When the mayor of Little Rock declared a state of emergency this month, it meant the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra’s planned tribute to Aretha Franklin would have to be postponed. The novel coronavirus outbreak has placed Arkansas in a gradual lockdown, and that’s brought a steady stream of cancellations along with it.
But despite the news, Drew Irvin — the orchestra’s co-concertmaster — came up with a way to play some music.
Every night around 9 o’clock in Little Rock, Irvin and other members of the orchestra have been uploading performances on Facebook. The series is called “Bedtime With Bach,” and it’s a way to provide some live music when so many are stuck at home. These videos have thousands of views, and though that’s nowhere near the peaks other videos have reached on the Internet, what they’re providing may be just as important: a bit of classical music as many find themselves in isolation.
“When there’s a lot of uncertainty and anxiety, I think art and beauty are things that bring a lot of comfort,” said Alisa Coffey, principal harpist for the orchestra. “As musicians, we’re kind of bastions of that."
The social distancing recommended — or required — in the past week means large gatherings, including musical performances, are out of the question. Performing artists are live-streaming their talents on Facebook and Instagram, like virtual buskers. John Legend and Coldplay’s Chris Martin are playing sets from home with the hashtag #TogetherAtHome. You can find Yo-Yo Ma recording his on Twitter. The orchestra’s “Bedtime With Bach” series is just one of many such efforts by musicians to offer some solace because, for all of them, it’s impossible to perform any other way.
“Nobody, right now, can put together a new show with sixty, a hundred, two hundred people. You just can’t,” Irvin said.
For those in the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, the difference between their videos and the ones with millions of views from big-name stars is that their neighbors, students and friends are often the people watching from home. The orchestra is a part of the community, Irvin said, and it’s not uncommon to be stopped at the grocery store because someone saw a performance.
Irvin said he wants to keep “Bedtime With Bach” running for as long as people are stuck at home, practicing social distancing. One goal is for every member of the 65-person orchestra to submit their own recital. Geoffrey Robson, a member of the orchestra and the interim artistic director, said he’s been thrilled to see people enjoying the videos, adding that it’s been a concrete way for them to connect with their following in Little Rock as performances are postponed.
“Art organizations all over the country have to figure out a way to stay relevant when they can’t play concerts,” Robson said.
Johann Sebastian Bach is the namesake of the series but, so far, recitals have included a whole host of composers: the German cellist Georg Goltermann, Italian composer Domenico Scarlatti and American songwriter Burt Bacharach, with “I Say a Little Prayer” — one of the songs prepared for the Aretha Franklin tribute.
“Oh how absolutely beautiful,” one Facebook commenter posted. “These ‘mini-concerts’ are really helping [me] feel somewhat engaged with my community. Thank you all so much for giving me something to look forward to each evening.”
Christina Littlejohn, chief executive for the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, said it’s not clear how the outbreak will affect the nonprofit orchestra. The answer depends on how long all this will last.
Regardless, Littlejohn said it’s heartwarming to see people come together in challenging moments like these. She lived in Mobile, Ala., when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005. Littlejohn remembers the trees all over her yard, the tarp that stayed on her roof for “a very long time.” Once the storm passed, neighbors shared generators. There were street-wide cookouts.
“Whatever it was that we needed to do, we did,” Littlejohn said. “People want to do good stuff.”
This time, you can’t even stand within six feet of your neighbor, but playing a song on Facebook or Instagram is hopefully a way to help people in Little Rock and beyond.
“We’re still all humans, and we all want to connect,” Littlejohn said. “This is a great way to help when there’s so much uncertainty in the world.”
The reporting for this story began with a reader writing to The Washington Post to share what people are doing to help in their community during the coronavirus outbreak. To share your own stories from where you live, please write below.