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COVID-19 Impact on CNY Arts and Culture: Symphoria Musicians Play for Virtual Audiences


Many of Central New York’s arts and culture institutions were heading into the final leg of their seasons when restrictions on large gatherings due to COVID-19 shut them down about a month ago.  Symphoria clearly counts on ticket sales and live audiences, but now musicians have nowhere to play but at home. 

That’s how At Home with Symphoria was born.  Here's the next story in our series:

At a time when conductors and musicians would normally be in front of large audiences at the Civic Center, they’re finding other ways to safely stay engaged with fans in ways they probably never imagined.

"Hello everyone!  I'm Kelly Covert from Symphoria, and this is At Home with Symphoria.  Today, we have our principal pops conductor Sean O'Loughlin with us all the way from sunny California.  How are you, Sean?

"I'm doing all right under the circumstances.  We're keeping our heads screwed on as much as we can.  We had practice home school last week, and now it's actual assignments and grading, so we're juggling that.  My wife is working from home, so we have her set up in the living room."

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Symphoria's Kelly Covert and Sean O'Loughlin chat At Home with Symphoria.

Symphoria Executive Director Pam Murchison says audiences get to see a more personal side of staff and musicians.

"We always want people to feel at home with the organization.  We love sharing music with people.  we want it to be a really comfortable place that people like to gather and know that they belong."

In this clip, principal oboist Eduardo Sepulveda performs a duet of Robert Schumann’s Abendlied with his mother…more than 4,500 hundred miles apart.  In the video caption, Sepulveda says this was going to be the last piece on his final recital at the Cleveland Institute of Music later this month.  Of course, that’s been cancelled.  He says the mother-son recording project was a way to boost his spirits after feeling down. 

For some, this kind of engagement is more than just entertainment.  Executive Director Pam Murchison says it can be a lifeline for many of their older patrons who are widowed or otherwise feeling isolated.

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Eduardo Sepulveda and his mother perform a virtual duet.

"I know people that are by themselves right now.  Physically, it's really hard on them.  We've been getting a lot of really wonderful feedback from people saying 'thank you so much for the musicians for providing these musical videos.  It's been great to get to know them better.'  We can be a port in a storm somewhere for people to turn for emotional health right now more than ever."

In another clip,  Symphoria principal Clarinetist Allan Kolsky demonstrates his talent in a YouTube video.  It’s this kind of creative and scrappy energy that Murchison says makes the organization nimble enough to get through times like this.  Financially, she says they’re not looking to disrupt payroll for musicians and staff through at least month’s end, but they’ll also be exploring other ways to sustain operations through the summer.   For now, Murchison and pops conductor Sean O’Loughlin are trying to remain optimistic and strike the right tone when people can come together again.

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Principal oboist Allan Kolsky.

"We have a summer concert series, and we're still planning that.  But our expectations are really realistic, communicating how we're going to keep them safe, how we're going to keep the musicians safe.  We really crave that human experience and those human interactions, but we're going to come out into a really different world than we were in a few weeks ago," Murchison said.

"I like to call this time 'preparing to thrive.' We're in full planning mode, and moving forward.  Hope springs eternal is the attitude we're taking," O'Loughlin said.

Symphoria is partnering with WCNY-FM to broadcast previous orchestral performances on the radio as part of their symphony series. 

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at