April 7, 2020
Musings from a Conductor at Home
Conductors are among the professionals who travel nonstop for their work. Principal Conductor of Live at Orchestra Hall Sarah Hicks tells us what her life is like with no travel and no orchestra to lead. Luckily, there are always scores to study.
Greetings from my studio/home office on a cloudy afternoon here in San Francisco! Although as the Minnesota Orchestra’s Principal Conductor of Live at Orchestra Hall I’m in the Twin Cities about a dozen times a year, I’m based here in California and spend the majority of my time guest conducting around the world.
Although Bay Area came under a shelter in place order on March 16, I knew that things were about to change on March 11 when the European travel ban was instated—I was slated to be in Germany the week I’m writing this—and we all started scrambling with the reality that our world was about to be upended. Over the next two days came the phone calls and emails confirming cancelations and rescheduled concerts, effectively wiping out six weeks of work (and probably more).
So you could say that these days have been rough. But musicians tend to be a pretty resilient lot. Making our lives in the arts requires creativity, discipline and the ability to quickly pivot, and those skills have been crucial for me as I face these uncertain times.
So what does a conductor whose slate has been wiped clean for the next several months do?
First and foremost, I’m operating under the knowledge that all of this will eventually resolve, and when it does, music and the arts will be a huge component for our collective recovery from these challenging times. So there is always music to learn and prepare for that future.
Working on the creation and productions of shows/concerts is a substantial part of my normal schedule, and that hasn’t changed. I just finished drafting up some initial content for a project I’m producing with Columbia Artists, and I’m in the midst of gathering repertoire for a Broadway-themed show that will be premiered by the Minnesota Orchestra during the 20-21 season (very excited about this one!)
And finally, my ongoing relationship with Disney has led to score review work for some of their upcoming movie projects, and that has been great to have.
It’s really tough for a performer to not be performing, and I’m really aware of the importance of maintaining a positive and creative mindset, and I’ve also been pursuing projects and outlets outside of the realm of music. I just began a course on Modern Art and Ideas on Coursera that is being offered for free by the Museum of Modern Art—it’s so much fun to learn about other disciplines. I’ve also started a blog at coronavirusdiary.net as a place for me to discuss music and mental health during these challenging times. All of us are dealing with the immense stress of uncertainty and fear, and discussing mental health and coming together to share our thoughts and find strength in each other is more important than ever.
This is a difficult time for all of us, and without a definite endpoint, it’s a challenge not to worry about the future. One thing I’m certain of, however, is that we will get through this, and in many ways, our communities will become stronger for the storms that they have weathered together. And when people are ready to gather again, one of the first things they’ll reach for is the opportunity to share the experience of live music. It’s a source of great joy and connection for me, and I know it is to so many or you. I’m looking forward to that moment when we share it together again!