Zoe Berg

In March 2020, members of the Yale-New Haven community began postponing concerts in response to the spreading COVID-19 virus. As the pandemic only continued to spread, postponements quickly turned into cancellations. Soon, almost all public arts events were replaced by socially distanced — and safer — virtual events. 

When Yale announced on March 11 that students would not be returning to campus any earlier than April 5, all undergraduate arts groups canceled performances through March 18. The Yale Philharmonia, the Yale Schola Cantorum and the Yale Glee Club canceled spring break tours. Then, the Yale Bands and the Yale Symphony Orchestra canceled summer tours. Other groups followed suit.

On March 13, Yale Symphony Orchestra Director William Boughton and Yale Glee Club Director Jeffrey Douma said they remained optimistic that later concerts might go on as planned. But after Yale announced that classes would remain online through the rest of the semester, it became clear that the concerts would not happen. 

Students in various arts groups expressed sadness over the loss of performances and subsequent loss of community. Yet they also understood that the cancellations were necessary measures for the good of the community. 

Out of Yalies’ sadness came new plans for meeting virtually to rehearse and even broadcast concerts to the public amid several states’ stay-at-home orders.

For the Yale Whiffenpoofs, rescheduling concert plans for the next semester was particularly difficult — the all-senior a cappella group’s members can only remain in the ensemble for one academic year. Music director Alex DiMeglio ’20+1 told the News, however, that the group had moved many of its spring semester tour performances to the fall. 

In place of their spring tour, the Whiffenpoofs stayed in New Haven for three weeks in March to produce an album. And Whiffenpoof members are considering coming together again for a few performances whenever classes resume. 

After its last in-person concert on March 5, the New Haven Symphony Orchestra was similarly forced to change its performance schedule, transitioning instead to virtual performances and educational outreach. In place of their usual weekly concerts, the NHSO created a series of fireside chats with its musical leaders and livestreamed several concerts.

In an effort to keep community youth involved with and learning about music, the NHSO added a new section to their website with educational materials. “Listen Up!” — one such resource — is an interactive series of podcasts and quizzes that explain foundational concepts in music education. These materials have proven widely popular and have since been used by schools in several states.

To lessen the financial burden the pandemic has placed on its members, the NHSO established the Musicians’ Relief Fund to raise money for the musicians. They are also working on a program that aims to use Paycheck Protection Program loans to compensate them.

A group of School of Music alumni — Felice Doynov MUS ’17, Florrie Marshall MUS ’18, Jonathan Salamon MUS ’17 ’23 and Alexandra Simpson MUS ’17 ’18 — also spoke to the News about the financial hardship currently facing them as musicians. The four musicians created a concert series called “Home2Home: A Concert Series by Yale School of Music Alumni.” The concert itself was a prerecorded video of 10 featured Yale alumni performing. After the concert, a reception via Zoom allowed the audience and musicians to interact. Though the series was free, attendees could make tax-deductible donations. 

Another group of Yale alumni, the New York City-based percussion quartet Sandbox Percussion, has been hosting weekly virtual musical events after many of their scheduled concerts were cancelled. For example, they hosted a Q&A session on composing for percussion and a conversation with Grammy-nominated composer Christopher Cerrone MUS ’09 ’14. 

Sandbox Percussion told the News that though their online efforts were born in response to COVID-19, they will not end once the pandemic has subsided. Such virtual events and outreach efforts would remove access barriers such as transportation, certain social codes and ticket fees. This would enable the quartet and ensembles to interact with a wider audience. 


Annie Radillo | annie.radillo@yale.edu