A call for innovation, and to seize the opportunity in the midst of the shit-storm.
There has never been a better time to be a freelance musician.
Ordinarily, we’re lumped into a categorisation of those who haven’t made it in the traditional system, or those who are aspiring to join an elite institution. We’re the mavericks that didn’t quite meet the standard of the bigger orchestras, managements, venues — or we’re the recent students who are in the awkward pubescent period as we wait to exit the chrysalis of uncertainty, emerging as beautiful, employable butterflies. In the hierarchy that is the traditional classical music industry, we are firmly at the bottom, ostensibly trying to work our way up (at least, according to this in the higher echelons above us).
When the lockdowns first started being enforced just over one year ago, everything was cancelled. All of a sudden, this hierarchy was flattened — no matter how big or small you were, you were similarly stuck at home with nothing but all the repertoire you had labelled ‘to learn when I have time.’
This is the most exciting thing that has ever occurred in the classical music industry — for this is the first time it has been possible to influence real change. This is the time we have to prove the value of creative thinking and problem solving, outside of relying on the incumbent institutions — who for decades have proven themselves unwilling or unable to create any real positive evolution.
The conservative and traditional model has been hit harder than anyone else: the orchestras and large venues, suddenly devoid of their income stream and position of influence and power in music ceased to have control of public attention. These industry behemoths which normally dictate standards and expectations from on high lost their collective voices overnight. In their place, silence.
“This is the most exciting thing that has ever occurred in the classical music industry.”
This is our opportunity. Too often in this past year we, the freelancers, the radicals, the non-traditionalists, have fallen into the narrative of the industry: we have victimised ourselves alongside the orchestras and opera houses — we have not utilised this silence to announce ourselves.
In normal times, we have not had the collective power to show our value to both the industry and the audiences — we have neither the financial power nor ‘airtime’ to promote our worth above the large institutions that represent classical music to the world. We are cyclists on a motorway — completely ignored and at the mercy of passing automobiles.
But this highway has reached a bottleneck traffic jam. They have completely stopped, unable to move forward or backwards — unable to shift their industry in a different direction, waiting patiently until the red light turns green before they move in the exact same direction as previously. And what of the bicycle in this circumstance? The small, slow, insignificant figure on the road has the freedom and flexibility to weave its way through the quagmire of stationary acceptance: we finally have the opportunity to work our way to the front and lead by example.
Never before has there been an audience of this magnitude gasping for what we offer. The lack of available artistic experience over the past twelve months, combined with the inability of the incumbent industry to offer anything except a promise of returning to normal, delivers us a key moment in history to offer our creativity to eyes and ears that would normally never have the opportunity to engage with us.
How will you use this opportunity? Will you squander it — will you join the hordes of complainees who do nothing but sit on their hands until doors are re-opened? Or will you start ideating and planning, developing concepts that maximise the potential of our flexibility? The time to demonstrate our value is upon us, and we’ve never had a greater opportunity than right now.
The 1781 Collective.