V.com weekend vote: Will you be comfortable going back to your concert hall?

April 24, 2020, 2:22 PM · Symphony orchestras and opera companies are not just trying to figure out when they will reopen. They’re also trying to determine if patrons will feel comfortable returning to concert halls and opera houses once they are open. And if performers are willing to work in the same spacial confines they’ve performed in previously.

concert hall

Impresarios and general managers are now having to consider “socially-distanced” seating, restroom monitors, eliminating lobby bars, and whether string players are even willing to share a stand. All these changes likely involve selling far fewer tickets and, needless to say, a host of logistical issues. In a time when concert attendance is already low in many cities, eliminating some of the “perks” of going to a live concert may have a negative effect. And which venues will be best equipped to serve up the best concert experience, in light of the new restrictions? Traditional performance halls? Smaller venues? Outdoor spaces?

Whether you are a musician or a patron, what’s your personal appetite for returning to your concert hall and/or opera house when theaters officially reopen in your area? Please pick one of the options that best represents your feelings at this stage. Then leave your comments below. I'd also be interested in any ideas you have for how concert presenters can create a safe environment and the best concert experience, considering the new constraints brought on by the pandemic.

Thank you to Diana Skinner for this Weekend Vote idea! If you have an idea for the Weekend Vote, please feel welcome to e-mail me and share your idea!


April 24, 2020 at 07:59 PM · I voted No, I am not comfortable returning until there is a COVID-19 vaccine. If not for me, then I certainly want to protect my family.

There is a reason why there have been 51,209 deaths in the U.S. and 194,000 worldwide. No one really knows how to treat the virus yet, and no one has a vaccine for it. And it is transmittable.

Sure, there will be people who may be asymptomatic, and maybe even have antibodies against the virus. But what about the people you come in close contact with? Your wife? Your children? Your husband? Your parents? Your brothers and sisters? And on and on. I've read articles about grocery employees getting sick with Covid-19 because of their contact with customers. You can be a carrier without you even knowing it.

In my opinion, if a person doesn't think about themselves as getting the virus, then good for them. But I believe it behooves us to be mindful and thoughtful of others who may not be as healthy or as resistant to the virus.

We cancelled all our concerts this year and other fun trips.

April 24, 2020 at 08:07 PM · I honestly don't know how to answer your question. Even if they do create a vaccine for covid-19, what's next? I do truly believe that the handshake is history.

April 24, 2020 at 08:42 PM · Since I'm a fan of "Chamber Music" and here in NJ those concerts are generally sparsely attended I have to say that when I get the announcement that there will be a concert I'll have to evaluate the situation.

Until there are antibody tests at minimum and proof that my wife and I have the antibodies I'm staying home. The post concert socializing is out for a long time to come.

My biggest personal issue is that the conductors of the Youth Orchestra are "planning" for fall. I'm not sure I want to go and assist at rehearsals even with a mask and gloves. Tuning upwards of 40 instruments just doesn't feel comfortable right now.

Life has changed and while we have outlived our warantee (three score and 10) I'm not quite ready for a jump back into the past normal. Then again, I do remember that only two years after the 1918 Pandemic, the world jumped into the roaring 20's and influenza was endemic returning every fall/winter.

April 24, 2020 at 10:29 PM · Well, the term "concert hall" is a bit of a stretch for me. Although I'm almost 71 I've only been playing for a little under three years. My concert halls have been in a church multipurpose room, a classroom, a belly dance studio, and a couple of pubs. It's just me and people who are roughly 40 - 60 years younger than me. Some of them are amazing especially the teenagers. My claim to fame is I'm the tallest and the oldest.

Still, all of these recitals have been put on hold, and It's doubtful anything will be happening until sometime in October at the earliest. So, we'll just have to wait this out and see what happens. In the meantime, I've been going to a park and playing for the squirrels, birds, and any random, masked people who happen to wander by.

April 25, 2020 at 12:08 AM · There isn’t really a category for my vote, as I’m in Australia, where we’ve Almost got rid of it. -

for now . ...

So I know my chances of contracting it are very low but not zero.

So I said unconditional, but that’s not entirely true. And it’s at least another 1 - 2 months before I have to think about this .

I’m never going to wear a mask, unless it’s to protect other people when I have a cold, but then I’m more likely to stay home anyway. ( I wonder how many rhino viruses we’ve got rid of at the same time?) Apparently COVID tests are now freely available to anyone showing symptoms - not sure how this works.

How much social distancing that’s practical in a smallish hall is going to make a difference?

I guess I will be more comfortable not sharing a stand.

I have brought my own mug for supper interval for a long time ( worried about flu last winter) as I’m not comfortable with how they’re washed.

This has changed how we approach gatherings for a very long time, or forever.

April 25, 2020 at 12:31 AM · From what I've heard on good authority, in the UK it is unlikely that there will be any concerts, and therefore no rehearsals, until early 2021.

I would guess that the age balance of personnel of the four amateur orchestras I play in will have changed significantly by then. To give just one example, in one orchestra (which as it happens is the best and most professional of the four in its playing) about 1/3rd of the membership are in their late 60s or early 70s or older; go figure.

It won't be a matter of merely starting over where we left off; there will be new, younger players, and some of the experienced older players may not be around for whatever reason. And there are the conductors to be considered. Currently they are all younger than middle age, but circumstances could well arise where one or more may need to to leave.

Another thing. All the concerts my orchestras give are invariably for charity. The charities are now the unseen losers in all this. Since the pandemic became official I have had three charity concerts cancelled in the last month, one with a soloist.

My personal situation. I am 82, my health is good, as is that of my family, and I very much intend to keep on with at least most of my orchestral playing when the pestilence is purged from the lands.

April 25, 2020 at 06:45 AM · I'll go back, but maybe we should limit it to single movement works for a while. The first time I hear an explosion of coughs after a slow movement is going to be pretty uncomfortable.

April 25, 2020 at 10:20 AM · I live in South Africa. So far the pandemic has not hit us as hard as other parts of the world.

Unlike Australia, we appear to be in an earlier phase & will only peak between July & September. Faced with the Hobson’s choice of lives or livelihoods,we will be going from level5 complete Lockdown to level4 allowing some economic activity to resume but concerts & public gatherings still not allowed.

I am 68 years old with comorbidities, so communal music making out of the question for me until the all clear that the pandemic has passed.

April 25, 2020 at 11:38 AM · I'm a soon-to-retire (July 1st)1st violinist in a german opera orchestra. Being over 65 there's no way I want to share a stand with a player in an orchestra pit with opera singers singing full force standing on the edge of a stage a few meters above me. Enough "normal" virus infections have been passed around every winter in the orchestra. Wind/brass players can't play with masks, and some colleagues still don't know proper hygiene when sneezing or coughing. 1 1/2 to two meters between players sharing a part are not possible. I also read about a 40 member church choir in the US which lost 2 members to COVID19 after holding one choir rehearsal where they kept a distance from one another. 25 members were infected and 2 of them died. So what about the opera theater chorus? They would also be put at great danger if we would reopen. Absolutely not until an effective vaccine has been successfully implemented! But that will happen after I've started my retirement. Maybe I can come back as a substitute!

April 25, 2020 at 11:40 AM · I'm going to evaluate the risk at that time. Most likely I'd be willing to play in a chamber ensemble or string orchestra prior to a vaccine being available if mass testing and contact tracing are in place and masks and social distancing are required -- including masks and appropriate distances for musicians. I would not play in an ensemble with any woodwind or brass players until there is a vaccine. The necessary spacing on stage means any orchestra I'd be willing to play in would likely be a string ensemble of no more than about 30 people.

April 25, 2020 at 12:01 PM · Further to my previous post, here is some local news that has broken overnight. Nick Bromilow, who has been conducting my Long Ashton Orchestra (known internally to its members as the "LA"!) for the last 7 years has been offered a 2 year Masters in Orchestral Conducting at Kent State University, Ohio. He has accepted the position, and will be leaving us in August.

Nick was selected from 25 other young applicants world-wide. The position includes a waiver of all tuition fees as well as a small bursary.

He is one of the best conductors I've ever worked under, and his demanding standards only come because of the pressure that he puts himself under to perform to the highest standard. A small example of his commitment over the years: Nick trained professionally as a horn player (and don't the brass and woodwind know it!) but since joining us started taking private violin lessons from the CM so as to significantly further his understanding of the string sections and their problems. Over the years he has attended high-level workshops and seminars in conducting in the UK and Europe.

He will be sorely missed, both as a conductor and as a person, and moves are afoot, with his assistance, to find a replacement - not an easy task, but not impossible.

April 25, 2020 at 12:30 PM · Like George Wells, I often go to chamber recitals that have low enough attendance that they could have socially-distanced seating without turning anyone away.

I suspect that the answer to this question depends very much on the age and vitality of the one answering. I'll be 55 this year, and I'm not in the worst possible shape, but I'm no athlete either. Guys like me are dying. The likelihood isn't very high -- I would guess I would have maybe a 1% chance of dying if I got COVID-19, but that's just a guess, and I really don't want to get really sick either.

I feel for these orchestras and other musical groups, but come August, I'm likely going to have to figure out how to teach a lab course -- which involves a lot of mingling with students -- without getting sick, because I can pretty much guarantee that among the ca. 60 students I will have, a few will have active COVID-19 infections. How do I stay safe? Is there any point worrying about my own immediate exposure when my daughter is attending public school, where transmission among children is all but assured?

I dearly hope that those who did not previously understand the value of public investment in scientific research have come around. Vaccines and effective antivirals don't invent or discover themselves.

April 25, 2020 at 02:48 PM · I'd probably be comfortable going back to orchestra rehearsals once risk of catching the virus is deemed low. My region is not doing too badly, so I'm not super worried. I'm willing to wear a mask, so long as I can figure out how to not let it interfere with my playing (main concern is the material sliding on the chinrest, but maybe that's not valid). I'm going to see what the local health authorities and organizers say.

April 25, 2020 at 02:56 PM · Paul Deck mentioned that children are disease vectors. I'm in the same position. If California had the amount of testing it needs, I would know whether or not I have the antibodies. That would change the picture for me.

April 25, 2020 at 03:25 PM · Trevor, it seems Nick Bromilow's name is not mentioned on any of the LA promotional posts that Ive seen, so I'm not so surprised he's not staying!

April 25, 2020 at 09:29 PM · This isn't over even when we get aq vaccine. It will take at least a year and a half to get, it will only be good for this current version of the virus and, as we all know, virus tend to change from year to year. Also, it's not like you can force everyone to take a vaccine. Even if the vaccine is 100% effective, the people who refuse to take it or can't get it and are not sympomatic could still be spreading it far and wide.

April 26, 2020 at 02:01 AM · I don’t know. As a member of a professional orchestra, my only choice may be either to take the risk or take extended time off without pay. But we don’t know yet if we’ll even open our season in September as planned—and there is also the question of whether we will have an audience if we do return to the stage.

I’m turning 59 this summer. Old enough to be concerned about the health risks, young enough not to be ready to retire.

I have not been this worried about the future of my career in a very long time.

April 26, 2020 at 02:21 AM · I’m waiting to see what my local symphony is going to do. I’d really like to keep attending but I think some changes will need to be made. I’m in the age group that needs to be more cautious. So I’m waiting to decide until September, when our concert series begins.

April 28, 2020 at 03:14 PM · As a director, I am not only unsure as to if an audience will show up, I'm also concerned that performing artists will not be comfortable being in tight quarters and proxemity onstage. This quesion of comfortablilty returning to "normal" habits and ways of life is a queston that will pleague us for months to come.

Personally, I do not feel at ease returning to the concert hall just yet. If I feel trepidation, I know many others do as well. Concert and event goers will all be questioning whether it is safe to return to our seats as we journey into this unknown territory.

My hope is that if we as patrons of the arts do not feel confident making a return, that we will donate at least the price of a ticket to whatever organization(s) we would normally support. It is imparitive that arts organizations across the nation and the globe be able to stay afloat duing this time of unsurety. It is our duty as audience members to ensure that this happens. When art and music cease to exsist, so also will civilization.

As a performer, I am highly concerned about the future of my career. Selfish as this may be, I long for the time...two months ago...when my "dance card" was full and my season was so overflowing that I had to turn gigs down. Now, I look at a blank slate and worry if it will ever regenerate. Who knows? We can only wait and watch - understanding that the federal and state governments are also reeling from this catastrophic event. We are all still wondering around in the dark searching for a "light switch" that may or may not exsist at this point in time.

May 1, 2020 at 05:48 PM · While I'm curious to see what happens after these venues start reopening, I won't be returning. This isn't because of COVID-19, though. I had some memorable experiences with live symphony and opera performances in my student years and shortly afterward. But the novelty wore off over time, and my schedule prevents going now. Most shows are in the evening, and I'm not a night person. These days, I can't count all the performances I bring right into the home each month on a wide screen with HD audio/video -- thanks to today's technology. Also, as a YouTube Premium subscriber, I'm not just getting something for nothing.

Every year, it seems, I keep finding new reasons to be thankful I decided, at 21, not to go into the music business. The shutdowns from this year's pandemic are yet one more reason.


EDIT: Two observations, in light of comments from previous posters. I didn't have time to post these observations initially, but they have been on my mind the past week.

First, a vaccine may yet be a long way off. There still is no vaccine for HIV, though there are treatments for it. Even flu shots are good for only a year, because of the way flu strains change from one year to the next.

Second, the actual number of deaths from COVID-19 is in dispute. A Net search on "chalked up to COVID-19" will show this. Most of those who have died were in higher-risk groups -- elderly or already having serious underlying conditions. There is a difference between dying with COVID-19 and dying because of it.

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