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It is now almost an entire year since I last played an orchestral concert. I believe this is the longest I’ve gone without playing one in my entire post-pubescent life.

Life in 2021 feels nothing like it did 13 months ago and, strangely, the time has gone by in one surreal haze. Where did the last year go? It passed so slowly and so quickly at the same time. Sometimes it feels like my former life as an orchestral bassoonist was simply a dream.

People ask how I’m doing with the pandemic. I tell them the same things everyone is telling everyone. That I’m cooking, exercising, practicing, and watching way too much TV. Things like that. It’s the same conversation. Not exciting, but comforting knowing that so many of us are doing the exact same things.

While this is going on, though, some very specific things brighten my days. My orchestra has been producing “virtual concerts” (of chamber music and the like). Oddly, they’ve been really well received. Generous donations come from the viewers. Even more generous, however, have been their comments. For example:

“I, probably like most people, believe there is nothing like an in-person concert. But in the COVID crisis this past year, these concerts were powerful beacons in the darkness…”

“Thank you for putting together the virtual concerts…Brought my stress down, made me feel more normal…”

“Great work in adapting to the challenging circumstances during this pandemic! The arts — with their opportunity to connect, inspire and remind all of us of our shared humanity — matter more than ever.”

“Thank you for keeping the music playing. Your concerts were far more than a concert, but provided hope, meaning, depth and forbearance to a very difficult year. Thank you.”

Patrons of all our Canadian orchestras are sending comments like this. Marvellous words that remind me that we actually are an “essential service.” Words that remind me that we provide something that helps make people feel normal and that our music provides hope, meaning, depth, and forbearance in the worst of times. What a gift to be reminded of such things. 

In our past non-pandemic lives, we went to rehearsals and concerts, worked our asses off, and tried to valiantly avoid fatigue and injury. In the midst of our labours, it could be easy to forget that what we create is a live miracle that really makes people feel good. 

I’m also touched at the support that we’ve received from our managements and governments. That almost all of us are still on at least a portion of our regular salaries tells me that as artists and craftspeople, we are thought of as important. And that sustaining a community’s musicians must be essential to sustaining a community’s well-being. 

I’m so grateful that I am missed. But when concerts resume, am I ever going to be jazzed and excited to step on a stage again to play, well, anything: a Mahler symphony, a rock and roll show, a Christmas special… Anything with the truly essential presence of a live audience. 

Feb. 2021

Michael Hope

OCSM Delegate 

The Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra