“An hour of calm” – Lunchtime Concerts continue online every Wednesday

The University of Liverpool’s popular, free Lunchtime Concerts are continuing virtually every Wednesday at 1pm while the country is in self-isolation.

We spoke to Department of Music Artistic Coordinator and Public Engagement Officer, Dr Helen Thomas about this season’s programme and why it’s so important that the show goes on.

Why did you decide to continue broadcasting Lunchtime Concerts during lockdown?

We have been livestreaming our Lunchtime Concerts for a couple of years now. This has enabled people who have been isolated for reasons of poor health or physical distance to participate remotely with our music-making. In the past we’ve reached a composer who was a care home resident who was able to hear a performance of his work; friends and family of musicians watching from Albania to South Korea; and we are often joined by Liverpool alumni from around the world. So, livestreaming the concerts is a natural continuation of this outreach. What’s new is that the musicians now have to perform in their own homes.

What was the response of the musicians involved?

Relief, excitement and a bit of trepidation. Musicians are predominantly self-employed so there is an important financial benefit to being invited to do an online concert, but it’s much more than that. Musicians are feeling bereft of the chance to perform, to communicate with each other and with audiences through music.

How difficult has it been to arrange?

It’s tough for the musicians because they are being invited to give a 45-50 minute recital at very short notice and they are perfectionists – so what the viewers see is the result of many hours of intensive practice over the last week. At our end it’s been a team effort with a lot of input from the School of the Arts’ Digital Officer, Jonny Davis LeBrun. We’ve all had to learn how the various platforms and software work as we go along and sometimes it’s difficult to do this remotely. We’ve tested in advance but something went wrong with the livestream of our first recital and, of course, the musician had their phone off and we couldn’t ring them to say STOP and start again. We had to wait for the concert to finish, and fortunately it had recorded so we were able to post a recording. That led to our decision to pre-record future concerts on Tuesdays ready for release at 1pm on Wednesdays to minimise the stress! More enjoyably, we’re using social media to reach out to interested parties, for example, the Clarinet and Saxophone Society of GB are going to share today’s concert with their 2K+ members.

What kind of feedback have you had so far?

Amazing. This is what one of the musicians said afterwards: “It was fabulous, in the most bizarre week, to be asked to make this contribution; and I felt proper adrenalin/nerves on the day on the concert which were reassuringly familiar while otherwise totally outside my comfort zone.”

What else can people do while enjoying the concerts?

We’re trying to see the livestream as an opportunity to reach new audiences, so my colleague Dr Kenneth Smith has developed some age-specific ‘Listen and Learn’ activities for children to do during the concerts. We’ve had some lovely responses to this and comments on Facebook, for example: “We all really enjoyed this – my girls enjoyed doing the activities and I enjoyed having an hour of calm to listen to some beautiful playing, thank you!”

What role do you believe live music can play in the circumstances we currently find ourselves?

There is a popular view that the current circumstances are changing our perceptions of time – we are less bound by clock time, time may seem to be passing more slowly, and music is the temporal art form. I think sharing live musical experiences enables us to relate to each other through our similarities and differences without the pitfalls of language – it is a very powerful means of communication. Live music, even if it is experienced virtually, is an opportunity to experience that uniquely human mix of shared but heterogenous experience.

Catch saxophonist, Tom Thorp, an international, award-winning jazz soloist, composer and bandleader, from 1pm on Wednesday April 1 by visiting www.liverpool.ac.uk/music/events/live-stream/

For the full Lunchtime Concerts Spring programme, and to download your activity pack, visit www.liverpool.ac.uk/music/events/lunchtime-concert-series/