Baroque for BabyThe cognitive benefits of musical studies are well-documented and often repeated – used to attract and draw in prospective students to music schools and studios across the world. For many parents, music lessons for their children is as much an investment in their future as the pursuit of cultural understanding and artistic accomplishment – a résumé-building, college-application-enhancing tool in some future well beyond the horizon.

But while the decision to undertake musical studies is often pragmatic, even when it is not it should be initiated as early as possible, exposing even babies’ ears to the widest possible range of symphonies, songs and sounds and encouraging our little geniuses to connect with as much aural diversity as possible. As a parent, it can be challenging to consider such things, especially when entering one’s fourth Baby Shark marathon of the day, but Tafelmusik is helping make the introduction of classical music to our youngest family members slightly easier with their latest album, Baroque for Baby.

Read more: Testing the Waters: Tafelmusik’s Baroque for Baby

Last month I focused on the innovative approach being taken by the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra in response to public gatherings being severely restricted. With essential components of live music-making affected indefinitely, arts organizations, both in Canada and around the world, continue to grapple with the realization that almost nothing is the same as it was before. Paradoxically, it seems that these struggles are being felt most acutely by some of our greatest cultural institutions; by the time you read this month’s WholeNote, it will be public knowledge that the Metropolitan Opera is cancelling the remainder of their 2020/21 season, leaving musicians, administrators and other staff furloughed until September 2021, at the earliest. 

Part of the problem with such large-scale establishments is their inability to make wide-ranging changes quickly. Think of them as the dinosaurs of the music world: impressively massive, overwhelmingly resilient, and built for long-term duration in a relatively stable environment. However, if the need for quick and pivotal adjustment occurs due to a catastrophic change in the outside environment, there is a very real danger that the factors which made these organizations so great may be the same things that lead to their extinction.

It is with interest, then, that we turn our gaze to Kingston, Ontario, where the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts has recently released its Fall Festival programming. Obviously much smaller in scale than the Metropolitan Opera, The Isabel is nonetheless a significant presenter of musical performances, ranging in style from classical to folk and everything in between. Accommodating the impositions of a global pandemic is no easy feat, and the Isabel is facing these challenges by adopting a multi-platform approach, offering concerts both virtually and in-person. 

Each performance will be streamed live through the Isabel Digital Concert Hall and films of the live concerts will be available to ticketholders for up to seven days after the performance. For those attending in person (at time of writing, a maximum of 50 people), single tickets are available in physically distanced arrangements, with a number of additional safety protocols in place to ensure the health of all concertgoers and staff. While the majority of these measures would have been unthinkable even one year ago, the realities of COVID-19 have required such adaptations from those who are able to do so.

Read more: Kingston’s Bader Centre: Alacrity in a multiplatform world

Elisa Citterio, David Costello, and Marco Cera in Jeanne Lamon Hall at work on Elisa's Midsummer Night's Dream, a short film by Marco Cera, which conjures an imaginary return to the stage. It was filmed June 1-4, 2020 at Trinity-St. Paul's Centre observing physical distancing requirements with all musicians filmed individually, but the full orchestra brought together by movie magic. Photo credit TafelmusikIf the past seven months have taught us anything, it might be that the post-COVID world will move at a different pace than that which came before. Everyday decisions previously motivated by personal, social, and economic factors are now tempered by input from public health officials and other medical professionals attempting to contain and control the transmission of this new and deadly pathogen, resulting in exceedingly cautious and temporally conservative steps forward that have made dining at a restaurant feel like a momentous occasion. While social interactions and public spaces continue to reopen, at least for the time being, those things that were previously taken for granted and assumed to be perpetual have been reframed by the pandemic and forced to undergo a societal reevaluation through a new kind of cost-benefit analysis. 

For public performers and those who make their living within arts organizations, these public health interventions have appeared as doomsday prophecies, requiring unprecedented quick action and the changing of entire business models in mere weeks or months. Although soloists and smaller groups are able to pivot relatively quickly and efficiently, larger organizations – such as orchestras – face a more daunting challenge, having to implement novel guidelines and codes of conduct that ensure the safety of their performers and prospective audiences as the possibility of reopening draws closer. As September approaches and new seasons launch, how are arts organizations grappling with, and managing, these new and essential factors?

Read more: How to Get Back to the Concert Hall? Adapt. Adapt. Adapt.

The world is not the same as it was before. Over the past few weeks we have been inundated with news and information about self-quarantines, social isolation, and a virus that has the potential to take thousands, if not millions, of lives. With national economies grinding to a halt and governments injecting billions of dollars into them, borders closing, and the word war being used more and more frequently, the impact this episode will have on the future is inestimable. 

While this global pandemic affects every aspect and component of everyday life, the arts and culture sector has received a particularly severe blow. With concerts cancelled around the world and artists being released from contracts and freelance arrangements, performers are struggling to determine how to manage their lives and careers, and to plan for a highly unpredictable future. To put it mildly, the performing arts is not, by and large, a work from-home sector; it is the gathering of people to share in a communal experience that lies at the heart of what it means to be a musician, whether in a church or concert hall, and the loss of this fundamental participatory component has rendered the entire cultural sector inert. While broadcasts and livestreams can replicate the concert experience to an extent, the inherently human facet of congregational listening (in both secular and sacred contexts) is left wanting. In short, it simply feels different when it’s not in person.

This is not, however, the first time that global events have impacted the arts in a wide-scale way, threatening to decimate an already precarious industry. Over the last five centuries there have been numerous instances in which war and disease have affected and influenced the process and product produced by composers and performers, and we learn that severe societal unrest has the power to evoke significant artistic changes. Consider, for example, the rise of the avant-garde after the World Wars, where composers such as Boulez, Stockhausen, Schnittke, Ligeti, Nono, Berio and Penderecki produced radical and often grotesque musical representations of the terrors of war. Little consolation, but it may be that such radical advancements in the musical lexicon might never have resulted if not for the immense anguish and savagery of war? 

And here are some other examples.

Read more: Music in Times of Trouble

Over the last seven centuries, German-speaking artists have provided a powerful and innovative influence in almost every artistic discipline, from the region’s beginnings as a constellation of independently governed states to the present day, setting a standard for excellence in music, art, and architecture, and producing a roster of artists and artworks that are exemplars within their chosen fields.

Consider, for example, these composers from what now constitutes a unified Germany: Bach, Handel, Beethoven, Brahms, Strauss and Schoenberg; each is a pivotal figure in the Western art music tradition, their music appearing countless times each year on concert programs throughout the world. Also consider these interpreters, conductors who have revolutionized the way we think of the baton-wielding orchestral leader: Mendelssohn, von Bülow, Furtwängler and Klemperer. Their recordings are some of the best-selling of all time. Expand our lists of German-speakers to neighbouring Austria, and the list becomes even more astoundingly impressive: Mozart, Mahler, Karajan, Böhm, Kleiber ….

Read more: “Im Deutsch” - Exploring Germanic Musical Identity
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