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Symphony in the Valley Gets Creative During Covid, Finding a Safe Way to Continue Bringing Live Music to the Community

“Our mission is focused around live performance,” says Amanda Watkins. “That is the core of what we do. Symphonic music is so personal, interconnected. It’s meant to be performed and experienced together. So our challenge for nearly a year has been, how do we continue to fulfill our mission during a pandemic, when it might not be safe to be together?”

Watkins, operations manager and violist with Symphony in the Valley (SITV), recalls the early days of Covid-19 lockdown with sadness. The all-volunteer orchestra was faced with numerous disheartening unknowns, including whether they would need to cancel all of their remaining scheduled performances in 2020. 

“Fortunately, in February last year we had just held our big annual fundraiser, the Symphony Swing, before Covid hit. So we were very grateful for that timing,” she says. “But then just a few weeks later we were discussing how to get through the rest of our season. It was a really scary time. We did end up cancelling our annual Mother’s Day concerts and our Fourth of July performances in Glenwood and Rifle, to keep everyone safe.”

Despite those cancellations, Watkins says the group’s creative gears were still turning. Musicians stayed connected with each other online, and some recorded solo performances for social media. Then, when Garfield County allowed gathering variances for selected entities last summer, SITV was presented with a golden opportunity to begin rehearsing together again—safely—at New Hope Church in New Castle. 

“The church offered us their space, which has a capacity for 600,” Watkins says. “That meant we could practice social distancing and get together under one roof.”

SITV surveyed its members (nearly 70 local musicians hailing from Aspen to Grand Junction) to gauge their comfort level. About 35 expressed interest. Soon, plans were made for those individuals to rehearse and move forward with a pared-down public performance celebrating Beethoven’s 250th birthday last October.

“We definitely had concerns that the community would perceive us as being unsafe,” Watkins recognizes. “We understood it was a fine line of carrying out our mission and maintaining safety protocols for everyone involved.”

So how did they do it? First, musicians were separated according to level of risk to the audience and each other. String musicians were seated in front, donning masks throughout rehearsals and performances. Wind and brass players were placed at the rear, removing their masks only while seated and actively playing. Instruments were cleaned with disinfectant routinely during gatherings. Audience members were masked at all times during the public Beethoven concerts, and were dispersed throughout the church for added safety.

“Everyone was so grateful for the experience. Both the musicians and the audience,” Watkins says. “It was small, quaint, and so beautiful.”

She adds, “And no one has gotten sick. We found a way to give live music to the community safely. That has definitely been the biggest win.”

The Beethoven concert, coupled with the symphony’s subsequent holiday performance called “Making Spirits Bright,” helped the group cover its operating costs in 2020. This year, they are currently planning two concerts: a special Young Composers performance with works composed or arranged by gifted young musicians in March, and the annual Symphony Swing fundraiser tentatively scheduled for May.

“The most important thing we’ve learned during the pandemic is that we all need a little creativity in times like this. And we’ve tried to keep the big picture in mind: that this is all temporary. Other symphonies have been forced to shut down completely, but we didn’t want to do that,” Watkins says. “Art brings balance to life.”

Visit SITV.org for concert details or follow Symphony in the Valley on Facebook.

Mark Your Calendars

Young Composers Concert

March 5 & 6 at 7 p.m.

New Hope Church in New Castle

Symphony Swing

Tentatively scheduled for May

Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs

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