Wednesday, March 11, 2020

There may be trouble ahead

I'm never very happy about Mahler's First Symphony, which after a strange mix of circumstances about 8 or 9 years ago has become somehow associated with portents of Not Good Things. So I'm keeping clear of the one at the RFH tonight and hiding behind the sofa instead.

Seriously, this expectation is currently not wrong. My husband's orchestral tour to Germany and Austria for a week looks unlikely to go ahead as at least the Vienna and Munich parts of it won't happen; perhaps some clever manager can make alternative plans to hook up those that remain, but if so we have yet to hear about it and they're off (if at all) in under 48 hours. Moreover, my social media timelines are full of musicians and actors who have arrived at their designated opera houses or concert halls to find that everything is cancelled for the next fortnight/month/who knows. Musicians who make a living from performing on cruises are likewise facing cancellations (a cruise ship is no place to be trapped at the best of times, least of all now, but it's still their means of feeding their families). Please remember, these professionals do not get paid in these circumstances. Actors, tour guides, anyone self-employed, anyone in spheres that necessarily involve people "going anywhere or doing anything", is facing a period of extreme anxiety. If financial woes were not enough, what about the prospects for health and actual survival?

UPDATE, 11.50am: It has come to my attention that many people, including regular audience members and even some critics, have no idea that the majority of London-based orchestras (except for the BBC ones and the Royal Opera House) are SELF-EMPLOYED and therefore if their concerts, tours and summer opera seasons are cancelled they get NO money at all. The same is true of opera singers. Soprano Lee Bisset tweeted this morning: "Performances can be the culmination of months of (unpaid) work and thousands of pounds outlay in a accommodation, travel, coaching, childcare etc. What looks like the loss of 2 weeks’ work can actually amount to the loss of half a performers’ annual income."

I am in no position to offer any advice on either health or finance, but I can suggest one or two ways to help keep your head level in these bizarre times.

1. Stay away from conspiracy theories. If you see any, please do not be seduced by them. They are seriously unhelpful. Please apply a three-point rule to assessment:
-- Context and history (e.g. is there a history of diseases emanating from dodgy animal markets with appalling hygiene, around which people then inhale and eat? Yes. Does this therefore carry a higher level of probability than the scenario of that dodgy sci-fi-style conspiracy theory you're reading?)
-- Source. What site are you reading? Who produces it and why? What is their stance? Above all, what is their subtext? (E.g. a site purports to be offering news. It is actually offering "alt-right", i.e. Nazi, propaganda.) Be very careful about who you're listening to. If in doubt, log off.
-- "Do I want to believe it?" If you find that you do, then take a long hard look in the mirror and ask yourself why.

2. Be careful even with genuine news. While working for a newspaper for 12 years, I often wondered "if that many mistakes get into the music reports, what on earth are they doing to the news?" Headlines and "standfirsts" are the biggest problem areas, because they can be misleading. They are not created by the same people who write the articles. They are usually out to grab attention. You may find that an article's content completely disproves what you thought you were about to read, but you may have to actually read it to discover this, instead of taking on the OMGOMG message you absorb from the headline. You may also find that an interviewee's words have been twisted to give the impression that he/she said something nasty when they actually didn't, simply to encourage senseless mud-throwing on a false premise. Again, you have to look at the outlet's agenda. (This applies to music features, too.)

3. Only trust proven experts, who in this case are scientists.

4. Have a strategy in case you're quarantined at home for several weeks. Have a project. Learn to play a new piece. Read that book. Write that book. Make those long-postponed phone calls and catch up with friends over Skype or whatever. For me, self-isolation is rather a way of life (it's the only way anything can be written), but if I can't go out to listen to someone playing the "Hammerklavier" I shall damn well try to learn it myself, two bars a day if need be, and hope that my husband is wearing his ear-protectors.

5. Check up on any vulnerable friends regularly, but don't alarm them. 

6. Don't sweat the small stuff. Irritants become more irritating when your anxiety levels are high, so try and keep them to a minimum. Incidentally, if you still have to get hot and bovvered about the old chestnuts like coughing in concerts, this is the time to enjoy noise-free performances (if they haven't all been cancelled). I noticed that you could hear a pin drop at Fidelio last week, and many friends have reported the same thing. It proves that people can and will suppress coughing when they think about it.

7. Do not apportion blame. It helps nobody.

8. Remember: this too will pass. Top tip from my mum (1932-1994).

9. Keep calm and listen to Beethoven. Here's how to wash your hands to 'An die ferne Geliebte' (the site doesn't cope very well with umlauts, but there we go).