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Arts, Sports & Culture

Pittsburgh Musicians Look To Future Beyond Pandemic

A sign posted ahead of a virtual concert.

Musicians in Pittsburgh, like artists everywhere, had to learn to live without in-person concerts and play from behind a screen when the pandemic arrived. While many say they’re excited to return to the stage, they did discover some surprising upsides to performing online. 

Lorna McGhee, the principal flautist of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, said she isn’t usually one to suffer from nerves, but she did have some reservations playing the first few concerts from home. “It's this added dimension of technology. You just hope you don't mess it up or you don't know [if] your microphone is working.”

She later learned to appreciate the added dimension of technology, since it allowed her to work with peers in her home country of Britain. “I have been able to be a little bit reconnected with some of the music schools back in Britain because, you know, they wouldn't be able to fly you over to do a master class. But since everything is online, you know, they can invite guests from all over the world.”

TrebleNLS from 1Hood Media took the time at home to reflect and re-consider his focus as an artist. 

“I realized that my weaknesses were just me using my strengths the wrong way, you know? And it kind of helped me shift my whole life direction.” 

Credit Screenshot Lorna McGhee
Violinist Irene Cheng performs with colleagues during an online concert.


Treble is an educator and song producer for 1Hood Media. He said he found the ability to create what he describes as a “vibe” from behind a screen. “How do I want to portray certain words? How do I need to adjust?” Treble said. “And the lighting is like making me think about parts of my performance that I didn't have to think about before the pandemic, you know?”

Treble said he struggled to find a way to set the mood without the energy of a live crowd. At times, he’d ask viewers to close their eyes and think about his words. “There’s not much I can do to stimulate you visually, so I’m gonna stimulate you mentally. Let’s go on a mental trip.” 

Even after the pandemic, Treble wants to continue refining his audio engineering skills so that he and other artists don’t have to rely on sound equipment that can break in the middle of a performance. “If they were working with, like a janky mic, you couldn't really do much about that. It was just like people can't really hear me, but I have to give a performance. So, you know, but now it's like I can edit the performance however I please before people see it, you know.”

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra violinist Irene Cheng said playing online opened her up to playing music outside of her normal repertoire. “I would never have searched out certain composers, I would never have thought to play serious duos with one of my best friends from the orchestra,” Cheng said.

She’s been able to perform for more areas in the country and the world through the orchestra’s new virtual series. Still, she misses the audience. “We connect with them through stares, through looks, through smiles, through everything, tears, sometimes. It's kind of hard to just perform and then not have any of that.”

Cheng said the lack of feedback isn’t the only thing missing in online performances. “Of course, we miss the audience, but I think most of all, we musicians who play together so much and travel together and basically know each other so well, it's more like missing a family.”

She said the next time the PSO family gets together in-person to play after an entire year mostly online will be “very emotional.” All of their concerts scheduled for this year have been postponed or cancelled due to the pandemic, but she hopes to see some more performances outside and socially-distanced as the weather warms.

Sydney Roach:
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