Music Is Made For Hard Times Like These

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Steven Libman says the Jacksonville Symphony is doing what needs to be done to survive the quarantine.

As I write this it’s almost incomprehensible that I started a new job on Feb. 1, 2020, as president and CEO for the Jacksonville Symphony. Less than 30 days later, the world changed as the COVID-19 crisis fell upon us. We have had to cancel the remainder of our season along with multiple ensemble performances and arts education activities in the community, and our staff has been working from home ever since.

My days are filled with conference calls and meetings with individual members of the staff, group meetings, calls with trustees and meetings with prospective donors. We still have board committee meetings, full board meetings via conference calls, and the “business” of the Jacksonville Symphony continues forward. The entire team has found creative ways to stay connected and productive via social media, email and video calls. And, of course, we are all discovering what wonderful art our colleagues have on their walls at home, who their pets are, and we are seeing just how long everyone’s hair is now since we cannot visit barbers or hair salons.

When we first embarked on working remotely, I incorrectly assumed that the number of meetings would be reduced from normal times when we worked in the office. Rather the opposite has taken place as the number of meetings has grown exponentially both because of the need to keep pushing projects forward and because of the fundamental human need for connection.

I am so proud of the ingenuity of our staff and musicians. In a very short period of time, a robust communications plan was developed that has resulted in concerts that have streamed every Friday, reaching a greatly expanded audience (compared to our in-season streams) through the magic of Facebook and YouTube. We now have a newsletter that is emailed to more than 40,000 patrons each week and our musicians continue to bring music to Jacksonville through exciting videos that are posted on social media. Our mission is to enrich the human spirit through symphonic music; to aid in relaxation and stress reduction in these trying times. Because of this, we will continue to find creative ways to share our music with the community.

Looking at these initiatives and their results, I am tremendously optimistic about the Symphony’s future. Since launching a new online donation platform on April 1, we have raised more than $35,000 from incredibly generous patrons who are giving selflessly to support their community treasure — the Jacksonville Symphony. What a grand testament to the power of music.

As the world’s scientists work together as never before to develop tests, treatments and ultimately a vaccine, I see a bright future ahead. Science really does matter! Every day we learn about the courage of the nation’s healthcare workers who truly are on the “front lines” administering desperately needed care. They will get us through this crisis.

And so will the power of live music. Eventually, the Jacksonville Symphony will return to perform live. That is what artists do — they perform before an audience to create that life-changing transformational experience we call “art.” The oldest musical instrument is a 67,000-year-old flute, invented long before humans created a means to experience art digitally. We are wired to experience art in person, it’s in our DNA to communicate through music, dance, theater and the visual arts. Human connections are the foundation that our business is built on, and the experience of sharing a performance with others has a profound effect on our lives. When we do re-open and begin performing again, (of course new safety guidelines will be in place, that goes without saying), the Jacksonville Symphony will play a key role in bringing our community together by restoring our faith in one another and in the restorative power of music.

We know there is still a long journey ahead of us and your Jacksonville Symphony will continue to be a part of this community for many generations to come. After all, we are in many ways connected to an art form that began over 65,000 years ago, and our desire to create art and find meaningful connections through art, means that we still have a crucial role to play in our society. I remain optimistic and look forward to a time when we can see everyone back in Jacoby Symphony Hall. Until then, stay safe, stay healthy, and listen to music!

By Steven Libman, President & CEO of the Jacksonville Symphony

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