Canceled by Coronavirus: Will the Show Go On?

What do we musicians do when public health concerns shutter our performances and make travel risky?

As I write this, the concern over contracting the COVID-19 virus has gone from “If you or someone close to you have traveled recently to China” to a world-wide community transmission so quick that people are doing whatever they can to avoid further spread.

My corporate friends who work for global companies are telling me that all work-related travel has been suspended and that even personal travel must be cleared by managers.  Here in Bermuda, we have been told that arriving from a “hot zone” might land you a 14-day quarantine sentence.

In the 9-5 world, those work-trips are being converted to video conference meetings and for the most part, life continues as normal. The biggest concern, from what I am hearing, is that people won’t be able to rack up quite as many business class frequent flyer miles to “fund” their family trips this summer.


For us musicians, though, this is a whole new ball-game.

For instance, Teaching:

For my in-person private lessons, between students, I wash my hands (Fun Fact: it takes about the recommended 20 seconds to hum the Imperial March Theme from Star Wars) and wipe down the chair, stand, and pencil, then I burn some sage and garlic and hope for the best.

(I’m kidding about that last part)

For folks who live in areas of concern, one can always teach online. Between Skype, Zoom, and FaceTime, online lessons are a great way to keep things going without having to be in the same room. I hope that music school administrators will be supportive of this method and that parents and teachers will take advantage of the option.


What happens to our concerts when venues close their doors? And if they don’t cancel our concert, but it requires us to travel in what might not be the safest circumstances?  Do we cancel?

The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s long-awaited and much-publicized tour to China was canceled in the earliest days of the outbreak–well before travel to Asia was restricted.  It seemed like a thoughtful precaution at the time.  In hindsight? Very. Good. Decision.

And the Prime Minister of Japan canceled all public events 2 hours after the Gothenburg Symphony arrived at their Tokyo hotel, ready to kick off their 10-day concert tour.  A Very disappointed orchestra was loaded up on airplanes and flown back to Sweden the next day.

So far, I have heard that Sanders Theater in Boston and Davies Hall in San Francisco have canceled all performances until late March.  Interestingly though, Benaroya Hall in Seattle (one of the current “hot zones”) is still open for business. The Seattle Symphony is offering free ticket exchanges to anyone who would prefer to stay home, but the concerts are going on as planned.

Harvard University is taking a more modern approach. Tonight’s performance of Mozart’s  Requiem is still happening, in spite of Sanders Theater being shuttered. While there will be no audience admitted into the hall, the concert will be live-streamed for anyone wishing to enjoy it from the comfort of their own home.

What about Freelancers?

Photo by Mat Reding for Unsplash

Obviously, the orchestra players of Boston and Gothenberg still received their normal paychecks, tour or no tour, but what about someone who is presenting their own concert? The smaller organizations that maybe don’t have iron-clad cancelation clauses–what do they do? There are “Act of God” clauses in a freelance contract, but what about a “public health threat.”?

Do you go ahead with the concert– potentially putting musicians and audience members at risk? Or do you cancel, possibly losing out on income you were depending on, and possibly only adding to an unnecessary level of panic?

I am due to head out on a two-week recital tour on the West Coast at the end of this month.  I have concerts up and down the states of California, Oregon and in Seattle, WA.  For some of the performances, it will be up to me whether they happen or not.  For the University and School visits, they might be canceled for me as more and more administrations try to limit campus access to visitors.

Photo by Lai Man Nung for Unsplash

In the time it took me to write this blog post, I received an email from another presenter asking whether I will be canceling my mid- April performance.  That’s over a month away, folks!

My answer? I’m going to wait and see.  I’ll have to weigh the positives and the negatives of both options.  And we’ll need to see if this whole thing starts to get worse or better. It’s that darned domino effect. Even if I decide that it’s safe for me to go ahead with concerts in the PNW, will my home country let me back in as a person of free will?  By staying true to 1 week of commitments, I may be forced to renege on 2 other weeks of work if I’m forced to quarantine myself.

At the end of the day, we all need to just make whatever decision feels like the best one at the time, and then live with it, In hindsight, it might seem silly to have canceled, but then again, with hindsight, we might wish we had.

I know I’m not the only one faced with these decisions.  How are YOU handling it?  What criteria is going into your decision making?  I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas on this topic. I fear it’s a situation we might be finding ourselves in again in the not-too-distant future. But I’m also thinking that this might be a great time to come up with some creative solutions.

Because we can’t just stop having concerts.  The show really must go on, one way or another.



2 Comments on “Canceled by Coronavirus: Will the Show Go On?

    • I did! Makes it all just a bit more real, doesn’t it?

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: