Coping with crisisThis is the third article focusing on where music organizations are in the middle of the COVID pandemic. I begin by talking with Chris Williams (Executive Director of the Eastern Music Festival, who had to cancel the in-person portion of EMF, although there were several concerts and other virtual offerings through the summer months.

TL: “Your season is over.” Williams: “This is the time of year where we jump headlong into student recruitment. Everything about that is new and different. All of the conferences that we normally attend have been cancelled, and we’re having to figure out how to get the message to the students that they’re going to be in a safe place….”

“So, in a way, things are more up in the air now than they were at the beginning of the summer. When we formulated our summer plans, we knew this would be a short-term, plan. We knew it would get us through the summer, and now we have to start over.”

Thoughts about the upcoming 2021, 60th season. “We’re trying to collect some reminiscences, and some stories, and some information from audience and from faculty and staff who have been around a long time – just a way to gather an oral history of the festival [using Story Corps]. The last time we did anything like it was the 50th anniversary – a paper document. The idea was that we would have ‘weekly EMF minutes’ that we would post on our website with little interviews, and snippets. We’re going to gather a bunch of good stuff and then figure out what to do.”

“We had planned for the whole summer to get folks under the shade trees before the concerts, meeting people, talking about their history with EMF; but we missed everybody this summer – we’ll have to do it a different way.”

TL: “How are finances right now?” Williams: “We are OK. By not producing the festival in the same grand format, we actually saved some money. Lots of people were very kind, people who would have bought two to four tickets made a hundred-dollar donation. So, the expenses went way down, the overhead went way down, and we didn’t have to pay guest artists’ fees. We got a PPP loan that helped us keep the administrative staff employed through the summer. And we got a little bit of money from the state – $7,500 that will particularly help us on the recruiting.”

À la carte

I talked to performing music professors Clara O’Brien and Lance Hulme, founders of À la Carte. Hulme: “We planned an October concert…, we had hoped we’d be able to get a half dozen players together, lots of duets and things like that. But it was too fraught to get even two or three players together. So, we postponed that.”

O’Brien: “We do have two concerts scheduled in the spring. We’re planning to do the concerts that were planned last spring that we weren’t able to do. And we’re really hoping to get the Christmas concert going.”

Hulme: “We are in process right now of contacting the same performers. The [Christmas] concert is December 5 and if we’re lucky at that point, we’ll probably have some kind of limited audience ability at least. We’ll still stream it live, hopefully with some people at the event. We’re trying to expand it…; if we can bring it off, it will be the biggest concert we’ve done so far.”

Both expressed concern for the musicians who earn their living by performing. “Being in education provides a cushion. But those that don’t have that cushion…, their lives are really on the line right now. We have musician friends in New York… who are offering to make accompaniment tapes and send them out for a couple of bucks. It tells you just how fragile our arts infrastructure really is, and that’s disturbing.”

Finances? Hulme: “Being a free series, it’s not a matter that we have to generate income; we want that direct contact with our audience that makes ALC such an exciting series.”

Greensboro Opera

Greensboro Opera had to postpone their fall opera, but they have exciting plans. David Holley (General and Artistic Manager of the Greensboro Opera): “We’ve postponed Porgy and Bess for fourteen months, to January 21 and 23, 2022.”

Other plans include a gala, student opera, and a lecture series. Holley: “We plan to have some kind of virtual gala this fall, probably in November. Also, we applied for and got a North Carolina Humanities Relief grant. Keith Cushman [retired UNCG English professor] is on our board, and he’s doing a series of three lectures called ‘Porgy and Bess: From Novel to Play to Opera.’ It was all of those – a novel by Dubose Heyward [1925] and it was adapted into a play [1927] and finally the opera [1935]. The Gershwins and Heyward were involved in the writing of the libretto. That’s going to be January, February, and March 2021. The hope is it will be a mix of both live (maybe socially distanced) and streamed simultaneously.”

“Elementary school kids go back in October face-to-face. We’re hoping to do Opera at the Carolina in February 2021 with 6,000 youngsters. And we have been looking at Derrick Wang’s Scalia v. Ginsburg [2015]. It’s a little chamber opera, about 90 minutes long. It only has a couple of characters, so maybe could be done in a creative, distanced way if we’re not in-person. Not sure of the date or locale.”

Final thoughts? Holley: “Every Monday at 9:45, Laura Way [from ArtsGreensboro] convenes us on Zoom, all of the executive/artistic/general directors. It’s been really good to get to know those people a little bit better where we have all previously been in our own little silos. I’d like to continue [the interaction with other folks], maybe not every week. We all share a lot of common ground. I can’t wait for us [the entire community] to gather in a room and have a shared experience around art.”