The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Home or concert hall? Will older listeners follow new CDC guidelines about the coronavirus to stay home and avoid attending concerts? What will performers and presenters do in response? | March 7, 2020

PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event. And you might even attract new readers and subscribers to the blog.

By Jacob Stockinger

Late yesterday the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued new guidelines for behavior during the outbreak of the coronavirus and COVID-19.

The CDC is asking all adults over 60, especially those with compromised immune systems and serious underlying illnesses and conditions, to “stay home as much as possible” and avoid attending events with big crowds. (Below is a sample of a full house at the Madison Symphony Orchestra in Overture Hall.)

Here is the full story — which also mentions other kinds of mass events such as movie theaters, mall shopping, sports events and religious services — from CNN:

Moreover, the new guidelines apply nationwide — including here in Wisconsin where only one case has been confirmed and is now healthy– during the increasingly widespread, worldwide outbreak of confirmed cases and deaths.

The Ear wonders if the new advice will hit classical music especially hard because so much of the audience for it is made up of older people who are more vulnerable.

Will the guidelines affect your own attendance at concerts, even tonight and this weekend at the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Wisconsin Union Theater? 

Will a lack of attendance and a more severe outbreak lead to empty concert halls and the cancellation of concerts? Refunds for seniors?

Will the guidelines lead to alternative ways of “attending” and hearing, such as live-streaming and other virtual attendance?

Pretty soon we should start hearing from music presenters and performers about their reactions, solutions and advice.

Meanwhile, here is a news story from The New York Times about what one string quartet did in Venice, Italy:

Are you an older or vulnerable person?

Will you go to concerts or stay home?

What do you think presenters and performers should do to deal with the situation?

Please leave word about your plans and your thoughts.

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music
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  1. Another excellent article, Jake. I would like to hope that those who can afford to donate tickets back to an orchestra or other group do that, and that, perhaps, the orchestra can offer not a refund, but a serious discount for future events or another perk, to ticket holders.

    On Sat, Mar 7, 2020 at 12:01 AM The Well-Tempered Ear wrote:

    > welltemperedear posted: “PLEASE HELP THE EAR. IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG > POST, SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE IT or TAG IT (not > just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw > potential audience members to an event. And you might even a” >


    Comment by martha g young — March 8, 2020 @ 8:28 pm

    • If you “donate” your ticket back to someone why would they consider giving you a discount and is your action really a donation then?

      Just give it up rather than whine about it. If you cannot afford it, ask for a refund.


      Comment by fflambeau — March 9, 2020 @ 4:38 am

  2. I live just outside Philadelphia, and I am 73. My husband is two years older. We are active and relatively healthy, but not without problems. I regularly attend Philadelphia Orchestra and chamber music concerts and have several tickets to Carnegie Hall this spring.

    I skipped the Philly Orchestra on Friday, and I am missing a Carnegie Hall concert today. For the latter, I would have to travel by NJ Transit train for 1 hour after driving 45 minutes to the station. Then I would wind through Penn Station and take the subway up to 57th St. I am heart broken, but I await more exact news about the virus.

    I had a very bad case of Hong Kong flu (1967?), and I recently found a box of memorabilia with pictures taken of three unknown young relatives of mine, dead of the Spanish flu. I will likely go to one Carnegie concert despite all of this. Concerts are always full of people who have no idea how to cough or sneeze in public. Many times these people cough a lot.

    I won’t ask for a refund.I will consider it a slight donation, and a few more absentees may help them prepare for other ways to enjoy the concerts live via streaming. That’s how I watch European opera whenever possible.

    This will not be the last virus, and if our government doesn’t show more sense with medical and scientific research funding and universal health insurance, our globalized world will suffer.


    Comment by Marilyn Quinn — March 8, 2020 @ 12:32 pm

    • Well put, Marilyn. Best wishes to you and yours.


      Comment by fflambeau — March 8, 2020 @ 7:53 pm

  3. As someone who definitely falls into the major categories (over 60, and with a somewhat compromised immune system, my personal feeling is that no, I am NOT going to avoid the concerts I can afford to go to, as long as I can go to them.

    Last night’s MSO performance is a case in point. I wanted very badly to go, and a friend called me and said that she and her husband would not be going, did I want to have the tickets? Well, hell yeah!!

    We went, and enjoyed the concert thoroughly, especially the point in the 1st movement of the Mendelssohn where the orchestra comes back in at the end of the cadenza, and Mr. Pouliot went into an almost bluegrass style of movement during the arpeggios he was playing. I practically fell off my chair trying so hard not to burst out laughing!

    But I digress. My point is, that with commonsense precautions on everyone’s part, we can get through this virus with minimal disruption (hopefully), and even more minimal illness and loss of life.


    Comment by bratschespeilerin — March 7, 2020 @ 9:56 pm

    • “My point is, that with commonsense precautions on everyone’s part, we can get through this virus with minimal disruption… .”

      Really? The whole of Northern Italy has just been sealed off affecting 16 million people.

      New York, Oregon, California, Utah, and California’s governors have all declared states of emergency.

      There is an article on the Journal Sentinel’s website today saying that with all the cases in Illinois, it is only a matter of time before the virus spreads to Brew City.

      One of the “common sense precautions” that everyone was required to take in the Spanish Flu epidemic was to avoid crowds and things like concerts were cancelled or banned.


      Comment by fflambeau — March 8, 2020 @ 8:01 pm

  4. “If the situation gets a lot worse in Wisconsin we will re-evaluate but right now it seems like over-reaction.”

    Wisconsin is not immune from the coronavirus and I’m sure that Japanese people, Italians, New Yorker’s, and people from Washington State thought the same thing until it happened to them.

    The sad truth is, viruses know no borders or political entities. Based on science and what we know of the coronavirus, we can say with scientific certainty that it WILL happen in Wisconsin; it’s just a matter of time.

    Because the virus, in the law, is a foreseeable event, the law will then impose another test (the reasonably prudent person test or RPP) on all entities who did nothing: this test amounts to asking, would a reasonably prudent person have done X knowing that something is foreseeable going to happen? If so, liability (through negligence law is imposed) on the tortfeaser. The university has good lawyers who know all about this. If the university holds concerts, and other large events (even sports events and things like colloquia and graduations) then contagion is going to occur and people will be able to sue if the university did not take action against a foreseeable threat. They would lose millions upon millions of dollars.

    That and common sense, I think will regrettably shut down lots of concerts and other events with many people. New York state has just declared an emergency, I doubt that Wisconsin will be far behind. If you read the Slipped Disc website, you will notice that many concerts, operas and even orchestra tours have been cancelled worldwide. This is all for public safety reasons and Wisconsin is no exception to anything.

    On the good side, maybe what this means is that a lot of events will be live-streamed (and perhaps archived). I’ve often wondered why the university doesn’t set up their own U-Tube (university tube) for such things. Maybe this will be the impetus. Note too that the virus is a threat to the faculty, and the student players as well as to the audience.

    Wisconsin, as part of the USA, has a horrible health care system built around the antiquated notion of private insurance. Already, insurance carriers are balking at paying for testing, for the virus, and for paying for the large costs associated with quarantine. The question in Wisconsin, as throughout the USA, will be who pays and how. In a sense, we might get medicare for all because this system will collapse under the enormous threat and economic consequences of the virus.


    Comment by fflambeau — March 7, 2020 @ 6:16 pm

    • I might add that Wisconsin has another problem related to its horrible health care system (based on private insurance): lots of its rural areas have inadequate numbers of health care providers and hospitals. For this reason, I think the State will be hit harder than most. Add to that a State which has large numbers of older people (the virus hits this group the hardest) and you have a recipe for disaster.

      I would guess that Gov. Evers is right now considering emergency steps that need to be taken.

      Somewhere, I read where Wisconsin has just 2 labs that can process tests for the coronarvirus and that one of them can process only 100 tests a day. Think what happens when 1,000 times that amount will be necessary. It’s a script for a disaster movie.


      Comment by fflambeau — March 7, 2020 @ 6:23 pm

  5. I am an 82 year male. My partner is a dozen years younger, but she has a somewhat compromised immune system. We plan on attending all the MSO performances and attend APT, both as season subscribers. If the situation gets a lot worse in Wisconsin we will re-evaluate but right now it seems like over-reaction.


    Comment by Daryl SHERMAN — March 7, 2020 @ 11:38 am

  6. “The CDC estimates that so far this season there have been at least 34 million flu illnesses, 350,000 hospitalizations and 20,000 deaths from flu [in the US].”
    In comparison, the US has had 164 cases of COVID 19, and 11 deaths. Not even half of adults care enough about avoiding the flu to get vaccinated. People are famously incapable of assessing risk.
    COVID 19 is not the same as the flu, most importantly because we still have the chance to contain it. I plan to follow our local health department instructions. When they say we have enough community cases to start avoiding public events, I will do that. I suspect the public events will cancel themselves when that happens.
    In the meantime, the most important thing we can do… for both flu and COVID 19… is stay home when sick. And if I play a piano, push a grocery cart, vote, or go to a concert, I will wash my hands before and after.


    Comment by Janet Murphy — March 7, 2020 @ 10:48 am

  7. Since I fall squarely into the vulnerable category, beginning tonight I will stay home. This will be difficult for me as I looked forward to a spring and summer full of wonderful concerts.

    There are three ways to compensate for the live music. First, for those of us with access to the Naxos Music Library, there is a wide array of recordings by various artists to choose among for any given piece of music. Second, there is my shelf of CD’s and third there is always YouTube. Thus, I can listen to the scheduled pieces of music on the scheduled performance dates while minimizing my exposure to the virus.

    Of course it will not be the same experience but everyone has to determine his own priorities.

    Perhaps performers can broadcast events for home viewing. But how you restrict that to those who have purchased a ticket I do not know and of course it would take some time to put such arrangements into place.
    My heart goes out to the musicians and organizations who have worked so hard and invested so much time and money. My hope is that we will all get through this and be stronger for it.


    Comment by Margaret Barker — March 7, 2020 @ 9:13 am

  8. At last night’s MSO the brilliant soloist Blake Pouliot thanked the audience for coming to his performance despite fears of the coronavirus. Wouldn’t have wanted to miss his superb, electrifying interpretation of Mendelssohn’s E Minor concerto. Or Naha Greenholtz’s solos in Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben. Or Kenneth Wood’s masterful guest conducting. A special night. The audience was overjoyed. People elbowed each other in greeting and coughed not into their hands. Madison is not (yet) Seattle. Be wise but not foolish.


    Comment by Ronnie — March 7, 2020 @ 9:05 am

    • And yes there were several empty seats.


      Comment by Ronnie — March 7, 2020 @ 9:07 am

      • I’d say more than a few empty seats. We attend the Friday performances regularly, and we noted the difference last night.


        Comment by Margaret Irwin — March 7, 2020 @ 9:50 am

  9. It does seem remarkable (and perhaps a first for viruses) that this virus kills older people off and not young ones (the 1919 “Spanish Flu” pandemic did kill off 40 million people but many of them were young; more U.S. soldiers died from it than from battle.

    This will continue to develop and yes, large groups are not healthy. Lots of concerts and operas have been cancelled as a result. I would expect this to hit the Madison community quite hard.

    Fear is the strongest emotion, even though Mr. Perfect has dealt with the situation, ‘perfectly’.


    Comment by fflambeau — March 7, 2020 @ 2:31 am

  10. No we won’t stay home We will use common sense and wash hands and not touch our faces but until this gets far worse we won’t stop our lives!

    Get Outlook for iOS ________________________________


    Comment by Beverly Taylor — March 7, 2020 @ 1:12 am

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