Image from the live television broadcast of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra on July 4, 2020. Percussionists (L-R) are Deborah Mashburn, Nick Sakakeeny (on drumset), and Keith Williams. (photo courtesy of Deborah Mashburn)
On June 26, 2020, the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Miguel Harth-Bedoya, reunited to make music for the first time since March. We returned to the “stage”—actually an arena—to rehearse and perform a patriotic concert called "America Strong" that was recorded by the local ABC television affiliate (WFAA) for broadcast on July 4th.
What was it like to perform a live concert during a pandemic? Extraordinary measures were taken to ensure our safety. On June 25, each of us filled out an online health survey that was reviewed by a healthcare specialist. This resulted in a last-minute replacement of one vital player due to COVID exposure.
Dickies Arena was chosen as our venue since it was large enough to allow for all recommended safety protocols, including socially distancing on and off stage. We were assigned staggered arrival times and, of course, percussionists got the earliest times, beginning at 8:15 a.m. for a ten o’clock rehearsal. As we checked in, our temperatures were taken by a nurse. We were then given name plates to put on individual tables that had been placed well over six feet apart throughout the corridors. We were not allowed to bring food or water from outside into the arena, but we were furnished plenty to eat and drink throughout the day. Everyone wore masks, except when eating. Even bathroom access was controlled (and more than adequate!).
Stagehands carefully sanitized all surfaces and stands during breaks. My percussion colleagues—Seth McConnell, Keith Williams, and Nick Sakakeeny—and I were sometimes closer than six feet, and we even shared some sticks and instruments, although we tried to stay on one instrument as much as possible. It has been two weeks since we were all together and, fortunately, no one is showing any signs of illness.
Our concert was a great success, and it was thrilling to be able to make music again. Many people told me they were moved to tears while watching our concert on television. My hope is that management for other orchestras will work as diligently and creatively as ours to bring back live music to the concert hall, arena, church, school, or other venues this fall.
Deborah Mashburn has played percussion, and occasionally timpani, with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra since 1976. She is also Principal Timpanist for the Dallas Opera Orchestra. Mashburn graduated from North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas) with a master’s degree in percussion performance, and studied at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria on a Rotary Fellowship, a Fulbright Scholarship, and two Austrian Government Grants.