Coping with crisisI’ve been checking in with several of the different music organizations in Greensboro to get a bead on what’s been happening mid-Covid. This article looks at the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra and the Greensboro Symphony Youth Orchestra.

Lisa Crawford, President and CEO of the GSO is somewhat optimistic about this spring. “We’re still hoping for Dec. 31 to open with the Texas Tenors. That could change. We have rescheduled everything from the fall into the six-month period, Dec. 31 through June 12. So, we’ll see what happens.”

“We’re just waiting for the governor to say that venues can have concerts again. The Coliseum or the Tanger Center – they showed me – they have a book that’s like this thick [Crawford holds up her hands to show me 6 inches] of opening protocols that they have already sent to the health department, which has been approved. The Health Department said they had never seen anything so thorough . . . but of course everything changes . . I revised my budget probably ten times this season. And so, I am now budgeting 50% capacity, so that would be about 1500 people at the Tanger Center. We’re just waiting to see what the studies are.”

Can you describe what the seating would be like? “I cannot . . . I do think they are planning that if groups come together, they can sit together, and everybody has to wear a mask. But in order to social distance, with six feet between each person, that would be 682 people in the Tanger Center, so they’re not going to open if that is the case.”

Crawford was able to move almost all of the artists that were to perform in the fall to the spring, except for one. “Olga Kern – who was to open our season – we couldn’t find a date for her because she’s doing a bunch of stuff in Europe, so we have hired Kelly Hall Tompkins, who is a violinist from the Sphynx Virtuosi.”

Evan Feldman, Music Director of the GSYO, talked about overcoming issues to get his program up and running: “UNCG, like most places, is not allowing outside groups to reserve spaces inside, for understandable reasons. So, we had to find an alternate location. We’ve committed to doing a combination of what we’re calling “tracks:” a combination of virtual and in-person teaching. Students can essentially choose their path and decided whether they want to participate virtually or some combination of virtual and in-person.”

I ask Feldman what in-person would mean to an ensemble. “What we were going to do at UNCG was chamber music in classrooms. Maybe two or three rooms going at the same time, and we’d have string quartets, brass quintets, and woodwind quintets and things like that. All physically distanced and with a limited rehearsal time. Some of it was going to be orchestral music in chamber settings. A quartet plus a bass and you play all the parts to a Beethoven symphony.”

But UNCG is not an option. “Peter Zlotnick (Educational Director for the GSO) ‘discovered’ YMCA Camp Weaver, and they have a number of outdoor pavilions and amphitheaters that are covered. So, we’re going to do some medium-sized ensembles outside, socially distanced, which is what the research recommends. A chamber group in this building, a chamber group in that pavilion. We’re not planning on any public performance at this point. This is just a place for us to rehearse on a regular basis.”

It seems like the pandemic has sparked a lot of creativity for both the GSO and the GSYO. Crawford: “We started a pop-up series, just small ensembles. We’ve been going to a lot of retirement communities. And we did a concert at the Southend Brewing Company. They are live, not streamed. We’re also looking to do one at the Grove Winery [in Gibsonville]. We’re working on doing more of those.”

“Also, Zlotnick is working on putting out a virtual OrKidstra [an interactive classroom and concert experience, emphasizing literacy, drumming, and musical expression for children enrolled in Head Start]. On one hand, it’s bad that we can’t go into the centers, but on the other hand we’re going to be virtual in everybody’s living room, so we’ll get the whole family. So, he’s including new material that will also include the family.”

“We have also started doing Beginning Strings on-line. It’s a partnership with UNCG; we work with Rebecca MacLeod [Professor, String Education] and a lot of her students that are studying to be string teachers.”

Feldman: “There will still be a virtual, remote component that we were always planning on having. That will encompass two main things: one is a compositional, engineering project inspired by the Washington-state based composer Alex Shapiro, who has developed a fairly robust curriculum [for University of Washington] – taking a sound-backing track, like a soundscape, and working on your own or with a partner, write a melody and develop that.”

“Then go into a DAW [Digital Audio Workstation] and manipulate that and create some music using standard compositional techniques. We’ve never done this with the symphony before. And we’ll bring her [Alex] in for one or two sessions – she can get us started, then it will be me and Peter working with the students. Probably every other week. And we also want to intersperse a little bit of history, music theory, and ear-training. We’ll use repertoire that we’re working on to be kind of a ‘hook’ for learning some concepts.”

I ask both Crawford and Feldman how they, personally are faring. Crawford: “It feels like I’m working harder, with no concerts. ‘Cause I have to hire artists, then re-hire them, and do our venue, then re-book them. You’re in constant change.” Feldman: “There’s lots of interesting ideas out there. We’re all discovering as we do stuff: Hey, we should have been doing this all along.”

Some of the creative things came about because both organizations had to do them because of the pandemic. Perhaps some will be continued after we are all able to gather together to make and listen to music.