At one level early on within the pandemic, it appeared like all of us within the States have been, not less than considerably, on this full shutdown collectively. Not solely had live performance halls, black field theaters, and artwork areas shuttered, however sporting occasions, eating places and bars, hair salons, workplaces, universities, and colleges additionally went darkish, and the nice pivot to Zoom was born. Positive, one symphony after one other referred to as it quits for the remainder of the season, with world premieres placed on maintain and music festivals utterly referred to as off, however so was every little thing else. This may simply be a misplaced second for us all, a pregnant pause to reset and reignite once we may lastly return and make music collectively, a sacrifice we have been all dedicated to for the well being of everybody.
Then, slowly, reopening started. Right here in Arkansas, eating places opened as much as restricted in-person eating, and bars may serve with new well being pointers and occupancy reductions beginning in late Could. Hair salons and tattoo parlors started reserving appointments once more. By July, the MLB introduced a delayed begin to its 60-game season. Then, in August, my faculty city of Fayetteville, AR, dwelling to the College of Arkansas and its enrollment of 27,562, opened again up for in-person research and introduced a Razorback soccer season full with attendees on the stadium.
I watched in horror as faculty college students from throughout the nation moved to city whereas instances of Covid-19 continued to climb. I dreaded the primary dwelling sport of the soccer season. It was deemed secure by the powers that be due to mandated masks sporting, a restricted 17,000 occupancy for a 76,000 seat stadium, and official tailgating referred to as off totally. However from a public well being standpoint, the hazard was clear. I imply, precisely the place would all of the revelers be going after the large win? Or to hang around earlier than sport day? I hunkered down, ensuring to solely exit for necessities, and averted downtown close to the school campus.
Regardless of sports activities being decidedly on, the College of Arkansas music division dedicated to a 100% digital live performance season. The campus’ largest stage, contained in the Faulkner Performing Arts Heart, solely seats 500, with the music division’s personal stage reaching capability at 238. But, the music division opted for no in-person performances for all of 2020 and past. This dedication to do our half to cease the unfold felt unanimous inside my native music and performing arts group, and is only one excessive instance of what I see taking place throughout the nation in my beloved modern music world.
Not solely did we lose a yr’s price of live shows and gigs, in lots of instances, we didn’t qualify for pandemic safety and even unemployment advantages. On this dire state of affairs, I’ve heard about symphony gamers changing into Uber drivers, a pair on the verge of shopping for their first dwelling as an alternative shifting again to the suburbs the place they grew up as a result of their cash merely dried up, and even crippling melancholy that’s led to suicide. The unwavering grief is palpable, the staggering loss big. However we don’t converse of our sorrows, as a result of that sorrow is in all places. With practically 300,000 useless and counting, there are tragedies way more harrowing than ours erupting throughout us. Our loss was outstanding, but predictable, in a society that treats the tremendous arts sector as non-essential.
As with different systemic, structural points inside America, the pandemic has merely exacerbated and uncovered the issues that have been there all alongside. The humanities are considered as a luxurious–nobody wants us. We must be grateful that we’ve ever gotten to carry out the Allegro of a string quartet or write a evaluate of that modern composer’s recording undertaking that folds collectively Baroque counterpoint and improv free jazz from an ensemble of classical and digital devices. Although the humanities sector added a mixed whole of $52.2 billion to the U.S. economic system in 2017, with the nonprofit arts sector producing $166.3 billion yearly (in keeping with information from the Nationwide Endowment for the Arts), we’re merely not as vital as soccer, and even getting a stiff cocktail down on the native bar. And what the pandemic remedy of classical musicians tells me, much more so now than earlier than it hit, is that our society believes that solely the privileged should create.
An advocacy group referred to as the National Independent Venue Association is organizing for a lot wanted assist. In keeping with their analysis, 90 p.c of impartial venues are in peril of closing except assist arrives. Their Save Our Stages marketing campaign has included a splashy reside music profit, which noticed Phoebe Bridgers and Miley Cyrus carry out, and a letter writing marketing campaign to Congress, with greater than 2 million already despatched up to now. Whereas the sphere of up to date, composer-driven sounds definitely receives large sign boosts and cultural cache when carried out in storied live performance halls or artwork establishments, small impartial venues present an important supply inside that ecosystem, one that permits for dangers and experimentation, and fostering of DIY communities. These venues need assistance, they usually want it now, earlier than it’s too late.
The pandemic can also be exposing the exploitative mannequin of the streaming economic system we discover ourselves in, which devalues music in an period the place the historical past of music may be performed without spending a dime in your telephone. Spotify famously pays .02 cents per stream. Extra not too long ago, it made headlines for providing up an algorithmic enhance for a bit to change into extra seen on playlists if musicians select to forgo fee. Not that the recording trade was actually all that wholesome earlier than. Streaming is solely a nail within the coffin for even the phantasm that there’s cash to be produced from releasing an album except you’re Taylor Swift or Dua Lipa or every other Prime 40 sensation. Streaming tradition pushed performing and touring as the reply to truly making a residing as a musician–and poof, that’s gone in the meanwhile.
In contrast to Spotify’s a lot maligned tech-company-first, music-second mannequin, the impartial music website Bandcamp (full disclosure, my byline seems there) prioritizes artists and labels. Early on within the pandemic, they began Bandcamp Fridays, which happen the primary Friday of every month, as a method to give on to musicians and labels in a time after they have been hit closely. On these days, 100% of Bandcamp gross sales go on to artists and labels, which has generated $75 million in income. It’s a pandemic-begun initiative that brings a lot wanted consideration to the bigger issues that our present streaming economic system hoists on musicians. In November, additionally they unveiled a sturdy ticketed reside stream platform. Bandcamp is popping into a real DIY godsend for excellent news amongst such heavy grief.
Reside streams received’t substitute the bodily resonance, spontaneous vitality, and communal reverie of IRL live shows. To not point out latency points, which make reside stream ensemble taking part in not possible, aren’t going away any time quickly. Although it does imply that I can attend a live performance from 2,000 miles away by switching on my laptop computer as I lounge in my flannel jammies from the consolation of my lounge couch. There’s a brand new stage of accessibility on this world of reside stream shows that I hope sticks round lengthy after the masks mandates fade.
Since following pandemic public well being pointers means scaling again, there’s a possibility right here for a wider embrace of deliberately small-scale intimate performances in progressive settings that foster extra private connections. Maybe main donors and huge establishments will take discover of this vibrant ecosystem and its capacity to tear down oppressive practices made within the title of custom. As a substitute of mass attraction and blockbuster names to promote seats, pandemic programming should suppose anew. Whether or not that’s by way of a chamber ensemble performing alongside a ridge simply off a path winding by way of Central Park or within the embrace of on-line live shows, and even in the concept that musicians must be paid for his or her recordings. It’s a glimmer of hope in our present panorama.
I’m mourning a loss and accepting what I already knew about how modern music is perceived and valued right here in the USA. However on the identical time, I can’t assist however hope for a greater future, one that appears in direction of fairness and innovation, to a society that sees this music and its performances as a necessary, even very important, presence in our lives.
I CARE IF YOU LISTEN is a program of the American Composers Discussion board, funded with beneficiant donor and institutional help. A gift to ACF helps help the work of ICIYL. Editorial selections are made on the sole discretion of the editor-in-chief. For extra on ACF, go to the “At ACF” section or composersforum.org.