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Covid-19 lockdown: How do we keep the music playing?

Newbury musician Fiona Bennett asks how the pros keep motivated

Trish Lee

trish lee


01635 886663

Tasmin Little

Tasmin Little at St Nicolas’ Church, where she was due to return next month Picture Fiona Bennett

“HOW do you keep the music playing?” croons my favourite soul singer James Ingram. “How do you make it last?”

We are currently in lockdown – a rather dramatic description, given that we are still allowed out to
exercise and to go shopping for essentials – and Covid-19 has impacted on everyone’s daily lives.
Those at the forefront of the NHS are having to work extra hard and take risks, but there are others who are stuck at home, not knowing what to do with themselves.

I know quite a few professional musicians, so when I was asked to write this piece, I thought it sensible to consult with them, to find out what their life is really like during this stressful and difficult time.

A world without music, to my mind (and ears), would be a very dreary place indeed. The old adage ‘Music is the international language’ rings true on so many levels. I simply cannot imagine a world without all the different styles of music ringing out from radios, phones, concert halls, churches, opera houses and ballet theatres and I can’t help thinking it would be like living in some kind of Orwellian dystopia if we couldn’t switch on a radio and belt out our favourite song as we’re sitting in a traffic jam or batting along the M4.

Imagine this though – you’ve trained and practised and rehearsed and perfected the thing you do better than anything else and then there is no call for it. There is nowhere for you to show the world what you can do, there are no shows requiring a pit orchestra, no ticket offices promoting your next concert. Nothing. Zilch. So, what do you do with your time? Is there any need to keep practising, to keep your lip in, to keep those double thirds up to scratch on your violin?

Philip Harper is the musical director of Cory Band, ranked the number one brass band in the world, who has found a brilliant way to keep the band motivated and to entertain their many fans worldwide.
“We put together a ‘distance performance’ of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – it was a pilot project to test the technology. Each band member recorded their own part alone at home, and then our technical wizard edited them all together into one video – everyone on screen at once, and all the audio tracks combined. It was a massive hit, receiving over 800,000 views online.”

So, Philip and Cory Band are bringing smiles to people’s faces all over the world, but for those new to the business, things are not quite as easy. My son, Dominic Rae, newly-graduated in BA Hons in digital music and sound arts, says: “Being a newly-graduated freelancer is as challenging as it sounds; few industry contacts and even fewer opportunities makes for a tough time working as a creative professional, even without the latest global crisis plaguing everyone’s lives… but I keep creating art and music in whatever way I can, because being surrounded by art reminds me why I make art in the first place; it’s fun and it’s good for me.”

Simon Morgan, principal horn in the West End production of Lion King, tells me his house has never been so tidy and he practically wills the grass to grow in his garden, so he can get out and cut it again. “I’ve been a professional musician since I left music college and I have never had to spend so much time at home. It’s very frustrating because I have nothing to practise for at the moment.
I’ve given my embouchure a complete rest, but I can’t wait to get back to making music.”

The world-famous violinist Tasmin Little was planning her departure from the international concert stage this summer and was due to play on the closing night of our very own Newbury Spring Festival with the St Petersburg Symphony Orchestra. I spoke to her by phone and she is hopeful (virus situation allowing) a final Newbury performance might be possible this autumn.

“I’ve been working closely with the hugely-talented Moscow-born pianist Andrey Gugnin and I would love to bring him to Newbury. I am so sad my final festival concerto performance has been cancelled but if people are generous and can afford to leave their ticket money in the festival pot, this might allow a series of concerts as soon as it’s safe for people to be out and about again.”

A world without the international language of music is hard to imagine, so let’s hope those who bring this joy to our lives can work through this difficult time and, when it’s over, keep the music playing for us all.

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