They Killed Everything Beautiful


Though neither of us is an artist or musician, my wife and I have been close to the music and arts community in central Massachusetts for more than 40 years, as volunteers, through recording locally-performed classical music concerts and broadcasting them on the local community radio station. As volunteers we also support the local Massachusetts Symphony Orchestra in many different ways, so we are fully aware of the enormous behind-the-scenes preparation – and time – and money – needed to put on a good show. On March 17, 2020 (St. Patrick’s Day), this all stopped. Full. Dead. Stop.

At first the various events managers postponed their concerts and shows, assuming this was just a temporary delay. But after two or three weeks it became obvious that the bureaucrats were going to push this overwrought quarantine into overdrive, and they began cancelling.

Overseas orchestras and soloists cancelled their tours because they couldn’t fly into the U.S. Music Worcester’s entire spring concert season, cancelled. Mechanics Hall in Worcester, one of the top dozen concert halls in the country because of its acoustical perfection, closed. Tuckerman Hall, also a very fine and beautiful space, open but with few events and no musical events. All concerts by local groups, cancelled because the performers were unable to meet and rehearse. Worcester’s magnificent Hanover Theatre (home for touring Broadway shows), shuttered. July 4 fireworks and concert by the Massachusetts Symphony in Worcester’s East Park, gone.

The damage reaches across the state. Symphony Pro Musica’s (Hudson) spring and summer events, cancelled. July concerts by the Concord Band at Fruitlands (outdoor museum), kaput. The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s performances in Symphony Hall, silenced. The entire summer season of concerts at Tanglewood (the BSO’s summer home) in the Berkshires, cancelled, an enormous blow to the tourist season in that area. Worcester Art Museum, Fitchburg Art Museum, Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, all closed.

And the damage extends beyond just music and the arts, to anybody seeking respite from the daily grind, or to enjoy the beauty of nature in springtime. Religious services have shrunk to two-dimensional events on flat screens with crappy sound. Blecch. Even funerals, though very sad, can be rejuvenating when people gather to honor the recently-departed. They have been reduced to brief, grim graveyard burials. No calling hours, no funeral service or procession, no memorial services, no sharing of good memories, only 10 people for that final good-bye, four of whom are funeral-home staff.

The azaleas and rhododendrons are beginning to bloom in nearby Moore State Park, facilities closed. Massachusetts is actually a beautiful state once you escape from the urban grime and crowding of the Boston area, or from the urban cores of the old mill cities, and people put up with high prices, the high taxes, potholed roads, bloated government, and crappy weather in the non-summery months because of the high quality of the educational system (both public and private), the many opportunities for cultural enrichment, and the many types of recreational activities available only a short drive away. Take these away, and why would anybody want to live here? (Answer: They wouldn’t.)

Massachusetts was the next-to-last state to begin re-opening, and the timetable set by the state is tortuous and vague, making planning for opening up again by businesses and organizations close to impossible. The restaurant and hotel industries are still waiting for their rules from the commonwealth, but when they do open up – if they survived the financial hit from the shutdown – they should be able to do so fairly quickly, after replenishing supply lines, rehiring staff, and reconfiguring their operations for the “new normal” which incorporates the “social distancing” nonsense.

But for cultural organizations, the timeline for getting going is much longer. It takes months, sometimes years, to coordinate a concert or theatre schedule with the tour schedules of the visiting artists. Local performing groups need time to re-plan and coordinate their schedules, hire soloists and orchestras for choral concerts, and time to rehearse. And concert and theatre stages are not big enough for “social distancing” by performers, so those logistics must be worked out.

And then there is the problem of the venues. If the state mandates performance halls and theatres to operate at 30% or 50% of capacity for the foreseeable future, there might not be enough income from ticket sales to cover costs. No organization or promoter stages an event with the intent to lose money. If, up front, the organization sees that it will never make enough money to cover its expenses, then that concert, play or exhibit just isn’t going to happen.

We’ve all now had a painful lesson of the disaster that results when fascist-minded bureaucrats think that in a crisis they can manage our lives better than we can, instead of letting us keep the freedom to wrestle with the crisis ourselves in a responsible way. May this never, ever happen again; I hope we have all learned that lesson well.

When the bureaucrats take over, they make bad choices. First comes the protection of the elite, then the protection of the big and well-connected. The rest they declare as “non-essential.” So our minders will let you search for food, and for diapers and toilet paper, and emergency medical care, but at the bottom of the list, and most at risk for permanent destruction, are those beautiful and precious things that nurture our souls – because, you see, they are the most “non-essential.”