Coronavirus Outbreak: What is the impact on Durham’s music scene?

discusses the impact of the Coronavirus Outbreak on Durham’s student music community.

By Matthew Prudham

It is still early days in terms of the Coronavirus outbreak in the UK; Durham University confirmed yesterday that students will not return to their courses for the Easter Term. This leaves a great impact on Music Durham ensembles and student-ran music events. Highlights in the post-exams calendar this year included Jam By The Lake, the new Durfest and the Music Durham “Stage and Screen” concerts, aside from balls and college days; many student ensembles use this time as a transition period between exec committees and hold handover meals. None of this now will happen in June.

There is much more than a simple financial cost to student ensembles.

The initial impact of the crisis at the end of Epiphany Term was still significant, though. The initial impact of the crisis at the end of Epiphany Term was still significant, though. Every Music Durham ensemble concert was cancelled starting from the last Sunday of term. Five ensembles (Hill Orchestra, Foot Notes, Full Score, Voices, and DUPO Chamber) were left unable to showcase the music they had been working hard on for the past months.

Durham University Hill Orchestra in action in their Michaelmas Term concert of 2019. Image: Peter Liu.

I spoke to Tara Munnelly and Alice Speed, Presidents of Footnotes A Capella and Hill Orchestra respectively, about the impact of cancelling their society’s concerts. For Footnotes, the financial impact wasn’t too severe; they only lost around £50 on funds spent on promotion, as well as the future earnings of around £250 from the concert itself. For Hill Orchestra, the figure is much higher. Alice told me that the ensemble “already lost quite a lot, regarding publicity (e.g spending around £30 on posters), and we haven’t received a refund for venue hire either (around £90).” As the concert focused on new and rarely performed female composers, if the concert is unable to be rescheduled, another potential loss could come from sheet music, which costed over £150.

It is devastating to think we won’t be able to ‘finish’ what we started.

There is much more than a simple financial cost. Both concerts had a deeply emotional worth to their ensembles. Hill Orchestra were due to premiere three pieces by Durham student composers: Fire by Megan Cunnington, Ceren Ayyıldız’s Moonlight Minuet and Hester James’ The Ascent. Furthermore, the preparation for the concert had taken a toll. “The effort spend sourcing music, planning, running and practising for rehearsals, booking venues, designing posters, arranging publicity and outreach collaborations on top of all our degrees used up time that we will never get back.”

Foot Notes A Capella were one of five ensembles to have their concerts cancelled. Image: Photography.

These thoughts were echoed by Tara: It’s not necessarily that Foot Notes will be impacted financially in the future as we are fine. It’s disheartening instead because for myself and Gabrielle Raw-Rees [the current conductor of Footnotes], it was our last concert after co-founding and running the group for two years. It is devastating to think we won’t be able to ‘finish’ what we started.” Foot Notes have, though, been uploading videos of pieces that were due to be performed on their Facebook page. This uncertainty about finishing what one has started also impacts several members of the Hill Orchestra exec; though they managed to have a last minute get-together to “celebrate what we had achieved this term on the evening of the concert”, it was still not in the way originally envisaged.

When Coronavirus is defeated, I am sure student musicmaking will be back stronger

The impact now stretches further than next term. Orchestras and choirs know that they will not reconvene until October at the earliest. This has been distressing for all musicians who are graduating, unable to perform final concerts and recitals, and more importantly say goodbyes to ensembles that have definitively made their time at Durham much more special.

I myself was looking forward to my own last concert in Durham with the Music Durham Cathedral concert in June; of course, that will no longer take place. I am glad that I was able to celebrate a great success in my last concert with Choral Society. Some ensembles were were not afforded that privilege. Until next year, Durham’s musical ensembles lie dormant, with all musicmaking paused indefinitely until the crisis resolves. When Coronavirus is defeated, I am sure student musicmaking will be back stronger; this hope is what many Durham student musicians are holding onto during these hard and emotional times.

Photo: Durham University and Jessica Lawrence.

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