From our hearts and homes to yours—Birdfoot 2020 update

Dear Birdfoot friends and fans,

Until recently, we were putting the finishing touches on Birdfoot 2020. I was so excited to share the news (and all of the music) with you.

Then, in a matter of a few days, the spread of COVID-19 changed so much. Instead of putting up posters all over New Orleans and sending out musical scores, we’ve been worrying about you and the festival’s musicians. I hope you are healthy and safe, have what you need, and are finding ways to take care of yourself during this vulnerable and isolated time.

And so it is with an ache in my heart that I confirm what you’ve undoubtedly suspected—there will be no Birdfoot Festival this year.

This is a hard message to write (and a long one—stick with me if you can), because the cancellation of a musical festival is undeniably “small potatoes” at the moment. And yet it feels inseparable from all of the other concerts that have been canceled and all the music that is not being made—and from the economic devastation that musicians—and so many others—are experiencing.

It’s difficult to find perspective at the moment: When so many have lost so much, even little gestures like singing happy birthday over Skype or getting out for a walk feel important and remind us of what we have and what matters.

For me, chamber music connects to these little things that matter. Like being in the moment, listening, conversing (musically, or after a concert), celebrating the joy of being alive and trying to express all the things that don’t quite fit into words. Perhaps that’s why it feels so sad to tell you about the cancellation of this year’s festival?

And then there’s that chamber music, like all of us, is so inherently social—social to rehearse, social to perform, social to share together in one of New Orleans’ cozy venues. In other words, everything about chamber music runs contrary to “social distancing.”

It also feels eerily prescient that one of the themes this year’s festival was going to explore was ‘silence’: Silence is such an integral part of music, simultaneously the blank canvas and the dance partner of sound. Now, as concert halls, theaters, and jazz clubs around the world sit empty—and musicians are stuck at home able only to perform online—‘silence’ has taken on a new dimension.

Over the last few weeks as we’ve all had to adjust to the present challenges, the Birdfoot team (Tracey, Danielle, the festival’s Board, and myself) has been focused on how to move forward and support the artists and community that make the festival possible. Like everyone else, with no “in case of pandemic” plan, and no previous experience of what to do when you have to cancel, we’ve been adapting on the fly and feeling our way to make sure that difficult decisions line up with Birdfoot’s core values and beliefs.

Guiding all decisions has been the goal of supporting Birdfoot’s musicians and artistic community—and bringing inspiring and transformative music into the world, of course. I want you to know that it is your support for Birdfoot that has made this possible:

• Although the 2020 festival cannot take place, Birdfoot will pay all of the musicians who would have taken part this year. Birdfoot’s musicians are grappling with the complete cancellation of months of concerts and tours in many of the world’s most exciting concert halls.

• Birdfoot will likewise pay all of its Young Artist Program instructors for the entirety of this program. Ending this year’s Young Artist Program early was especially heartbreaking as its students and coaches had just enjoyed a fun and energizing workshop in early March and many of its ensembles were preparing to compete in the NOLA Chamber Fest.

• Birdfoot will also pay its staff for the rest of the season, all of whom work as independent contractors (Unfortunately, this means that Birdfoot is not eligible for federal aid through the CARES Act). The behind-the-scenes work of running the festival—artistic planning, grant writing, and other projects—continues, alongside developing next year’s 10th-anniversary festival and tackling long-deferred projects.

• Hear Hear NOLA, the calendar of live classical music events that Birdfoot hosts in partnership with New Orleans Public Radio, will continue to promote and share the extraordinary creative work of local musicians through the month of May.

These times are hard for everyone and I realize that you may not be in a position to give at the moment. If you have something left to share, your gift will directly support musicians. None of us knows what the next months will bring yet, but I am hopeful that, with your support, art and music will soon bloom again with a renewed sense of urgency and vitality.

In the meantime, we would love to know how you are doing and what is bringing you comfort and perspective these days. We would also love to hear from you with memories, stories and thoughts to be shared with Birdfoot’s musical family. Even if we can’t come together in person for this year’s festival, we can stay in touch!

Jenna Sherry
Artistic Director

P.S. I hope you enjoy this short video of music that would have been performed on Birdfoot 2020 featuring isolated musicians, Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ Symphony (and a cactus…). It’s also posted in the other places where we stay in touch with you (Facebook, instagram).

P.P.S. We are also working on some other small surprises to share with you and will be using Birdfoot’s e-newsletters a bit differently. If you don’t already receive Birdfoot’s sporadic e-mail communications, you may want to sign up now so as not to miss what is coming. We look forward to hearing your reactions!