By: Steeve Chwojko

“If music be the food of love, play on,” wrote Shakespeare in his famous comedy Twelfth Night. But what if you can’t find anyone to play to during a pandemic?

Britt-Lynn Winch, a professional harpist who plays for weddings, receptions, and galas, is just one of many local musicians who have been impacted by COVID-19 restrictions.

“By February 2020, I was booked to play all through the summer. There were showers, weddings, all kinds of events. They were all cancelled,” said Ms. Winch, shaking her head.

“I had just two weddings this year. The rest were postponed to 2021 and 2022. I am lucky that I have another job that pays my expenses.”

Of course, there is no backup job for many performing artists to maintain them through the pandemic. And often, they find themselves out of work with little government support.

Ms. Winch considers herself one of the lucky ones. She has a day job, and she’s has managed to keep playing, albeit “virtually.”

Britt-Lynn Winch

“During the pandemic, I have performed live on Facebook to help raise funds for various Ontario charities. It gives me joy during these difficult times,” she said.

Joe Agnello owns Georgina Music on High Street in Sutton. Most music stores offer lessons, but do you want to stand in front of a singer, or a trumpeter, who obviously cannot wear a mask during the lesson?

“I’m not giving any lessons now,” he said.

“My students were adults, many of them seniors; I don’t want to take a chance, and online lessons wouldn’t work for them. The shop is still open, some people come in once in a while to buy strings, but revenue is down 80 per cent compared to last year.”

Mr. Agnello stocked up on inventory in March, but now it is just sitting in the shop.

“Subsidies help,” he said. “But If I sell a guitar, I’m going to lose the subsidy. I have to put out my own money to pay the bills. The pandemic will go away sometime, I hope, and then? Well, we’ll see what happens.”

Joe Angello

Paul Connors runs Connors Music in Keswick. For the past eight months, he has managed to stay one step ahead of the pandemic.

“When everything locked down just at the beginning of the March school break, we had a one-week window where we had no students. We had time to convert our entire lesson programme to online teaching,” he said.

Often that required him to think outside the box. While
a lot of vocal pieces need a piano accompaniment; his solution was to record the piano, email the recording to the student, then watch on Skype or Zoom while the student plays back the recording and sings along.

“The ultimate test will be in December,” he said. “We are doing a virtual Christmas concert, streamed online. Each student will play to an audience of a camera and a microphone, while everyone else watches from their own home.”

And sales? Has that been affected? The answer is unexpected.

“Many people have decided to use this ‘quiet’ time to take on something new, and we’ve seen a lot of sales of instruments. Also, technology has responded to the growing need for live-stream performance, so there have been increased sales of computer interfaces, microphones, and so on,” he said.

What about the future? Will face-to-face become the norm again? Once more, Connors Music is one step ahead of the game.

“We have been able to install windows between the lesson rooms. The student will go into one room while the teacher is next door with the window open a crack to talk. Until it is safe, we’ll keep a six-foot distance for the lessons.”

The bottom line is, it doesn’t matter whether music is the food of love or not – just play on!

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