Annette Williamson has played cello for Worthing Philharmonic Orchestra for 26 years. Like many WPO members, Annette also teaches music. Pre-pandemic, she ran a Church choir, played the organ every Sunday and played at private functions including weddings.
The Covid pandemic cut short all of these activities, preventing her from practising as part of the orchestra and impacting her employment as a peripatetic music teacher and performer.
When the first lockdown was announced in March 2020, WPO’s Spring Concert in Worthing’s Assembly Hall was immediately cancelled. The repertoire for the 22nd March performance had included Elgar’s Enigma Variations, Brahms Symphony No. 4 and Poulenc’s Organ Concerto.
All other scheduled 2020 concerts were cancelled, including June’s Dvorak’s Cello Concerto, the Christmas Concert in November and all dates in Spring and Summer 2021. It was hugely disappointing for Annette to stop rehearsing and performing with WPO colleagues so abruptly.
Annette’s overwhelming feeling was that she “lost” her identity as a person. To help deal with the prolonged social exclusion, some WPO members met for weekly Zoom quizzes.
“As a musician, especially one who derives income from music-making, 2020 has been catastrophic, both financially and emotionally.” Annette was not eligible for any Government help being partly employed and partly self-employed and lost much of her freelance income.
Although Annette was able to teach some music privately online, “it was challenging and not ideal. Zoom activities are a poor substitute for live music. And it is impossible to play a duet.”
When restrictions eased after the first lockdown and following the Rule of Six, Annette met at her school, Sompting Abbotts Preparatory School, with five other cellists from WPO. The group were the perfect size to rehearse Cello Ensembles – music that typically has 4-6 parts.
During the second lockdown in November 2020, WPO flautist, Marion Peskett, composed a Christmas piece. Using technology to their advantage, individual orchestral parts were recorded remotely using iPads, smartphones and earplugs. The piece was performed with Boundstone Chorus, conducted by Aedan Kerney. This success led to an online Christmas Concert with Boundstone Chorus after WPO Double-bass player, Luke Hayden spent hours editing clips together.
Worthing Philharmonic Orchestra hopes to return performing in the Assembly Hall to a live audience in November 2021. Between now and then when restrictions allow, practicing in small groups in gardens will help members including Annette keep their skills up.
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Annette Williamson playing “Chanson de Matin” by Elgar wearing sandals during lockdown.