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Home » Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians » OCSM Responds to COVID-19 Crisis

OCSM Responds to COVID-19 Crisis


by Robert Fraser, OCSM President and Member of Local 247 (Victoria, BC)

Pour voir cet article en français, cliquez ici.

At the time of my writing this column, it has been exactly one week since my own orchestra, the Victoria Symphony, cancelled a concert with slightly less than four hours’ notice. This was on the evening of Thursday, March 12. By the time the following weekend was upon us, all 21 of the Organization of Canadian Symphony Musicians’ (OCSM) orchestras had followed suit and issued concert cancellation notices. Even though it’s only been a week, it feels like both the blink of an eye and a month all at the same time.

It’s difficult for me to write this column for two reasons. One is obvious: a scenario where not just every orchestra in the country stops, but all live music ceases in mere hours is so unthinkable I cannot begin to collect thoughts and articulate them. Second, this article will not reach your screens for at least another two weeks, and if you still wait for the hard copy, a considerable time after that. I have no idea what will unfold between now and then, so I’m dreading that this column will be either outdated news or false speculation.

What I can tell you so far is this: I’m very proud of the immediate response of the OCSM delegates and executive officers. As the whole rather unbelievable scenario unfolded, they were all on our secured email list, sharing details about their own orchestra’s situation. One delegate quickly started compiling the necessary information: how many weeks cancelled, whether promises had been made to pay musicians for cancelled services, whether live streaming of concerts would take place, and how extra musicians and subs were being dealt with.

The AFM Symphonic Services Division immediately set up periodic conference calls with the Symphonic Player Conference chairs, and all five of the Player Conference chairs followed suit to start our own regular conferencing. We have kept lines of communication open with Orchestras Canada and are compiling as many resources as possible. The morning before I submitted this column, the Canadian government announced an emergency response program that would address the issue of workers’ loss of wages, and hopefully by the time you read this, some of these programs will be falling into place.

It would not be speculation on my part to predict that by the time you read this, the negative ramifications of a worldwide pandemic will leave you feeling more than anxious—indeed, you might be overwhelmed to the point of being numb, even if in a few weeks’ time we are able to guess when the end of this will all be. In the early days of this, two things are keeping me sane right now, and I will offer these to you.

The first is to focus on the positive: the cleansing of the environment through our austerity measures, the fact that we are choosing to make a worldwide effort to protect the most vulnerable people in our society, and the fact that at times like this people turn to the arts to not only bring them comfort, but to affirm their resolve that all of this is worth it. The second thing that is keeping me grounded right now is the fact that we are a community of unionized musicians. As I scan my social media feed and see how people are responding, it keeps me going. Performing concerts at home with spouses and children, volunteering in the community, sharing information on resources, and, most important, just simply communicating friendly words to each other.

I hope that soon we will look back on this pandemic as a time when the musicians of the world refused to be silenced—that we resolved to come out of this stronger than ever before. In the meantime, stay safe, and keep those lines of communication open and active.

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