This past summer, a common tone of the Virtual Visionaries Series, a collaborative project between the University of Michigan EXCEL Lab, the Eastman School of Music’s Institute for Music Leadership, and a cohort of seven co-sponsors was that out of adversity comes innovation. Each week of the series featured guest artists sharing insight into how they were reacting to and adapting in response to the many challenges our society faces. While the current arts landscape is placing tremendous pressure and hardship on creators, it is also forcing us, as profession, to create new, relevant, and innovative art. This can be seen in all aspects of our arts ecosystem, including concert halls, virtual spaces, and classrooms. As someone who is deeply connected to this work, it is fascinating to observe that even when long established structures and institutions might falter, our art and music making continue to feel more relevant and meaningful than ever.
Enter Yo-Yo Ma, Hula Hoops, and a Flatbed truck.
Last week, Yo-Yo Ma and Emmanuel Ax teamed up to perform a series of concerts for essential workers Pittsfield, Massachusetts, a small community located in the western part of the state. With concert halls vacant and indoor-performances prohibited, the duo boarded a modified a flatbed truck, outfitted with a unique wooden stage designed by artist Mike Rousseau. Over the course of three days the pair traveled throughout the community, performing a series of outdoor pop-up concerts for UPS employees, elementary school teachers, food-pantry volunteers, farm employees, firefighters, EMTs, health department workers, and healthcare providers. To ensure proper social distancing amongst audience members, an elaborate web of hula-hoops was placed on the ground at 6-foot intervals. The 3-day concert series was organized by the musicians, Pittsfield’s Office of Cultural Development, and Mill Town Capital.
This series was born out of necessity: indoor performance spaces have shuttered and essential workers have been risking their lives to keep us safe and and healthy. The team involved in organizing the series created a safe way to thank essential workers through music. At the same point, does this series reposition classical music in the community? Typically, a summer trip to Tanglewood or a 2-hour drive to Boston might be the only way for community members to experience the artistry of such venerable artists. Do hula hoops and a flat-bed truck add new relevance and create a new access point to this music? For how many audience members was this their first-time listening to Yo-Yo Ma or Emmanuel Ax? What role does this type of community engagement play once our concert halls reopen?
Learn more about the series HERE
See pictures of the concerts HERE