Around this time every year, people from all over the world look back on the year we’ve had. What was news-worthy? What did I achieve? What new year resolutions shall I set? A time both for reflection and looking forward. This year is no different in this at least. And yes, what a year we’ve had.
2020 started out promisingly for me. Lots to do, lots of music to make and people to connect with. Creativity was busy. March. Lockdown was me being sucked into a black hole. Within the space of a week, almost all of my busy 2020 diary had been struck out. For musicians, our connection with our instrument extends beyond ‘just work’. It felt like a family bereavement.
A strange year for Music, Art and Culture. On the one-hand we’ve been there to support people at a dark time, often without them realising. On the other, we were banned from connecting with our audiences in person for a long time. 2020 became the year of new musical creativity, juxtaposed by wondering if I should change profession for good. New creative solutions were turbodrived by the sudden ban on live events. Digitalisation. Livestreams. Recordings. Have they been successful? Are they here to stay? I’ve been among those testing, and trying to connect with people through screens. They are here to stay, but I believe their formats must diverge from ‘traditional’ concert imitations in the long-term. Nothing will replace the live experience, nor should we seek to. But digital formats can and should become Artforms in their own right.
My first concert to people after the first UK lockdown: Late August, in a field on a stunning farm in North Yorkshire. I felt a bit like a lamb learning to walk (again). But oh the spring in my step returned, along with tears at the end. An emotional wringer. Concerts need practising as much as the instrument, and five months away from our craft was scary. But people travelled from all over the UK to be with us, in the rain (Trilogy Ensemble www.trillogyensemble.com] and that in itself was the best feeling I’d felt in all of 2020. The ensemble organised the event ourselves and a part of us did wonder: do people really want to come to concerts anymore? Will anyone come? This and subsequent 2020 concerts have shown: yes they absolutely do! But more than that, people need live events. And so this has been my biggest 2020 lesson.
Performing in NW Live’s October Music & Renewal concert was one of those rare 2020 live performances. Sharing music with my colleagues, old and new and sharing the performance space with audiences has never been more precious. It’s an energy that can’t be replicated. Something more, which NW Live has always integrated into its events, and I think when we are done with 2020 will become the most important aspect of live events: live experiences should involve their local communities. In Music & Renewal, integrated into the music were poignant video artworks by truly amazing local people. Looking forward to 2021, musicians will need to look at changing audience habits. Audiences have moved, venues changed, work and travel habits upended. One thing that should be nurtured is local music. If 2020 has shown nothing else, it is how local communities can pull together. This should be celebrated in every live experience and is how Art, Culture and Music will not just survive 2020 but will come back all the stronger. This is how it can best serve those it touches. From those who perform to those who come to experience it.