That quote came to the mind of Mary Persin, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s vice president of artistic planning, at the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“This time, in general, is a challenging and unusual time,” says Persin. “A disruption of everything we know to be ‘normal.’”
In an effort to continue their mission of “Great Music in Every Life,” the PSO introduced "Extraordinary Measures," online music offerings bringing together new works, performances from the season, and music for educating at home that is presented through the orchestra’s social media channels and website.
“[Great Music in Every Life] really embodies the essence of what a performing arts organization is, that is a vehicle to lessen the social distance between fellow humans, and that’s through shared experiences, expressions, emotions,” says Persin. “That’s what makes all performing arts organizations unique. … Our immediate reaction was, 'How do we still find a way to do that, even in this time?'"
Every weekday morning, PSO posts a daily “Bright Spots” video that features music and insight from PSO musicians and special guests. Each video is self-produced by the musicians. In one, violinist Ellen Chen-Livingston and her daughter perform Jean-Marie Leclair's "Sonata for Two Violins Op. 3, No. 5." In another, principal percussionist Andrew Reamer asks viewers to guess the tune that he plays on a typewriter.
In a video posted on March 30, principal trumpet Micah Wilkinson performs “Finlandia” by Jean Sibelius. Since the stay-at-home order, Wilkinson has been providing daily deck concerts for his neighbors around 5 p.m. All videos are on PSO’s site and available to view anytime.
“Measure by measure, with each connection point that we can have, with individual measure of music, that’s our opportunity to build a bridge musical, with everyone,” says Persin. “Our audiences that regularly come, our Pittsburgh community, our audiences near and far, from around the world — that’s our way to reach out to them with our spirit, our sound, and our passion. We can connect with them and bring hope and inspiration and solace and comfort, taking our mind off of the heaviness of day to day news, a reminder of how important music is to our souls.”
Educational content also goes up on PSO’s website Monday through Friday. The symphony’s learning and community team came up with a two-prong plan: Every Monday and Wednesday, content related to Fiddlesticks, an ongoing children’s program that happens a few times a year, is released to the public. It’s geared for families with kids ages 3-8. On Monday, music is shared, and on Wednesday, an activity.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, PSO shares tips, techniques, demonstrations, and advice for middle and high school music students through the “Practice! Practice! Practice!” series.
“Our musicians are offering practical tips on how to stay motivated during this time,” says Julie Goetz, PSO’s director of communications. “Those two age groups are typically what we work with in the hall.”
On Fridays, music director Manfred Honeck hosts a weekly web series from his home in Austria. The series features a segment of a performance, followed by a conversation hosted by a rotating cast of people.
“It’s not the two-hour experience that you would get at Heinz Hall,” says Persin. “But it’s a personal concert hall in [your] home.”
The adaptability and flexibility has not been one-sided. Goetz notes that PSO patrons have been “incredibly generous during this very challenging time.”
“They have essentially said, ‘What can we do to stay with you?’” says Goetz. “We’ve had these rolling updates about our concerts, and at the same time, we launched the advanced subscriptions for next year, which is our 125th season, and patrons have been amazing.”
PSO would also be happy to assist ticket holders for canceled or postponed performances, with options that include exchanging tickets for an upcoming performance, getting a refund, or donating the ticket for a tax credit.