The COVID-19 crisis has left my career as a singer and teacher in jeopardy. In just a few weeks, I went from juggling a busy schedule of rehearsals, performances and singing lessons, to considering online courses in coding or web-design.
On Thursday 12 March, I was driving to a costume fitting in Artane for Irish National Opera’s production of ‘Carmen’. I had given some singing lessons that morning in Clongowes Wood College in Clane, and after a three-hour rehearsal I had planned to drive back to Clongowes to give two choir rehearsals. Just after 11am, I listened to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announce that all schools would close and that mass gatherings would be cancelled. I arrived in Artane to an announcement that ‘Carmen’ was cancelled. Clongowes closed its doors that same night. Theatres and schools are still closed. All of my wedding bookings for the summer have been postponed. Arts festivals have been cancelled and my Christmas carolling gigs are also in doubt. Initially, I told myself that things will eventually ‘go back to normal’ but my concerns about this ever coming to pass have grown in recent weeks.
I have tried to provide some teaching over Zoom, but it is not an ideal solution. It is impossible to accompany a student because of the slight sound delay, so they need to be able to sing on their own, keeping pitch. They could also sing with a backing track, but this poses additional challenges. For choir rehearsals, only one person can sing at a time and everyone else must be muted; this is because Zoom will only pick up one audio feed at a time. The choir singer who usually listens to their neighbour for their notes will find themselves out of their comfort zone. While some devotees have persisted, many have opted out of lessons for now.
Like many people, I have been eagerly awaiting news on the development of a vaccine. Although theatres and schools may re-open, performing groups will not return until there is an effective treatment for COVID-19. Singers breathe in a manner that constantly moves air as they sing their phrase. Experts from the University of South Carolina recently stated that an airborne virus could travel as far as 16 feet. This means that there can be no safe choir gatherings or indoor performances, and singing through a facemask is obviously not an option. How much damage will be done to the arts in the few months or year that it takes to develop treatments? If social distancing remains in place, vital income from box office receipts will be lost. The Arts Council has found that €6.4 million of potential income has already been lost. This figure will continue to grow.
In the eight years that I have spent as a self-employed musician, this is the most difficult period I’ve encountered. I am unsure whether or not there will be enough work in my industry to pay my high Dublin rent once the emergency welfare payments cease. I may have no option but to move on from the career I love.