities, the two institutions that I serve as artistic leader were able to keep me at full salary as I plan for our eventual return to concerts.  This has been an arduous task as the landscape is continually changing.   I was offered a loan through the CARES act that would have replaced the lost income, but I refused it as my financial picture, with some belt tightening, was manageable.  There were many, many individuals who needed the money far more than I did.  I was grateful that orchestra leadership agreed with my advice to share the monies derived from relief grants with our musicians, many of whom were in desperate need of help.

In a typical year, I would conduct approximately 60 performances.  The drought brought on by the pandemic has afforded me time to explore other avenues.  My cooking has become more sophisticated.  My basement is a lot less cluttered. And I have also embarked on several projects exploring holes in my repertoire. I have worked my way through the 9 symphonies of Anton Bruckner.  I also have explored the “Grandfather Generation” of American composers, peers of Aaron Copland who left a uniquely American voice in music that is rarely heard in the concert hall.  I have traversed some of the cinematic work of Federico Fellini, and I joined a book club. While I have enjoyed this glimpse at retirement, I long for the frenetic activity of concert life.

Another saddening reality that has astonished me is the extreme fear that has been generated through this entire episode in our history.  I have lost friends who shake their boney fingers at me for not hiding under the bed for the duration.  The fear mongering brought on by the media and assumedly well-meaning scientists (who change their minds as often as musicologists insisting that their perception of ancient performance practice is the correct one, only to alter their thinking after you have purchased their book!) has contributed to the fractured society in which we now find ourselves.

But the perseverance of the human condition always prevails.  We will overcome these obstacles and endure as a global society. I am defiantly hopeful that the performing arts will see a resurgence in popularity given the enormous sense of community and hope that they represent.  Those who have prudently managed the lockdown will emerge stronger and more resilient to a public that hungers for what they have to offer. The future is bright, and with urgency we must seize every opportunity ahead.