The New Normal

EMSO checks in with Music Director and Conductor Craig Hara to talk about the 2020-2021 concert season and time in quarantine

What have you been up to during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Hmm, mainly laying low. [My wife] Marni and I have been very conservative about limiting our exposure, both to others and from others. We have become very accustomed to our mask procedure, and we’re also usually wearing gloves as well. 
When the lock down started, we were still in the middle of the spring semester/season, so I needed to immediately figure out how to finish teaching [at University of Wisconsin-River Falls, Hamline University, and University of St. Thomas]  as best as I could. I ended up doing a remote-assembled recording of an arrangement we had been working on in the UWRF Falcon Band instead of our Spring concert and remote private lessons. 

Personally, I did my best to maintain as normal a schedule as possible, and one of those things was keeping up my practice routine. I realized a long time ago that it was far less painful to keep my chops up on trumpet, rather than to not have it together when I had a gig. To that end, other than missing two days, I maintained my daily 2.5-3 hour daily practice schedule. I always felt like I had gotten something done that way; from there, whatever else I did was bonus work.

What are your thoughts / how did you feel about the cancellation of the last three months of the 2019-2020 concert season?

Well, that was really unfortunate. I feel like we were just starting to get up to speed, getting used to each other and gaining momentum. I feel particularly sorry that we couldn’t do our concert at Sundin Music Hall at Hamline University. Everyone was doing great work, and I really would have liked to follow that through to the concert. I was also really looking forward to working with the orchestra on the Beethoven concert.
The first half of the 2020-2021 concert season has been postponed.  Has any planning or preparation been going on for the season in case the orchestra can come together again in 2021?

We were starting to talk about things during the latter part of the spring but basically halted once it was clear that there was no way to know how or when we would be able to move forward. While I would like to think that everyone will want to come back and get to it, I am very aware that that will likely not be the case whenever we do come back.
My first inclination is to try to put some or all of the things we weren’t able to do into play for the next season, but that will obviously be dependent on what we actually have to work with once we do come back. 
And yes, I am hopeful that we will be able to come back.
What are your biggest concerns about missing at least half a concert season?  What opportunities do you see?

As I mentioned before, the loss of momentum. Inertia can be a beast, in both directions. Taking a break of any kind is a disruption of sorts, and even the most seasoned of ensembles need time to get things going again. 
Opportunities? I’ve been joking that now there are no excuses to get to all those ‘if I had the time’ things that we never get to. And, of course, I haven’t been getting to them…
What do you miss the most about EMSO?

Easy – the people. I feel like I was just getting to know everyone, making new friends. Hopefully, that will continue before too long.
What musical activities have kept you busy? Where have you found musical inspiration during this time?

One of the things I had to work out in March was how to deal with the technical issues about teaching remotely. For drums, that meant coming up with a rig and way to record video and audio, particularly when dealing with audio tracks for play-a-longs. For trumpet, the same, though differently. I ended up doing both asynchronous lessons and lessons in real time. 
And recently, a new colleague I had met last year had contacted me toward the end of July asking if I would be interested in recording some drum tracks for him. That turned into me also contributing tracks on guitar, bass, and synthesizers, as well as collaborating on arrangements, and mixing the tunes. 
What would you say to orchestra members who are just dying to get out there and play but can’t? To audience members wishing to share in the music again?

Boy, that’s a really tough one. It’s difficult to be vigilant while being deprived of one of the true joys in life. My attitude is that we can’t afford to be less-than extremely careful. Direct personal interaction is just not a prudent possibility without risk. Unfortunately, the bigger picture of reality dictates that without people, we can’t have music, either to make or to listen to, and so ANY dropping of our guard threatens our ability to participate in the future. We just have to outlast it. 
The funny thing is, we currently have so many resources at our disposal to still enjoy music. It’s not like when radio and television or recordings weren’t available, to say nothing of the internet. Yes, of course, live music is a loss right now, but only a temporary one. 
So, what to do now? Reach out in other ways, create or maintain contact. Share what you’ve been doing. Keep up the human connection, even if only remotely.
What are you looking forward to?

The new normal, whatever that will be, once our existence is not threatened the way that it is now. It’ll be nice to see everyone again. 

Craig Hara is entering his second year as East Metro Symphony Orchestra’s Music Director and Conductor.  His first performance with the orchestra was French Passions on October 27, 2019.
Last Modified on September 21, 2020
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