Despite setbacks, classical musicians have found ways to stay active during the recent quarantine.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has affected the livelihood of musicians, both financially or physically. Many musicians’ careers depend on concerts, many of which have been cancelled or postponed indefinitely. Due to limitations, many have turned to technology and supporting each other to help the community during this time.
“All of my performances have been cancelled, and anything I was hoping to do in the spring had been pushed off into the road,” said Dr. Alice Jones, a professor and flutist working at Juilliard, Purchase College, and Queensborough Community College.
Jones previously curated interactive chamber music concerts at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music. The pandemic has pressed her to cancel all of them, and left her responsible for financial obligation and reimbursements for musicians who planned to perform. Jones used her stimulus check to pay the contracts of musicians, in the hopes this would ensure them some income during the economic shutdown.
During the quarantine, Jones said she has worked on commissions. She has posted four different pieces on her website and paid any freelance musician who would learn and perform a part to provide them with much needed income. Since she started doing this, other musicians have reached to Jones for commissions, adding extra work for the coming months.
Jones has also taught virtual summer classes for the Juilliard Preparatory Division in addition to her regular seasonal classes at the Juilliard MAP to teach younger students topics such as ethnomusicology, or the study of music from different cultures, as well as participating in the recent protests for Black Lives Matter.
Simon Frisch, a composition doctorate student at the Juilliard School, said that many of his showcases and travels were postponed indefinitely, and many classes have moved electronically. Frisch, whose studies focus on composition, has shifted his attention to his other interests, such as pre-15th century music.
“In spite of my study plans, at least in person, being cancelled for the summer, meaning going to Europe… I was able to study Parisian repertoire and manuscripts, and older forms of notations, all of which I think inform my compositional practice,” says Frisch.
Despite not being able to travel to many of the origins of this music, Frisch has devoted time to analyzing these works, and still has plans to go to France next year.
Frisch noted that composers, in contrast to musicians, had an easier time adjusting to the technology needed, because of the abundance of compositional programs and resources available. He was able to teach a compositional student from Australia using virtual classroom technology .
Lucija Budinski, a 14 year old flutist from New York, has taken the time away to school to learn new instruments.
“I’ve been watching a ukulele course online, and have been improving my singing, as I want to try writing my own music.” said Budinski. Budinski has also been continuing to work on repertoire from before the quarantine.
However, Budinski also noted that the quarantine affects her workflow.
“I think I’ve started to procrastinate more and just been less motivated. I haven’t been outside much, and just having the ability to stay home all day … has affected my work ethic extremely,” said Budinski.
Jones and Frisch have also taken the time to invest in other hobbies outside of music, such as cooking and baking, that were helpful during quarantine, as well as the importance of self-care.
Yet Jones has remained concerned about the accessibility of technology, and how that discrepancy might affect musicians who may not have that access readily available.
“Not everybody has access to the things we’re using. Not everybody has a reliable internet. Not everybody has a computer. Not everybody has a quiet space,” said Jones.
Others, like Lucija Budinski, a Juilliard MAP student, said they are worried about decreased pay for musicians and small businesses, as well as the caution for reopening, especially for schools.
“I think some musicians will definitely have a decrease in pay and audience,” said Budinski. “So many people are going out of business, and the virus is still nowhere near to a close.”
Concert halls and theaters too, like Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and even Broadway, will remain closed until the end of 2020.