How will the Covid-19 crisis affect the world of classical music?

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R. Douglas Sheldon kindly shared his views on the current crisis with us on April 10th 2020.
R. Douglas Sheldon kindly shared his views on the current crisis with us on April 11th 2020.

How will Covid-19 affect the world of classical music? Are any patterns emerging, and will they last?

My name is Doug Sheldon and I have been asked by Classeek to address the question of how Covid-19 will affect the world of classical music.

It is important to realize right away that the world is facing both a pandemic and a recession and they are related: cause and effect.

The pandemic is likely to cause a shift in the public’s attitude and habits about attending live music events. We live in a world where in a period of fewer than 50 years the CD, Fax and 3-D filming have come and gone while the communication of music is developing via YouTube, Facebook and streaming.

Now, with no live performances, the emphasis on streaming grows and grows. The nature and habit of how we listen and watch is changing and I predict the change will develop faster during the world’s present necessity for social distancing.

We know that the marketing techniques and expertise of the 21st century have not caught up to, nor manage effectively, the public’s evolving ticket buying habits, nor the changing culture of listening and viewing habits.

I think we face a serious recession, the seventh since 1969, which will result in greater unemployment, and greater government stimulus packages and subsidies, and will place a huge demand on resuscitating stalled business. That all impacts the musical and theatrical arts.

All this is, of course yet unknown impact. How quickly and willing will the public be willing to sit shoulder to shoulder, squeezed in among two or three thousand people after Covid-19? When and how can a government really declare an “all clear?”  

For sure major institutions will be reviewing, revising and negotiating previous agreements, the obligations of which they will not be able to meet. Not with an insecure public and totally wavering sponsorships.

Okay. We’ve seen it before, particularly in the 1980 and 1981 recessions and in the 18-month recession that spanned parts of 2007, 2008 and 2009. But we have to acknowledge that since 2009 development of audiences and related marketing techniques was only accomplished over a decade long period. And now, another setback.

I believe in an axiom: “You can’t kill classical music, but you sure can mismanage it.” You can’t kill it because it is intrinsically of the human spirit! The power, the love and the inspiration of the human spirit. You live it. You breathe it. You sing it.

Covid-19 will demand of all professionals a new and fresh and imaginative effort to restore the music business and build it into something really strong again. And that professionalism will be fueled by our imagination, our drive to accept and master change and the strength of our human spirit.

For young artists: stay the course. Believe in your art and in your mission. Raise your standard of learning not only your repertoire, but the music and art and poetry and philosophy that surrounds that repertoire. Leap from technically excellent performances to performances that are thoughtful and searching and probing.

Take full benefit of your teachers and mentors and don’t be afraid to search out other influences. The true demand on an artist is simply always to be able and willing to grow.

The world needs beauty, spirit, truth and emotional expression. That is the promise and the function of an artist.

The world will always return to the positive depths of the human spirit.

I believe the evolving music world will place a new value, a new premium on young, brilliant, expressive artists. The spirit and growth of young artists can express the most positive and profound ideas and emotions of art and humanity.

The world will recover and be ready for you, if you are ready for it.

By R Douglas Sheldon

April 11, 2020

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