Orchestras across the country were hit hard by COVID restrictions. Many of them stayed silent, hoping that the pandemic would be short-lived. But Teddy Abrams, Music Director of the Louisville Orchestra, took innovative steps early on to bring the orchestra’s music to Louisville through virtual concerts performed safely from the stage at Old Forester’s Paristown Hall.
Louisville Future spoke with Abrams about the steps he took to ensure the music went on.
Walk us through the process you used to innovate.
Abrams: We started very early, pretty much at the end of March 2020. We just accepted more dire circumstances right away. We decided we were going to do everything we could because we couldn’t risk the future of the orchestra with a situation like that if it continued to get worse.
We all got together as an organization–from the musicians to the staff to the Board and me–and created an innovation committee, where we put any idea on the table, no matter how far out there, no matter how outrageous or expensive. It didn’t matter.
So what did the committee decide on?
Abrams: We ended up coalescing around three big values. One was dealing with the public health crisis. The second was looking at inequality through the lens of education (we believe that everybody deserves equal music education). Lastly, was access for all, meaning that there should be no barriers to entry to the orchestra in a year like this. Finances or circumstances should not be the reason that somebody cannot have a relationship with us.
How did it all roll out?
Abrams: It turns out when you start with a big, crazy idea, there are lots of issues you have to confront. With the education portion, we met with people who are passionate about funding education. But we also had to confront school district issues, like can you allow people who are not teachers to be on Zoom calls with students they’re facilitating? It eventually turned into where teachers would create videos in which their students would play. Our musicians would listen and provide feedback, and we created a whole new relationship with JCPS.
Will you continue the relationship with JCPS after the pandemic settles down?
Abrams: That’s the goal. We have big plans for JCPS for the future.
On the topic of making the orchestra’s music available to everyone, we know that you personally went to the streets and performed. Can you talk about that and what other measures you’ve taken to get the music to people who can no longer attend concerts in person?
I played in the courtyard of Treyton Oaks Towers, where the residents could open their windows and listen. I also performed from a flatbed truck going around the Shawnee and Chickasaw areas.
The investment this year in creative programming is very strategic because we know that a lot of places are playing it very safe. So we began the LO Virtual Edition in which we offer online concerts live from Paristown Hall. Each concert is then remastered and offered on demand.
You’ve also been innovating on the type of music you’re offering.
Abrams: Yes, we still have our regular programming, but we’re building new ones from scratch. We have a show with Sam Bush, the bluegrass musician, a show with soul and folk singers, and a show about the history of Black music from Africa to Hip-Hop. We’re always innovating the concerts.