Manitoba musicians adapting performances to meet COVID-19 guidelines

WINNIPEG — Manitoba musicians are finding ways to weather the effects of COVID-19, which has limited the ways they can share their talents.

Public health measures continue to limit large-scale performances but that hasn’t completely stopped the music

In fact, it’s created a new opportunity for one young musician to team up with people from around the world.

Winnipeg high school student and clarinetist Kara Heckford put out a call online for people to take part in a virtual ensemble. Musicians from across the globe, including Spain, Estonia and Portugal responded.

“It’s definitely not the same but it’s a performing opportunity,” said Heckford, who was among the musicians to take part.

Each musician played their part in two pieces of music, Beethoven’s 5th Symphony and Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Symphony, and it was stitched together to create videos for the virtual ensemble which were posted online. 

“Actually what really motivated me to do this was…why am I still sad about this. I could take action,” said Heckford.

Heckford’s not alone. Musicians have been reaching audiences online throughout the pandemic, including the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.

“Musicians and organizations musicians work with, like orchestras, have been severely impacted across the globe,” said WSO associate conductor Julian Pellicano.

The WSO is now preparing to start offering performances again this fall, in front of a live – but much smaller – audience.

“Our concert hall is quite large, it seats about 2,300 people when it’s full,” said Pellicano. “We’re able to have a really reduced number of audience members.”

Jazz Winnipeg has also been offering live performances throughout the summer and continuing into fall, outside in the Exchange District and inside the West End Cultural Centre, with public health guidelines in place.

Artistic producer Michael Wolch said the rules require audience members to stay in their seats which means they can’t dance and mingle during performances the way they normally would. But Wolch still sees the performances as a positive.

“For the musicians themselves, though, they’re happy to be able to perform live, to be able to perform outside live and at least be able to see people’s faces in person,” said Wolch.

The Manitoba Choral Association is calling on the provincial government to review its recommendations for instrumentalists and vocalists.

The group started a petition because it feels the guidelines are too restrictive for choirs.

“We have thousands of singers here in Manitoba that would love to get back to choir and of course we all want to do it safely,” said MCA executive director Jenny Steinke-Magnus.

According to the province’s COVID-19 guidelines singing or playing brass or wind instruments carries a higher risk of transmission than speaking because saliva or respiratory droplets may travel greater distances.

While performances are allowed, it recommends on its website outdoor venues with physical distancing and limiting performances to soloists or small groups. 

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