I was on a disturbing phone call, the purpose of which was to determine whether a non-profit that's very close to my heart will be able to move forward in these turbulent times. The phrase that kept surfacing was "we aren’t considered essential." This is an organization, by the way, that exists to provide one-to-one mentoring to our underserved youth. A great mission, but on the surface, one that doesn’t necessarily meet the definition of "essential." We’re not feeding people, not providing homes, not providing jobs, not providing medical supplies. Make no mistake, I’m all for putting our energy and resources toward what really matters in times like these. That said, being labeled "non-essential" stung.
As I contemplated the harsh reality of our fiscal woes, the person speaking said something that was designed to make everyone on the call feel better, but had the opposite impact on me. To mildly paraphrase, he said, "Nothing is considered more non-essential than the arts." What?? Had I been able to leap through the phone line and rip out his tongue, I would have done so. Thank goodness that wasn’t the end of his statement. He continued, "Yet arts leaders around the country are taking a stand, connecting with their patrons, and preaching about the viability of their organizations." He went on to say that many arts organizations are using their creativity and outside-the-box thinking to figure out ways to reach and sustain contact with their audiences and donors despite shutdowns and cancellations. In other words, while some arts organizations may not survive, they certainly don’t plan to go gently. And they can serve as an example to us all.
That’s when it dawned on me. Whether we make a living in the arts, support them through our patronage, simply love music, or all of the above, the arts ARE essential. More than essential, in fact. For many of us, they’re the reason we get up in the morning.
Searching for Inspiration
No sooner did I get off this phone call, I went to check out my most valued news source: Violinist.com. I suspect I was looking for solace more than news, and I found it. Laurie had posted a wonderful piece titled The Week in Hope - Inspiring Spontaneous Music Online. When I clicked on Yo-Yo Ma playing the Sarabande from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 3, my universe went from dark to light. I was transported from my solitary gloom to a state of wonder and awe. Glorious music played by a magnificent musician. And if that weren’t enough, Mr. Ma dedicated his performance to the healthcare workers on the frontline, writing, "Your ability to balance human connection and scientific truth in service of us all gives me hope."
Listening to 2 minutes and 9 seconds of Bach completely changed the trajectory of my day. Mr. Ma was simply doing what he does best. And in doing so, he did something incredibly essential — he brought beauty and joy into a random stranger’s life. And not just this random stranger. The last time I looked, he had well over one million views and close to 50,000 likes. Those numbers represent individual lives being touched. The true power of music. If music can harness that type of power, how can it possibly be deemed non-essential?
Sheltered in Place With Music
Although hostage in my own home, I have hundreds of scores on the shelves to be studied, a violin that never tires of being played, a piano awaiting my touch, and etude books that have not been cracked in decades. I could be sheltered at home for years and never run out of musical work to do. For me, music is absolutely essential. And although I am alone, playing to no one in particular, it is still live music. It still challenges my brain and activates my imagination. And I am comforted in the knowledge that millions of other musicians are doing the same — be it from balconies, living rooms, or backyard decks.
As one of my dear violinist friends recently said, "It's unbearable to see performing arts all around the world holding a ‘fermata’ in this horrible way!" Yet we all know the meaning of fermata. And I truly believe there will come that point where we take a collective breath, move our bows to the frog, and begin the da capo.
Author’s note to classical music ticket holders: If you’ve purchased tickets for live musical/theatrical events that have been cancelled and you are in a position to do so, please consider converting your tickets into a donation rather than asking for a refund. If enough people do this, it could well be the difference between an organization staying afloat during the crisis or going under. Even though an event was cancelled, thousands of dollars have already been spent in the preparation process.
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