The musical ensemble in the time of Corona


Jackson Piercy

The reality that many musicians face today is an empty crowd. Photo courtesy of

It’s been a trying year. A cataclysm of all the pretenses of Murphy’s law laid to waste on all of our lives, affecting us in ways that we have been learning about in almost the entirety of the last three hundred days. Sports cancelled, theatre productions halted, classes online. All of this is overwhelmingly known to each and every one of us on this campus. Yet, some of the ramifications of this virus are still hitting many to this very day.

Let us look into something of a more peculiar place to inquire about these scenarios we now find ourselves in, being the Strauss Performing Arts center on campus. The perspective? Why, my own of course. These revelations come to me in a time in which the Orchestra is just about to have what seems to be the final “concert” of the year, about three weeks ahead of schedule. Why? Well, now the answer seems pretty obvious, but for posterity I’ll just say it is because of the ever-increasing daily spread of COVID-19 in Nebraska.

Now, has the virus drastically changed the way that ensembles can practice now? Yes, of course. Am I going to go on here and say that it has been terrible so far? Not exactly. Though, my testimony won’t really be the same as anybody else’s, especially since I am not a member of any wind ensembles. This testimony will not be anything special, but I figure I might as well with the outlet I have been given.

There is a simultaneous weight and lack thereof when the Orchestra is all together, in a sense. A weight, because everyone is seeming impossibly far apart compared to life before the pandemic. The orchestras I have played in have been very firmly packed in, and playing with not a soul within six feet of myself makes me feel like I am playing solo. A feeling that has very effectively pushed me to practice my repertoire even more now, with my sound seeming more exposed than ever. The reality of the whole orchestra playing together really just means that we sound the same but farther apart, but the thought that I am the only one that anyone is going to hear is almost always planted in the back of my mind.

The lack of weight comes from that same distance. It is a feeling of playing in an empty room. A feeling that I am quite fond of. Nobody to hear, just me and my instrument and the music in front of me. A scenario I wish I found myself in more often. The “concerts” are really more just practices in fancy clothes in terms of feel. No peering eyes, just a camera and an orchestra playing its tunes. Obviously, those concerts are the culmination of the work we put into the music we play, but to me it has felt more like we just suddenly started playing new music just because. The finality that a concert would bring in the past is missing now.

I don’t know for certain whether the feel of playing in an ensemble now is any better or worse than it once was. Sure, some of the glamour of being a musician is gone, but now I think there is a bit more of a personal element, with the fact that there are not ever any outside observers known to us when we play. We just play, and at the end of the day, I cannot ask for much more than that.