Well, here we are, mostly stuck at home—some working, others studying, and many trying to figure out what to do to fill the time. For me, the month started quietly, but by the time I started rehearsing with the DSO for planned performances of Carmina Burana, the World Health Organization had declared the coronavirus a pandemic, and life in the United States began to change. The next few days brought concert cancellations, starting with those in Detroit.
Next it was with the young musicians of The Orchestra Now at Bard College in New York. We were supposed to play a program in Manhattan, but the school shut down classes, and you just cannot rehearse an orchestra virtually. However, I could still spend two hours with the students doing a webinar. We talked about how to audition for a job, getting nervous, and what to expect when entering the professional workforce.
I took questions and found myself surprised by how effective it was to do this remotely. My very best to all those who participated, and I hope I will be able to go to Bard in person in the future. And to the student who thought my hockey reference was insulting, I love the sport and was simply repeating something comedian and social commentator John Oliver said: “All professional sports and hockey have been cancelled.”
The next visit was supposed to be with another youth orchestra, this one in Moscow. Clearly that was not going to work, but it had implications for the following weeks. I was scheduled for a three-week stint in Tokyo with the NHK. I had to wait to see what was going on there, and if things had greatly improved. However, it turned out that the U.S. government told us not to travel abroad. It seemed to be more a question of getting back home rather than the situation in Asia, although that seems to be changing again.
With Seoul the last planned stop on the trip, and a Level 3 warning having been in place since this all started, that engagement had to be cancelled as well. These were dates I was truly looking forward to, and I hope they can all be reinstated.
At home, it took a few days to develop a routine that was palatable. I work on a new book every morning—more about that soon. I do some studying, mostly of pieces I want to re-examine rather than those that might be upcoming in performance.
After lunch, I head down to the cave and watch a mid-afternoon movie or a couple of TV shows, all of which Cindy has no interest in. I tend to watch anything. The Outsider turned out to be quite interesting, and The Sinner also caught my attention. Hunters was fascinating, but I was a little put off by the parts that were intended as satire but served to disrupt a very serious story. Following the matinee, I catch up on mail and messages.
Dinner is next on the docket. So far, I have not missed the carbs. Pasta, white rice and bread have all disappeared from my diet for the time being. Staying at home gives me an opportunity to control my weight, which is always more difficult to do on the road. Then it is back to the cave, this time with Cindy joining for another movie. Jojo Rabbit, Yesterday and The Good Liar were among the films I had not seen in the theater. A return visit to Werner Herzog was welcome, simply because the director eschewed special effects in an effort to make the works as authentic as possible. Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo, along with the documentary Burden of Dreams, were still fresh after decades. I have thought about going through Roger Ebert’s book The Great Movies to try and watch all the ones that I have never before seen. This depends on how much longer I am housebound. After the nightly film, we catch up on the news with Brian Williams, and then it is lights out.
If you are looking for something to add to your own quarantine routine, I might suggest my radio show, “The Slatkin Shuffle,” which is now available for on-demand listening. It is the most entertaining two hours you can imagine, as it jumps around in genre and style like a virtual, all-encompassing jukebox. Check it out here. A new episode will be added every Monday.
The impact of the virus has caused us to change our daily habits. For some, working from home may be normal practice, but even they are accustomed to getting out once in a while. As with many of you, I have been checking in on the news more often than usual. For the most part, the virus-team updates have been valuable for the insights and observations of the medical professionals. Politicians should stay out of it.
Looking at various posts on social media, we can see some clever and humorous pictures and videos. Still being able to laugh is critical at this time. The expression “laughter is the best medicine” may not be quite so applicable here, as we do not yet have the pharmaceutical remedies available. Musicians, for the most part, enjoy humor and satire as a creative outlet, and these elements are contained in many works by various composers. However, being unable to share our creativity with an audience is foreign to us. So we resort to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and various other virtual outlets as a means of communication.
With these diversions, things have not been too bad. However, thinking about what may lie ahead has provoked some thoughts about where we will be once the virus has been controlled. Cancellation of virtually all concert life is the order of the day. It is too early to know the implications for all the artists, stagehands and staff members of any given organization.
Those fortunate enough to have enjoyed professional success may not be in financial jeopardy for the time being. But what of all the young musicians who have just begun their careers? If they are independent, more than likely they do not have adequate health coverage, and without real opportunities for performances, what will they do if the infestation grows? I have no answer for this. On the assumption that concert life returns in some form, perhaps arts organizations will give newcomers the chance to fill in for the big names. I do not mean by jumping in for them but rather by replacing them on the season schedule. Most of us who have done well can afford to give up a date or two in order to help out.
How will orchestras survive? Again, I do not know. Certainly numerous meetings are taking place to examine all the possibilities. As of this writing, all we really know is the rate of cancellation and postponement, and this has already taken a toll, with entire seasons erased. It is all well and good that the stimulus package contains some money for arts institutions, but it will hardly meet the increasing demand for funds as the true extent of the damage becomes clear.
And the audiences? They are now staying at home, watching and listening while singers, chamber music ensembles and orchestras put up their wares online. The idea is to remind everyone that the arts are still there and to maintain a sense of connection, but will this impact audience habits in the future? What if people start to believe that their dwelling place is just fine and there is no need to spend money to go to the opera or concert hall?
As of now, these and so many more questions are racing though the hearts and minds of the cultural community. Hopefully there will be a scientific breakthrough that moves us ahead. No one should pin hopes on speculation. We all have to wait until those who truly know tell us that it is safe. In the meantime, creativity cannot cease. Write something, draw something, play something. Use your imaginations to keep the grey matter flourishing.
Even though I have sounded some alarms, I continue to believe that we will come out of this in decent shape. Nothing will be the same, and we must be prepared for that. This is the time when creative leadership is needed. Maybe one of you will be the catalyst for change.
See you next month,