Doing a performance under Covid restrictions …

16th August 2020 | Concerts, Musings | 3 comments

Since lockdown, I’ve only had the chance to do one concert. It was a special one, though! – the Edinburgh Festival’s Chamber Soundscapes online series. Although there was no audience, the performance took place under concert conditions.

In five months of lockdown, I haven’t been bothering to wear much make-up as I wasn’t going anywhere or meeting anyone. So when masks became mandatory in shops and so on, I wore a mask without problems. On the day of the concert, however, knowing that I’d be filmed, I put on concert make-up before I left the house.

As we were going to be in the city centre for over 5 hours, it wasn’t practical to take a car. I felt nervous about taking a taxi, so in the end I took a bus, hoping it would be empty. Wearing a mask on public transport is compulsory at the moment. I put on my mask, my face got warm, and after a few minutes I realised that my concert make-up was gently melting on the lower half of my face. When I got off the bus and removed the mask I found that my lipstick and a layer of foundation had transferred itself to the cotton. Aargh!

At the venue, the whole production team were wearing masks and standing well back. When they spoke from behind their masks at the back of the concert room, their voices were muffled.

The piano tuner was just finishing his work, and I went forward eagerly to try the piano. But he motioned me away: first the keyboard had to be disinfected.

Then there was the question of physical distancing between me and my chamber music partner, cellist Philip Higham. The festival team had a white stick measuring 2 metres, to ensure that we were following distancing guidelines. How to measure 2 metres between pianist and cellist? The team opted for an imaginary circle round each of us; the 2 metre stick went from the edge of one circle to the edge of the other. Measuring forehead to forehead would have allowed us to sit closer together, but that would have required the person doing the measuring to come closer than they were allowed to. With Philip sitting further away than usual, I found it harder to hear his cello when I was playing myself. That added a touch of stress to the proceedings.

And there was the matter of my page-turner. I had realised that it would be difficult to have a professional page turner, because they’d have to sit closer to me than is currently allowed. I didn’t relish the idea of a masked page-turner being captured forever on the video. Luckily, my husband offered to turn pages: he’s in my ‘social bubble’, so he didn’t need to wear a mask. But when we left the performing space, we had to put masks on before we went to our ‘green room’ or spoke with the production team.

Concert days always involve a long list of things to attend to, but these were new things. Masks, smudged make-up, muffled voices, disinfecting the keyboard, and my colleague’s cello which, from where I sat, seemed to have been turned down a notch in volume. Naturally everyone hopes these conditions are only temporary. If they’re going to last for a while, we’re all going to have to factor them in to our preparations for concert days.


  1. Mary Cohen

    I watched that recital and was totally entranced by it. Through sheer professionalism and intense musical telepathy, the performance came across without signalling any of the problems you outline vividly. Bravo to both of you – and also to the page turner, for looking so cool and collected too!

  2. James

    I don’t normally watch online concerts but I enjoyed all of this one. I’d forgotten what a wonderful pianist you are, Susan. Thank you for sharing your thoughts after the concert. I’d not realised how perfectly “fused” the piano and cello parts in the Beethoven sonata, and I was so excited when I saw that you’d played the sonata by Debussy – my favourite!! Thanks a million for the great concert.

    • Susan Tomes

      Thank you James! So glad you enjoyed it. I relished your comment on the Beethoven.


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