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Because of COVID-19, Symphoria's new season will look and sound a bit different

Photo courtesy of Symphoria
Symphoria artists practice while each musician is surrounded by a physical barrier

Symphoria is starting its 2020-21 season this weekend, but because of the coronavirus pandemic, concerts will be live-streamed, and will look a little different.

Getting several dozen musicians together on a stage is not a simple thing during a pandemic.  Instruments often spew droplets, there’s a lot of hand waving and moving around. So when Symphoria officials decided to move ahead with a season, they had to figure out a way to protect musicians from each other. 

The first idea was to put them individually in a Mylar bubble. But the Onondaga County Health Department shot that idea down. So, after some more research, Symphoria Executive Director Pam Murchison said they settled on marine plastic, the stuff that protects boats on the water.

"They mitigate some of the aerosols with the wind instruments, and things like that. There can be droplets," Murchison said. "And it provides an extra layer reminding people, like you can’t lean over and see someone else’s music on the stand or borrow their pencil, because there is actually a physical barrier."

The L-shaped barriers around musicians means fewer will be able to take the stage. So, Symphoria will focus on pieces that don’t demand the entire orchestra. They’re keeping options open on some of the series, able to nimbly switch to small ensembles if coronavirus numbers increase.

All musicians are being tested for the virus. Some musicians, like percussionists or string players, will wear masks. Murchison admits the acoustics won’t be perfect, but sound engineers can work to mitigate that, for what will be in the beginning, an at-home audience.

"We’ll live-stream until there’s a vaccine or until social distancing restrictions are gone by government decree. And we’ll bring in-person audiences back as we can."

Symphoria has come through the pandemic intact, so far. They’ve maintained 64% of subscriptions, and they’ve started a paid streaming service for the season that’s drawing interest. Murchison said the challenges of getting an orchestra on stage during a pandemic are worth it.

"You think about the artists and the incredible talent that is silent now, at least in the way we’re used to experiencing it," she said. "And the community that doesn’t have those things.  We need beautiful things, more than ever.”

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.