5 key questions for Covid-era musicians

5 key questions for Covid-era musicians


norman lebrecht

May 20, 2020

This is a questionnaire put out to professional musicians by CIDIM, Italy’s national committee for music.

See how you fare.

1 How are you spending your time, and how much of it is spent in musical activity?

2 Have you tried streaming your music?

3 Once the Covid crisis is over, do you think live music will (ever) be the same?

4 What are the likely job opportunities for young musicians, after this is over?

5 Is there a message you would like to send to the concert audience?




  • Doug says:

    1 How are you spending your time, and how much of it is spent in musical activity?

    I spend two hours each morning playing Bach.

    2 Have you tried streaming your music?

    No, why?

    3 Once the Covid crisis is over, do you think live music will (ever) be the same?

    Life is about change. You will not be here forever, but live music WILL.

    4 What are the likely job opportunities for young musicians, after this is over?

    Can you say “would you like fries with that”?

    5 Is there a message you would like to send to the concert audience?

    If you sincerely believe going to a concert is risky, then let me suggest that going to the grocery store is even more risky. Do us all a favor, take that bottle of fish tank cleaner today.

    • engineers_unite says:

      1/ “Once the Covid crisis is over…”

      They will simply invent another crisis, it’s developing right now*.

      2/ Saint Greta didn’t work and ran out of steam, then Sweden is being punished for not putting everyone under “house arrest”.

      Michael Moore in his new film, has emptied his entire magazine of ammunition into the vacuous climate warmers, and their cutting down forests for woodchips to send around the world in oil burning boats.
      They won’t recover for a while!

      3/ Cold war starts up for real between the USA and PRC*, based on IP theft, currency manipulation & the oil crisis/USD values.

      Musicians are hung out to dry and left to starve.
      What’s new?

      I’m watching it with my own eyes now.
      Luckily I don’t depend on music 100% for a living!
      It was already hard before, now it’s suicidal.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Your pills! Your pills!

        • engineers_unite says:

          Carry on talking BS with your side kicks Borscrap!

          I have my feet on the ground, run a business, work for myself for enough years to know the difference between pseudo science, crap spouted by 16 yr old truant playing, attention seeking mentally insane teenagers, and proper science supported by engineers with actual qualifications that matter.

          The revolt is coming…
          People like you will be some of the first against the wall, when it starts to hit home to the morons in government.

          Time to start filling the bottles with petrol, and getting the matches ready!
          Petrol is CHEAP!

    • profession destroyed says:

      and don’t forget to line up to take that vaccine ASAP!

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Doug writes: “If you sincerely believe going to a concert is risky, then let me suggest that going to the grocery store is even more risky”

      Huh? Of course going to a concert is more risky. At the supermarket you will not be more than a minute or more stood next to someone. At the concert it will be over an hour. It is breathing the same air in close proximity for an extended period of time which spreads the virus.

      I happen to believe it is still worth going to a concert and the risks are small.

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    I hope it will produce a great increase in people learning instruments, learning to sing, playing piano duets, doing a Bach prelude every morning and so forth.

    Would be good if people could be more self-reliant rather than forking out $$$ to go see stuff.

    • Brian says:

      Jan it is not so easy learning music i spent a lot of money on music lessons i could not pick it up. That is why i go to concerts to see the artists

      • Craig says:

        The good thing is you don’t have to be a pro to have fun.

        I made my living with music for a while until I decided I wanted a steady paycheck and health insurance.

        Now? I play in a community band and some truly awful chamber groups. It has become a way to celebrate and enhance friendships, not a pursuit of perfection to pay homage to a dead composer.

  • John Borstlap says:

    1) yes

    2) possibly

    3) sometimes

    4) yes

    5) always

    • V.Lind says:

      What are the likely job opportunities for young musicians, after this is over?



    • The zub says:

      Man, you wanted to say:

      1. Record collection
      2. Record collection
      3. Record collection
      4. Record collection
      5. Record collection

      Glad I could help.

  • Alphonse says:

    One of the things that bothers me about this day and age – and this has been an issue even before the pandemic struck- is the endless posting of homemade videos of dubious quality by everyone and his brother. I often feel that the music itself is simply incidental and the real motive is craving attention and validation. I’m not trying to dictate to others what I think they should do- I’m just commenting on what I’ve been observing, and I’ve grown weary of it. I’m especially tired of the videos recorded using the acapella app or whatever it’s called, and seeing people play octets with themselves. I know people who post such videos every single day. It feels like an exercise in self-aggrandizement, particularly when the playing is really subpar. It’s one of the things I hate about social media- everyone clamoring to get their proverbial two cents in. We’d do well to use this time to take a step back and engage in quiet contemplation. And now, I’ll step down from atop the wobbly soapbox upon which I am so precariously perchéd.

    • Pierre says:

      I wholeheartedly agree with you on most of what you say. I’ve “snoozed” several “stars” (cough cough Capuçon brothers, Edgar Moreau…) from my Facebook feed – they were just always posting the same boring old music. (Not that Bach, Saint-Saens, Fauré, etc. is bad, but why not have a *little* bit of originality?)

      It seems more like the agents are forcing them to post online than a true personal choice.

      On another hand, for many, (for example young musicians, less so for “stars”), the act of taking a video is akin to a mini-recording where you can strive for perfection. Regular acts of self-recording, if matched with a strong desire for progress and stride for perfection, can be very useful for musicians

      • Alphonse says:

        I certainly was not aiming to be unkind and uncharitable in my original post. You’re quite right, Pierre, about the paramount importance of recording oneself (true not only for students, but all of us). What I don’t understand is the thought process that leads to these videos being posted on Facebook and other social media. Such recordings should be shared with teachers and trusted classmates or colleagues who can be counted on to provide honest, cogent, and constructive feedback. That is never going to happen on Facebook, where it’s all about “likes” and “you’re amazing!” It seems to me that’s it’s done almost exclusively for validation and attention. Such obsession with externals is endemic in our society as a whole, and is becoming increasingly so in the music world. I’m not trying to be a cranky contrarian- I’m just being honest. Many of these people, especially if they are still students, are not doing themselves any favors by posting endless unpolished recordings of themselves.

      • Alphonse says:

        An addendum to my last post- there is another trend bothering me, which involves orchestras posting “behind the scenes” videos of orchestra members doing things in their homes completely unrelated to music-making. There was a video of a BSO bassoonist doing menial work, and just today The Philadelphia Orchestra (or “Your Philadelphia Orchestra”, as they’ve recently started calling themselves in a recent PR move aimed at sounding all-inclusive and magnanimous) posted on its Facebook page a video of one of their horn players cooking at home. I truly don’t mean to sound unkind or make mountains out of molehills- I just honestly don’t get it. It’s embarrassing to watch and it all seems so forced and fake. It’s undignified. It has nothing to do with music. I don’t need to see videos of the orchestra members cooking or working out at home. It smacks of self-importance to the point of delusion. The Philadelphia Orchestra used to have an air of gravitas. Now, under Yannick, it’s all about social media and selfies and “wokeness.”

        • John Borstlap says:

          Indeed. It’s all an attempt to convince audience members that the players are human, like them, and definitely nothing special. It’s reflecting the egalitarian world view in which nothing and nobody stands-out and everybody and every human activity is as important, to avoid the idea that something could be ‘more important’ than something else. Inevitably such thinking leads to the conclusion that nothing can possibly have any value. Why having an orchestra at all? Couldn’t they do something more practical like cleaning the streets? Etc.

    • Bruce says:

      One difference is that “real” musicians, who were out working in the real world and could post videos of actual concert performances, are now posting videos with professional-level music making, sometimes in concert (pardon the pun) with their ensembles. The ones I’ve seen on here have for the most part been really good.

      No need to lump the good with the bad.

    • Thomas Dawkins says:

      Why am I making videos playing octets with myself or singing Gilbert & Sullivan scenes with myself? First, so that I don’t go even more insane than I am already without some kind of performance outlet. I have been constantly on the stage, in the orchestra pit, or in the choir loft since I was about fifteen, and suddenly being cut off from all public expression is difficult and unpleasant. Second, because friends and family tell me that they enjoy the videos but more importantly that it helps them get through the day, many of which are difficult right now. I may not be able to teach or perform like I usually do, but I can make things easier for somebody, and that’s a good thing to do. Third, it’s a way of experimenting with things that aren’t usually possible in performance. I can’t go on stage and accompany myself or play chamber music with myself, so instead of “this is all that’s possible right now” I’m trying to think of it as something positive that’s stretching my skills. If somebody doesn’t like my work, they can very easily not click on it and spend their time “in quiet contemplation” of why they feel the need to be such a public critic and rain on somebody else’s parade.

    • Jack says:

      Go to Augustin Hadelich on You Tube- you might change your mind.

    • AMG says:

      Hi Alphonse I know what you mean-it has got quite annoying but perhaps just scroll on and don’t listen. Many musicians have had their playing work cut completely and recording an octet with themselves is perhaps something to practise, a project to work on and then share. Many of us have trained for years to perform. Our weeks are normally filled with rehearsal and performance with colleagues.Many of my colleagues are in isolation and perhaps a self recording project helps mental health by giving them something to do.

      • Alphonse says:

        AMG- I am a professional, highly trained orchestral musician, for what it’s worth- not an outsider. You say “many of us”- I am one of you. Just setting the record straight.

  • Bruce says:

    1 How are you spending your time, and how much of it is spent in musical activity?

    • Barely any. I’m taking a vacation. I still like it and will get back to it at some point. I had excellent teachers and know how to get myself back in shape.

    2 Have you tried streaming your music?

    • No. (I do have another job, one that is “essential,” so I’m still working & not scrambling for income)

    3 Once the Covid crisis is over, do you think live music will (ever) be the same?

    • Not at first, but eventually — once we understand what’s safe and what’s not.

    4 What are the likely job opportunities for young musicians, after this is over?

    • Noticeably worse than before (which was already terrible). Many small local & regional ensembles without huge endowments are likely to go under, making even part-time employment much harder to come by.

    (Advice: learn to do something else, something that isn’t considered a luxury for others. Musicians are SMART, contrary to popular opinion, we know how to buckle down and work, and we don’t give up as soon as things get difficult. You can still be a musician, and a good one, but there is also soul-nourishing work to be found in other areas.)

    5 Is there a message you would like to send to the concert audience?

    • Don’t give up.

    • Bruce says:

      ^ Regarding my point in #4, above: people may think musicians are stupid because (a) they have no way to understand what a musician’s skills, and the development thereof, involve, and (b) they went into a field that doesn’t pay a lot of money.

      (Also, people aren’t dependent on a musician for their medical or financial well-being: if a musician fucks up, nobody dies, therefore the job is not important. My second career, as a physical therapy assistant, was much faster to learn and is much easier to do well. Ironically, in spite of the job being easier, the stakes are much higher because the safety of patients is in my hands. And people respect it because it pays decent money. Nobody expresses surprise that I am paid to work in a hospital.)

      • John Borstlap says:

        Great comment. It shows the difference between physical work and spiritual work. The first is mostly clearly visible to others, the second requires information and understanding, and hence the much smaller number of people who can appreciate it.

  • Julme says:

    1. As I also teach, I am occupied with remote lessons. The lesson preparations take up a lot of time.

    2. No. There are so many fantastic old recordings of past masters out there. Why not listen to those?

    If I listen to a stream, I would rather watch a non-musical theme.

    I would say yes to a live-stream, if I had similar conditions as in a live broadcast, but it didn’t happen.

    3. I think that the classical music would (unfortunately) move towards a popular sound esthetic. E.g. in a quartet, you would hear 4 tracks (4 individual instruments playing their parts) instead of hearing the harmonics interact to form one big quartet apparatus.

    And I guess that composers would write pieces with electronics and smaller ensembles.

    4. Probably the pressure would get higher to get to the “top” where the money is (either as soloists with agency and label back-up or as an orchestra member with lifetime contract). Below that, you are on your own as a self-employed, self-producing musician.

    I think that one has to get away from the notion, that a musician is only a musician, when he is making music. (Lots of musicans don’t go out to help out in a supermarket, even when they need the money, because they are afraid to be seen as a failed musician or that they are not a musican any more.)

    A life is more than just music!

    5. Trust your ears more than what the PR and ads say.

  • Ben G. says:

    1 As a retired musician since a year ago, I have no problem keeping busy with musical activities, but I sure do miss the 8 groups I still play with!

    2 Yes, one of my groups has created a video and streamed it.  It’s obviously not the same as playing in front of a live audience, and is very difficult to do concerning synchronizing each member.  No conservatory or musical institution has ever prepared us for such an unforeseeable predicament.

    3 Live music will always be the same, but nobody can predict as to when the conditions of listening to others in concert will come back. Live music is also a very important part of a musician education–it’s not just about playing scales all day.

    4 Young musicians that want to enter this field have to accept the fact that their life has now been put on the back burner. They must not lose hope.

    5 Lastly, concert audiences who really want to hear live performances must continue to compete with the overwhelming YouTube generation population who find it easier to click than walk. Without regular subscribers, orchestras will slowly fade away.

  • Fiddlist says:

    1 Yes practicing and recording at home.

    2 Definitely, it’s fun.

    3 Of course. Don’t underestimate humanity’s collective ability to forget history. With constant devices and distractions these days, it will happen faster than you can imagine. Music and its performance did just fine after the Spanish Flu (17 – 50 million deaths, some say up to 100 million, with 500 million i.e. 1/3rd of the world’s population infected). If Europe could get through the Black Death (1/3rd of total population lost) and make tons of music together after that, we will be just fine.

    4 It’s going to be a long and painful recession, probably a full depression. Many organizations will fold. Others will recover, some faster than others, and five years from now, total classical music “budgets” will be higher than today.

    5 See you ASAS(afe)

  • doubleduty says:

    1. Relaxing, catching up on everything else, thinking, planning, and above all, exercising patience. About the same amount of musical activity and practice. Performing is out for now, but more listening in its place.
    2. No. Nothing beats the real thing.
    3. Yes. In time.
    4. They’ll be there again, but this will take an even longer time. Consider a Plan B.
    5. We need you!