RSO delivers virtual concert to your living room

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“There is a curiosity and desire to connect, especially the loyal supporters with the musicians” - gordon gerrard Regina Symphony Orchestra

Enjoy a cultural experience in the comfort of your home

The video dissolves from black to Regina Symphony Orchestra Musical Director Gordon Gerrard, who is sitting in an armchair. He welcomes his virtual audience with some background on composer Dmitri Shostakovich.

In February, the RSO chamber players performed the Chamber Symphony in F Major Op. 73a at Holy Rosary Cathedral. Even though the performance was recorded, it still felt like a live event. Regina’s Strategy Lab successfully captured the performance, featuring individual musicians as well as the whole ensemble. The recording quality of the show was exceptional, making the performance feel even more authentic. The video performance was thoughtfully and well edited.

Even though it was a virtual show, the symphony orchestra members observed pandemic safety precautions: during the 39-minute concert, the musicians wore face masks while they played and were spaced six feet apart from each other.

If you’ve never attended a live orchestra event, this is the perfect time to do so. These virtual concerts are free, but the orchestra asks for donations. People who normally can’t afford symphony orchestra tickets can pay what they can. (The recommended price is $35.)

There are some benefits to watching an online concert: you can wear your pajamas as you take in the event. Plus, you can pause for snacks or washroom breaks and not miss anything. You could replay the concert if you enjoyed it that much. There’s the added benefit of seeing close ups of individual musicians throughout the performance (without needing to rent or buy binoculars).

For people who aren’t familiar with classical music (and those who must know the musical background information), the RSO provides a listening guide, which highlights noteworthy points in the performance and the composer’s intentions. The guide details precise time codes when the composer changes the mood of the piece and why. There are also graphics that mark the beginning of each of the movements. You can choose to not use the guide and simply immerse yourself in the live concert experience.

But, the empty church pews are a stark reminder of the absence of an audience – one of the things Gerrard misses the most about live performances.

“I miss turning around to see 1,500 people. I miss being able to talk to them after [the concert] and hearing what the music means to them,” he said.

The last live performance took place in November, before the provincial government imposed heavier restrictions for public gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Other provinces, like British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta, had lockdowns earlier, forcing artistic groups to adapt by going online.

This year, the RSO followed suit.

“There is a curiosity and desire to connect, especially the loyal supporters with the musicians … people are very grateful to have the music,” Gerrard said.

The first virtual performance was with singer-songwriter-pianist Jeffrey Straker in the symphony orchestra’s pop series. The sold-out performances took place October 22 to 24 at Holy Rosary Cathedral. The concert was recorded. It aired on SaskTel Max last month. Straker performed original songs like “Birch Bark Canoe” and “The Wonderful Mrs. Bell”. Both songs were arranged for orchestra.

There has been one silver lining of moving performances online: a broader reach of listeners – both young and old. For example, usually the RSO visits 30 elementary schools in the fall. So far this year, the digital version of the show reached 50,000 students. Gerrard says these virtual visits will likely carry on after the pandemic. With this success in mind, the RSO plans to create more educational programming for high school students in the future.

Not only are more students being exposed to classical music, but rural residents can share in the experience, too.

“We’re reaching people [from southern Saskatchewan] who normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to attend the performance, those who don’t live near Regina. They wouldn’t be able to hear how great our artistry is. I’ve had some great comments from people,” he said.

Loyal RSO fans were pleased to continue supporting their local orchestra, noted Gerrard.

For a while now, the RSO has wanted to have more of an online presence.

“We needed to be creative in how we used digital resources. The pandemic just bumped this process to the top,” Gerrard said.

He’s hopeful that the RSO can keep developing more online shows because of the federal government’s announcement at the end of November 2020. The government will provide a one-year non-recurring extension of the $8 million additional funding to the Canada Arts Presentation Fund (CAPF) in 2021 – 2022.

Even though these virtual shows are making classical performances more affordable and accessible, nothing compares to attending live events. There’s something about looking up concerts to attend, finding friends to go with, choosing your seats, and buying your tickets. There’s the anticipation of getting dressed up for a night out with friends or loved ones. It’s the experience of finding your seats in the Connexus Centre auditorium, thumbing through the programme, reading about the composer, performing artists, and notes while you wait for the curtain to rise. And when watching a live concert, anything can happen. The best part of going to live performances is sharing it with others: meeting afterwards to discuss and share thoughts about it.

Gerrard is hopeful live concerts will return in time for the 2021-2022 season. The RSO is already planning for it. But in the meantime, it will keep putting on virtual shows.

For more information about upcoming online concerts, visit https://www.reginasymphony.com/rso-at-home/

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