Motivated by their desire for people to experience the sound of a live orchestra, they successfully held the SaLaD Music Festival in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic
SaLaD Music Festival was created with Tokyo residents in mind, but what is it?
"I was constantly worried about whether we would really be able to hold the music festival this year,"
says TATEOKA Goya, who works in the Artistic Management Department of the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra (TMSO). He was the one responsible for managing the progress of the overall plan for the SaLaD Music Festival, which was held in September 2020, as well as overseeing operations on the actual festival days.
"First, I'd like to explain what the SaLaD Music Festival is. 'SaLaD' stands for 'Sing, Listen and Dance.' This music festival, which has been held since 2018, was started by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the TMSO in order to help Tokyo residents become more familiar with classical music and orchestras. We developed a participation-based program with workshops that anyone could take part in, with a focus on orchestral concerts based on the concept of singing, listening, and dancing -- as the name implies. This time, however, we had to make some changes to what we had planned due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, at the Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre Concert Hall, we were able to host 'OK! Orchestra', a performance for everyone from infants to adults, on September 5, and we held the 'SaLaD Music Festival Main Concert' in collaboration with Noism Company Niigata, one of Japan's leading dance companies, under the direction of performer/choreographer Jo Kanamori on September 6."
The Great East Japan Earthquake Remembered
The cancellation or postponement of numerous concerts and events reminds Tateoka of working in Fukushima at the time of the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011.
"You can't really compare the severity of the pandemic with the hardship caused by the earthquake. Right after the earthquake hit, being involved with music seemed like such an insignificant thing. Operating a power shovel seemed like a much more useful job than playing music. But over time, as the situation gradually recovered, people who listened to our performances and songs told me that they were able to forget their troubles while they were listening to our music."
That caused Tateoka to realize that "music really was an essential part of life."
However, the situation with this COVID-19 pandemic felt different from the earthquake...
"During the earthquake, we would put on a concert if the people in the disaster area or shelters said they wanted to listen to music. But with COVID-19, because we can't have contact with each other or gather together, we've had no choice but to avoid holding concerts."
Trial performances held in June to pave the way for the resumption of concerts
While the lockdown continued, the TMSO held its own trial performances, taking the position that no progress could be made until they knew what could be done safely and what was risky. "In order to test the droplets and sense of distance for each part of the orchestra, the trial was performed with the assistance of the concert hall (Tokyo Bunka Kaikan), an aerosol measurement specialist, and some infectious disease specialists. Since the purpose of the trial performances was to review the risk of infection, we thought that, depending on the results, we would not be able to hold concerts as planned. As it turned out, we were able to determine that orchestra performances were not particularly dangerous, and we began working toward holding the SaLaD Music Festival in September."
Note: See below for details regarding the trial concert.
Roadmap and Guidelines for the Resumption of Concerts by the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony
Orchestra (TMSO): Reflecting the Results of the "Trial Performances in Preparation for the Resumption of Concerts While Impacted by COVID-19"
Keep on putting things together and taking them apart
However, they were completely unable to foresee how the situation with the COVID-19 pandemic would change, so they went forward with their plans accompanied by the constant threat of cancellation or postponement. "We kept on assembling all the pieces and taking them apart. TMSO's approach to orchestral pieces as a large assemblage of many people is what earns it such acclaim. That's also what most of our fans tell us. That's why the program we originally planned consisted of large-scale pieces, but now (under the current circumstances), we can't do that kind of program. Accordingly, we reassembled it over and over while considering what we could do and what kind of orchestral composition, duration, and number of people it would involve."
During rehearsal, a lot of things were different from how they had previously been. First and foremost, people were fastidious about washing and sanitizing their hands and maintaining social distancing. "Don't get infected or infect others -- that's what the performers and even staffers were thinking at first. But during the rehearsal, all the performers and dancers seemed to forget about the current situation (with the COVID-19 pandemic) and were absorbed in their performances. However, when the rehearsal finished and we communicated some precautions to them, such as restrictions on eating out, they were suddenly drawn back to the reality of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We had to make a lot of difficult requests we'd never made before, but I think everyone had the same desire to do the concert and make it a success."
Disinfecting backstage once every hour, even on the concert day
"No matter how well rehearsal went, the concert would be cancelled if someone became infected on that evening, so every day, we were taking the utmost caution while preparing ourselves for the worst. Fortunately, no one got infected, and we were able to reach the day of the concert."
How did he feel when the day of the concert arrived? "I was constantly thinking that we must not allow the Music Festival to become the point of origin for a cluster of infections. We took thorough measures to prevent infection, we used thermography to take visitors' temperatures at the entrance, and we did as much as possible to reduce opportunities for contact, such as asking guests to tear off their ticket stubs themselves. We also disinfected the waiting room and other backstage areas once every hour."
A sense of accomplishment felt in the degree of perfection in the collision of two art forms
Safety precautions were fastidiously applied, and with no one getting infected, the concert finished without a hitch. We asked him how he felt about that. "I felt a sense of accomplishment that words could not describe, not only because we succeeded in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also because our concert achieved a high degree of perfection far beyond imagination due to the high-level collision of art forms. With this accomplishment, we can move on to the next thing. I felt that we were able to prove that if we set out our plans carefully, the concert would be possible despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, we had to reduce the capacity of the venue to less than half. I wanted as many people as possible to watch, listen, and experience it."
Having said that, Tateoka felt that the response was solid. How did his feelings change after the concert was held? "I felt we were in a situation where we had to keep people from getting too close and to keep the event scaled back, which meant abandoning what had been our goals up to that point. To be honest, I was worried lest it became just another event we had held. However, when I saw the people who had attended heading home with truly happy smiles, I believed that we had really been able to deliver what we needed to. I think this was a major first step toward our future activities. I had a sense of impending crisis that this truly cultural event would not be possible to hold under these circumstances, so I'm really glad we pulled it off.
People should listen to live orchestral music in a concert hall.
Now that the SaLaD Music Festival is over, what are his thoughts about the form and possibilities of future music concerts? "Right now, I think lots of people are embracing this new challenge to make full use of the Internet and remote viewing, regardless of the genre. Even the TMSO is showing footage of past concerts and 'TMSO Has a Gift for You! - Spring 2020', which features recordings of concerts performed without audiences, on YouTube. We also edited online workshops and archival footage of the SaLaD Music Festival, which we have been showing online. It would be great if people who previously were not interested in classical and orchestral music could see those videos, learn about how wonderful that kind of music is, and then decide to go and see a concert.
"Needless to say, it would be great if this kind of online content became popular or took off, but all the same, I really want people to experience how amazing concerts with live orchestras in a concert hall are. How do I describe it? Being together in the same space, enveloped by the sound, feeling the sound as wind... There is simply no substitute for those acoustic reverberations -- being able to feel the sound vibrating. When you're actually immersed in the sound of the orchestra, you realize that there's nothing else like it. The more that web-centric concert styles develop, the more they will become established as part of our culture, so I think that the times we share in a limited space with acoustic reverberations might come to be regarded as more important."
Lastly, we asked him about the SaLaD Music Festival next year and beyond. "Our staffers prepare for the best possible performance, our performers perform it, and the performance deepens in response to the reaction of the audience members who experience it. Our staffers feel this, and it affects the staging of the next performance. This loop is an important part of live concerts, and I think it's their biggest attraction. When you come to the SaLaD Music Festival venue, please experience it naturally and enjoy yourself. You don't need any special preparation just because it's an orchestral concert or whatever. I just want you to trust your own feelings, to react, to create a loop, and to create the music festival together."