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Despite Pandemic, Charlotte Symphony Stays In Tempo; Coming Up Next, A Brewery Concert Series In NoDa

Photo Courtesy Of Charlotte Symphony Orchestra
Charlotte Symphony social distancing precautions taken against COVID-19.

At a time when social distance is everything, you might think the Charlotte Symphony has been silenced.

However, a glimpse inside the life of the symphony’s principal harpist, Andrea Mumm, tells you otherwise.

Mumm, 33, was the featured performer on March 27 when the symphony live-streamed a virtual concert billed as “Debussy + Strauss.” A recording of that performance can be viewed through April 3. It is part of a string of concerts titled “Classical Series Reimagined.”

Photo Courtesy Of Andrea Mumm
Andrea Mumm, principal harpist, Charlotte Symphony Orchestra.

In a recent interview, Mumm said she and her fellow musicians do miss the atmosphere that comes from performing live in front of an audience.

“We’ve had to learn how to shift and basically create our own inspiration and joy, and not rely so much on the audience,” Mumm said. "We're trying to make the best out of a bad situation.”

Soon, an audience can return. On May 4, Mumm will be among an ensemble of musicians performing in the beer garden of NoDa Brewing Company as part of the symphony’s On Tap series.

NoDa will be the scene of five concerts, in all. Ensembles will also play two concerts at Cabarrus Brewery.

“Each concert features a different ensemble of musicians performing work by a diverse range of composers – from Bach and Chopin to Fats Waller and the Beatles,” said Deirdre Roddin, the symphony’s director of communication. “We will work to gradually phase in live, indoor audiences as local conditions allow.”

Mumm has also continued teaching the harp at two universities: University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and Davidson College.

Virtual symphony performances have been anything but normal, Mumm said.

“Instead of doing a double performance -- one Friday night and one Saturday night-- now it’s Friday night recording for the Saturday night live stream, in case something happens with the live stream.”

A photo slideshow details the extraordinary precautions musicians are taking to appear together on stage: weekly COVID-19 tests, masks, and even a UV light wand to sanitize chairs, stands, and sheet music.

Photo Courtesy Of Charlotte Symphony Orchestra
From a photo slideshow the Charlotte Symphony uses to highlight the disinfection precautions taken against COVID-19.

Audiences, however, have really enjoyed the virtual performances, Roddin said.

In an email, Roddin cited comments posted by concert viewers: “It is so nice to enjoy music while relaxing at home, and not have to battle the uptown traffic. If only I could unmute myself as I can on Zoom, you would hear my applause.”

The symphony’s next virtual performance is “Mozart Symphony No. 40 on April 24.”

At a time when other organizations were forced to lay off employees, the Charlotte Symphony continued paying its musicians and staff with the help of two $1.2 million loans from the federal Paycheck Protection Program. It received one at the beginning of the pandemic and another more recently, Roddin said.

“Obviously, this has still been an extremely challenging year for the symphony, and there is a lot of ground to be made up,” Roddin said.

“I have no hesitation in saying that the Charlotte Symphony has treated us better than every other orchestra in this country,” Mumm said. “They have made sure to keep us informed of all their decisions and have made sure that we are maintaining our salary.”

That was especially important to Mumm because her outside income practically disappeared. Mumm was no longer being called on to perform at weddings, church services, and social events.

“About a third of my income -- that disappeared,” she said. "Everything got canceled, and nothing has really gotten rescheduled. I am just now getting around to getting wedding requests. And some of those wedding requests are for 2023 because people just don’t know when things are going to get back to normal.”

She added that she is fortunate that her husband has been able to work throughout the entire pandemic without a change in pay.

She’s also been able to continue to teach her students in person, but she must follow strict guidelines.

“I can’t touch the harp. I can’t touch the student,” she said. "I can sing to them and clap along with them in person, which is better than Zoom delay or Facetime delay, but I still can’t actively play with them or touch their hands.”

Going forward, Mumm said she is confident that the symphony will protect both the musicians and the audience when live audiences become the norm again.

Roddin said a lot is being done to get ready for that moment.

“Our top priority is the health and safety of the audience, musicians, guest artists, and staff,” Roddin said. “As we look forward to having audiences back in the hall, we will continue to work with Atrium and Blumenthal Performing Arts to make sure that everyone is safe and comfortable.”

Elvis Menayese of Cardiff, Wales, is a student in the James L. Knight School of Communication, which provides the Queens University News Service in support of local community news.

Elvis Menayese of Cardiff, Wales, is a student in the James L. Knight School of Communication, which provides the Queens University News Service in support of local community news.