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How the arts became essential in a pandemic world

By Kaitlin Springer
TFO Teaching Artist

In a world where people aren’t sure when or if they should venture out into the community again, where many people don’t know how they will keep their lights on and food on the table, we have to wonder how music and the arts will fit into the “new normal.” After decades of fighting to keep the arts in classrooms, will this pandemic exhaust all that effort and leave us in an “essentials only” educational world? What about on stage in the professional music world?

As a Teaching Artist with The Florida Orchestra I have been fully immersed in both of these worlds, playing viola with a great symphony orchestra and spending time visiting classrooms in Pinellas County, building relationships with hundreds of orchestra students and teachers. As I’ve continued my work virtually, I have found that the spirit of my colleagues both from the stage and the classroom is as strong as ever — if not stronger.

We have found ourselves in a time of forced creativity. Teachers must develop new curriculums to fit a virtual universe that has nothing to do with the tangible, teambuilding environment they’ve spent years creating. Many students don’t have access to Internet, never mind an instrument to practice for their virtual music class. Youth orchestra is over, the final concerts defined by months of hard work canceled. It would be easy to see only tragedy. What I see is opportunity.

Over the past month, The Florida Orchestra has been thinking fast and working hard to create mini virtual concerts for the community. Many members of the orchestra are sharing living room performances of their favorite pieces in the #keepthemusicgoing movement. Our Community Engagement Team has been working tirelessly to create a Virtual Learning Center for students. We are meeting virtually with teachers, giving private virtual lessons to students, and creating a flood of educational content (videos as well as worksheets) to support music teachers and students who yearn to keep the music going through these tough times. (Find all this content on our TFO at Home page at TFO’s violin instructors through the Prodigy Cultural Arts Program, who work with underserved parts of the community, are safely hand delivering content to students who don’t have Internet access.

We’ve had to close the doors to orchestra classrooms, we’ve had to put off performing masterpieces on stage, yet this pandemic has created a surge of creativity as we’ve realized the arts are more important than ever to keep us connected and sane during this crisis. We are redefining our essential role in the community and reaffirming the importance of having great orchestras everywhere. The productivity created by all of this uncertainty has only made me more certain that I work with a great team, under a great organization, and I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of The Florida Orchestra.

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