By Paule Constable
I’ve noticed a pattern of behaviour recently.
I count myself incredibly lucky to say that this pattern is something I’ve witnessed in the workplace. There are of course those who are simply thrilled to be back in a rehearsal room or on a stage. But there are also many of us who – when given the opportunity for a moment of honesty – are having to admit that we’re not really ok – but we’re also not sure how to sum up how we are feeling. Some describe it as if we are all standing on quick sand. Another phrase I heard was that someone was feeling brittle. Perhaps just plain old confused. Or sad even….
For me much of the route of that is bound up in the grief of discovering friends and colleagues we have lost having had to somehow survive the pandemic with no real help. It is also frustrating to find myself in rooms where it is as if the past 18 months haven’t happened. And then there is the question of where we put the learning that we have gathered throughout the last year. Because – in so many ways – while nothing in our situations has changed, we have changed. We now see our industry for what it is; we are entirely aware of the inequalities that it is built on. And hardest of all – we know that if the pandemic happened again tomorrow then we would be in the same precarious position as last time.
But before this becomes another moment of sadness I thought – in light of these conflicting emotions – it would be good to share something positive. Because I do believe that good work is happening and that in rooms all over the UK people are thinking about and shifting how they value their freelancers. And here is one example of how…..
Last week I went to the Proms to see a new commission by George Lewis. It’s not something I ever do but a friend invited me and I had an amazing experience. First it was so brilliant to hear and see an orchestra playing live. See the commitment to this tough and challenging piece. And see the artistry on stage – both of composer and conductor and, of course, the players. The trust was breath taking. It made me feel totally alive and reminded me that doing something unexpected can be incredibly energising.
And then I heard this story and I wanted to share it because it made me very happy……
The Proms has fixed a special orchestra – the Proms Festival Orchestra – for a unique performance at the Royal Albert Hall on Wednesday 8 September. The orchestra will consist exclusively of freelance players, with the aim of both highlighting the rich and abundant talent of freelancers in this country, whose contribution to the UK music scene is vitally important, and to raise awareness of the difficulties musicians have faced over the past 18 months when performance opportunities have been so limited.
The musicians in the orchestra regularly perform in chamber ensembles, play for film soundtracks and work as extra players in most of the UK’s major orchestras.
The programme will comprise Shostakovich’s Festive Overture and Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. The orchestra will be led by Magnus Johnston and conducted by Mark Wigglesworth.
This is something the BBC have just done – it hasn’t been campaigned for or demanded. It is a gesture of celebration and of solidarity. And that makes me so happy.
If you are free on the 8th and can get to the Albert Hall I would thoroughly recommend taking a punt and going. Even if you don’t think you like classical music – this is a celebration for all of us and I truly wish I could be there to stand and applaud a platform full of musicians who have somehow survived and are being acknowledged by the Proms.
The thing that makes me happiest about this is that it is actually happening – that it was a company who set it up having asked themselves what they could do to help. Wouldn’t that be an amazing thing– if we could stop asking, defining, querying – and be surprised by the companies and buildings who employ us making gestures to tell us we are valued, that they do care.
How brilliant would that be?