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Playing it by ear: musicians rethink performances during pandemic

By Reagan Liu and Michelle Qiao Oct. 16, 2020

Aileen Xie Art

Over the past few months, nationwide social distancing measures have been implemented to slow the spread of COVID-19. As a result, many large social gatherings have been cancelled or postponed. Along with other industries, the music industry has been forced to adapt, with artists around the world reinventing how they perform for audiences.

Social media platforms like Instagram and YouTube have proved to be useful tools, enabling artists to stream live performances while following social distancing guidelines. Musicians across the world have taken advantage of these platforms to continue sharing their music. Among others, artists like John Legend, Chris Martin and Elton John have performed in online live streams, often garnering large audiences.

In addition to using social media, musicians have created innovative ways to continue performing in-person while following social distancing guidelines. The New York Philharmonic Orchestra has performed pop-up concerts in parks, on cars and in other public areas. The orchestra has also created NY Phil Plays On, a free online portal that connects visitors across the world with digital music content. For the New York Philharmonic, a return to pre-pandemic concerts remains unlikely to happen in the near future. However, audiences have reacted positively to the pop-up concerts, with large crowds forming and recording the performances. Although performers and audience members noted the sense of community the gatherings provided, some may still have been wary of the consequences of attending.

“I think it is brilliant that people are finding new ways to perform. However, I would not be likely to attend a pop-up concert. Even if the audience was socially distancing and wearing masks, there is still a risk of contracting COVID-19 in a public gathering,” Sophomore Cindy Zhuang said.

Popup concerts and social media are not the only method of performing music while still remaining socially distant. A brand new musical exhibit at Central Park created by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Ellen Reid has recently opened up, enabling park visitors to enjoy music that interacts with their surroundings. Otherwise known as a Soundwalk, the exhibit can be accessed through a free mobile app. It plays a score of classical music—performed by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra—through the listener’s headphones. The soundtrack is dynamic, changing as users stroll through parks. Experiences are unique for different users because the playlist depends entirely on the route users take while exploring the park. Soundwalks have even popped up in different cities such as San Francisco and Paris, each with a unique atmosphere.

In the state of Calif., many unconventional events have also begun to emerge. By introducing safer ways for artists to perform, these innovative concerts and exhibits have created a new environment in the music industry. Attempting to make the best out of the situation, most musicians have been open to giving these unconventional events a try. With a return to complete normalcy unlikely to occur in the near future, the music industry may continue to expand its virtual options as social distancing measures are difficult or even impossible to enforce in large audiences. Even if conventional concerts returned, potential attendees may still be concerned over the risk of contracting COVID-19.

“It is beneficial to go back to normalcy and entertainment. However, more lives may be lost. Even though concerts are enjoyable, I would still prioritize health over entertainment,” Senior Annie Borders said.


About the Contributors

Michelle Qiao

Staff Writer

Michelle Qiao is a sophomore at Leland High School and a staff writer. She loves to play volleyball and spends her free time reading, drinking coffee and watching Pixar movies.

Reagan Liu

Staff Writer

Reagan Liu is a sophomore at Leland High school and a staff writer at the Leland Charger Account. He loves music and listens to many different genres of music in his free time. He never skips a meal and consumes all the nutrients needed to stay healthy.

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