There is no doubt that COVID-19 has created move upheaval in the world than anything most of us have experienced in our lifetime. I was speaking with a 92-year-old symphony patron several weeks ago, and she said that she had lived through wars and economic downturns, changes in technology, and changes in her family, and nothing she had experienced earlier in her life had prepared her for the trauma and fear facing so much of the world in this time.
And yet, somehow, we must plan and prepare for what comes next. This becomes quite complicated when there are so many unknown variables. It reminds me of the algebra equations that were an endless feature of high school math classes. Solve for x becomes impossible if there are not enough pieces of information to set up a proper algebraic equation. As I prepare the business plan for the WSO for the coming year, I have had to work hard to identify enough firm points of information to adequately prepare for the year ahead.
In this case I have to ask myself what I know. (Some days the answer appears to be very little.)
1. I know that it will be virtually impossible to present the summer season, the special Manitoba 150 events we had planned, and Canada Day concerts this year.
2. I know that we will try to keep providing exceptional musical experiences for our community. Usually we do that with a full symphony orchestra of 67 or more professional musicians, but we can adapt our numbers and our means of delivery to provide music in a whole range of different ways.
3. I know that we had planned a lovely, full season for 20/21 that started with a concert by hometown heroes The Crash Test Dummies on September 24th, moved into a community pops series, and on Saturday, October 3rd started the Masterworks series with a wonderful concert featuring Canadian pianist, Jan Lisiecki. There were a number of movies including Raiders of the Lost Ark and several Harry Potter movies as well as Disney’s Little Mermaid. Well, you can read all about our planned season on our website at wso.ca.
4. I know that we cannot present the concerts unless the Centennial Concert Hall is open for business. The Centennial Concert Hall cannot open until it is deemed safe to gather groups of 500 people or more. Right now, groups of under 25 people can gather. We are hoping for capacity to present live concerts in September, and we will continue to plan for a full start or a modified approach to the season.
5. I know that Winnipeggers support their orchestra. Despite the challenges of our times, good people of Winnipeg continue to phone the WSO box office to renew or start subscriptions, even though there is so much uncertainty. These wonderful people know that their support of the WSO by purchasing a package of tickets is the most profoundly positive and supportive thing that they can do for the WSO right now.
6. I know that orchestras around the world are struggling with the same questions, and there is some comfort in sharing ideas and options for proceeding through these challenging times. Chinese and European orchestras have been using some interesting approaches for starting up, and these are things that we can do as well.
7. I know that we can connect with other performing and visual arts organizations in Winnipeg and Canada to share ideas, look for creative approaches, and sympathy for the roadblocks and problems that face us this year.
8. I know that the performing arts sector is important for the soul and the economy of our community, our nation, and our world. The entire sector has been hit very hard from Broadway shows, to major rock concerts, to theatres, festivals, dance companies, galleries, museums, and symphony orchestras. For all of us, our model and primary benefit to our community is the gathering of people for a shared experience of inspiration, beauty, and sheer enjoyment.
9. I know that for budgeting and planning purposes I will have to break down the year into segments with a whole series of decision tree points to assist in trying to maintain what we can maintain, and at the minimum try to save the capacity of the orchestra for future years. For the moment, my first goal is to reach the WSO’s year end at May 31, 2020 with as little lethal damage as possible. It is fortunate that we entered this season in good financial and artistic shape. This has given us some capacity to deal with the abrupt loss of 20 to 25% of our annual revenues since March 13, 2020.
10. I know that our community members care about having good quality arts and cultural events for their enjoyment, and that many organizations will work with the WSO to ensure that the orchestra will be able to return to the stage.
For now, check on the WSO website for links to our Facebook, Instagram, YouTube Channel, Podcasts, cooking classes with the Maestro, at home recital series with WSO musicians and much more. Of course, while you are there, consider making a donation or purchasing a subscription for the coming season. Your support and interest makes all the difference in the world.
Trudy Schroeder is the Executive Director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.