United Kingdom

Coronavirus: Charity helps musicians secure paid work

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Caroline Purday

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Dame Evelyn Glennie, who was awarded an OBE in 2003, created a piece of music called The Grace of Silence

A project connecting the UK’s top composers with musicians struggling for work during lockdown has helped them to secure some paid work.

Performers from the Bristol Ensemble, who were facing “desolate diaries”, have been recording some original compositions.

Charity Sound World and the composers offered their services for free, with only the performers being paid.

Bristol Ensemble director Roger Huckle said it was a “fantastic experience”.

Sound World’s director Julian Leeks started planning the project in March.

He asked 12 composers to contribute an original piece, which would then be recorded at home by 15 freelance musicians, mainly from the Bristol Ensemble.

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Sound World

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Harriet Riley and other members of the Bristol Ensemble recorded the original compositions at home

A crowdfunding campaign helped to ensure the performers were paid for their work through public donations.

“I was very keen to help freelancers. I can’t overstate how much these people are the backbone of music across the UK,” said Mr Leeks.

An album will be created when all the songs have been produced, with the recordings available online to download and stream.

A live premiere featuring all of the compositions is planned at St Georges concert hall in May.

“I hope it will be a celebratory event. Freelancers were paid upfront for their recordings and have already been part paid for the premiere,” added Mr Leeks.

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Sound World

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Sound World director Julian Leeks said freelancers were the “backbone” of the UK music industry

Percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie drew on her own experiences of lockdown to create The Grace of Silence, a piece recorded on piano and vibraphone.

“I completely understand the predicament and challenges so I felt compelled to be part of it,” she said.

“As musicians we are looking at a desolate diary for live performances. I knew the musicians would have to practice virtually.

“You have the pianist in his room and the vibraphone player in her bedroom and it’s remarkable creativity can happen in that way.”

She said there was a tendency to think musicians will perform for free, but that paid work was vital more now than ever.

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Stephanie Gilbert

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Flautist Stephanie Gilbert said the project had helped her emotionally, well as financially

Violinist Mr Huckle said the paid work was “a massive help” as musicians were concerned about the pandemic creating an “existential” problem for their careers.

“You worry if musicians will have to find other means of making a living,” said the founder of the Bristol Ensemble.

“They say winter will be even worse and its bad enough now, so I feel I have to suddenly redesign my life and ask myself what am I going to do.”

Cancellations and continuing uncertainty has also led Frances Higgs to question her future as a freelance musician.

“Back in March, my diary was wiped out almost overnight for the rest of 2020. I have no other income, no other career. I was faced with the task of finding work and using my savings to survive,” said the violist.

“Sound World has been the sole work I have been offered during lockdown and it has been invaluable.

“My mental health has declined and I am constantly unsure when I will be able to work as a freelance professional again, or if I, like many others, will have to step away.”

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Sound World

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Sound World also works with young musicians and schools in the Bristol area

Flautist Stephanie Gilbert said she was honoured to be part of the project after the loss of income had led to a “major lifestyle change” for her and her family.

“As we went into lockdown, literally everything in my diary was cancelled.

“With a mortgage to pay, three children to support and a husband in the same profession, it’s a really worrying position to be in.

“Having something positive to work towards has been a brilliant focus.”

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