At first, about two weeks ago, when the postponements and cancellations of events in March and April and beyond started to trickle in, we thought the best thing to do would be to take them out, as though they had never been planned. But as the trickle turned into a tide, we changed our minds about that. We have an explanation for why, and I’ll get to that. But with “Flattening the Curve” rapidly taking on the weight of an Eleventh Commandment, you will I hope forgive me my mild moment of rebellion in meandering a bit on my way to the point.
I don’t remember when exactly Ruth Vellis’ first phone call to me was, but I can call to mind even now her bright clarity on the phone, every time we spoke thereafter: “Hello, this is Ruth Vellis speaking. I have read your magazine forever. I used to pick it up at St. Stephen-in-the-Fields, right across the road from here, if I got there before they were all gone.”
“Here,” across the road from St. Stephen’s, as she explained, was Kensington Gardens retirement home. “I am 96 and not going to concerts right now, but I still love to read about them, so I can decide which ones I would have chosen to go to. I enjoy doing that.”
From that moment on, without fail, Chris Malcolm our circulation manager made a point of dropping off Ruth Vellis’ personal copy at Kensington Gardens. And every time, over the ensuing years, Ruth would call me (most often, I suspect, at times when she could just leave a message) to say thank you, and the message would be the same: “I am 97, 98, 99, … going to be a hundred soon, I am a hundred now … And I still love to read about the concerts I am not going to, because I enjoy choosing which ones I would have gone to if I could.”
Just as I cannot remember clearly when that first phone call was, I cannot (or perhaps choose not to) remember when they stopped.
But in this singular moment in time, we offer you, our readers, this magazine in the same spirit. Here are, to the best of our ability, the concerts none of us of us will be going to right now, so that you can enjoy deciding which ones you would have chosen to go to, and so that you can, if you so choose, reach out to the artists and presenters in question to express your sense of connection to them, in whatever way you best can.
It is our hope that for the community that this issue (our 240th in an unbroken chain stretching back to September 1995) will serve a specific purpose – as a record of what the bright normal would have been, and therefore a useful starting point for compiling an inventory of what has been lost in the April that would have been.
As soon as word of cancellations and postponements started trickling in, we implemented a “cancelled/postponed” filter for our online listings. It is important for readers to note that the CANCELLED/POSTPONED notices in the listings in this print issue are just a snapshot – a frozen moment in a fluid situation, reflecting information received by us only up to Friday March 20. Do not assume that because something listed here doesn’t say cancelled that it is happening.
We will continue, to the best of our ability, to keep updating our listings information on a daily basis, including, whenever that may be, the moment when among the “cancelled” and “postponed” notices, we start to see signs that the tide has turned as things are rescheduled and new dates are announced.
Staying in Print, But Not Only in Print
As you know, if you are turning pages as you read this, we are staying in print, but matching the number of copies to the distribution points (many forced to shutter temporarily) still available to us and to you. But we have a vigorous online, e-letter and social media existence as well, and I urge you, if you haven’t already done so, to avail yourself of these. A print publication that lumbers into existence nine times a year is ill-equipped to deal with the ever-changing, fast-moving pace of things, as a resourceful community in danger acts and reacts in the face of this unprecedented challenge, finding hope and beauty in hard times. Cues and clues to this digital realm, for artists and readers alike are dotted throughout this issue. I daresay most of you have time for a more-than-usual amount of reading and re-reading, so please seek them out.
The virus that went viral
Last Sunday morning around this same time, Jack and I were walking through a largely deserted Kensington Market, and ran across Maggie Helwig, poet, novelist, social justice activist, and minister of St. Stephen-in-the-Fields Anglican Church at College and Bellevue (yes, the selfsame St. Stephen’s at which Ruth Vellis used to pick up her copy of The WholeNote during her concertgoing days). “Shouldn’t you be in church?” we teased. The answer was that the diocese had instructed the suspension of all church services, but – thankfully, from Maggie’s perspective – not the suspension of other aspects of her ministry, in this inner city parish where the worlds of the least and most afflicted in our society most starkly intersect.
We talked about the strange time we are in. “We’ll never know for sure, whether or not all this was an overreaction or not,” I suggested. She nodded. “Unless, of course,” she said, “in spite of everything, it turns out to have been an under-reaction instead.”
Whether it’s the virus or the way the virus has gone viral that is most to blame for the tidal wave of impacts sweeping our society, is at this point immaterial. Moving forward, all we can do to help is to continue to tally those impacts, and our community’s responses to them, as best we can, in all the media available to us, so that you, our readers, can figure out how best to help, to whatever extent you can.
I discovered researching this piece that Ruth Vellis died on December 11, 2018 at the age of 102. I am certain she would have enjoyed choosing which of the concerts in this issue she would have gone to if she could. As, I am equally sure, will you.
David Perlman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org