In The New Normal—our interview series—we speak to the musicians and staff of Tafelmusik, to ask how working and performing in new ways has changed our routines, and our operations as a performing arts organization.
In our latest, we spoke to Annie Slade: the newest member of Tafelmusik! An intern from Queen’s University’s graduate program and a member of the Marketing department, she shares how she came to Tafelmusik, her insights on working and studying remotely, and why working in the arts is more important than ever.
You came to Tafelmusik via the Queen’s University Masters of Arts Leadership program, as part of their experiential internship program. Can you tell us a bit about this program, and how you’re liking it so far?
Annie Slade: I would love to! The Arts Management/Leadership program, offered through the Dan School of Drama and Music at Queens University, is a tiered graduate program designed to train the next generation of artistic administrators. It begins with a diploma certification in arts management—an intensive semester of study in the current learnings of arts marketing, philanthropy, finances and contract negotiations—and then the Masters program continues on to cover cultural policy, strategic planning and thought leadership, with the entire program, culminating in a four month internship placement at an arts organization.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this was the first year that this program has been entirely delivered online—and obviously, there has been an enormous amount of change for the performing arts and music industries during lockdown, so there was a really fresh perspective being brought to all our classes and discussions.
It’s been incredible to learn about best practices in the industry, and then work with a group of peers to collaboratively brainstorm entirely new ways to operate during the pandemic and beyond. The program has given me a place to connect with like-minded arts professionals, and to dive deep into my own artistic practice and goals as an administrator. This “grand pause” in the arts has provided an opportunity for many of us to stop, examine the work we are doing, and really explore what is possible and where we are able to grow in the future.
As the newest member of Tafelmusik, and a resident of the Niagara region, you’ve had the unique experience of joining us in a fully-remote capacity. Can you share a little about how this experience has been? Any surprises or challenges?
AS: After two semesters of online classes, I was really hoping to be able to enjoy that traditional workplace internship experience in-person—but nothing about the past fifteen months has been traditional in any sense! Given the circumstances surrounding re-openings, I knew it would always be a possibility to be working from home, and after a little moment of initial disappointment, I was actually so pleased to be able to join the team remotely. Working from home provides a lot of flexibility and freedom, and I think it is going to be yet another type of “new normal” that we continue to see in workplaces in the future. I have to say I much prefer a 2-minute commute from the kitchen to my desk to a 2-hour commute around the lake!
The entire Tafelmusik staff had been working remotely for a whole year prior to me joining the team, so it felt like everyone was extremely comfortable with the flow of online meetings and communication before I arrived. I was so surprised at how easy it was to connect, and feel the spirit of the Tafelmusik team virtually! Starting our meetings with personal check-ins is a great way to get to know everyone, and feel like you’re just chatting around the office, and I am really enjoying the social Slack channels that we have to share music recommendations, chat about TV shows, and give updates about what we’re growing in our gardens. I have to say that everyone has been extremely welcoming: they have made an effort to reach out and introduce themselves, and make me feel like part of the family.
It is challenging to uproot an entire office and orchestra and quickly pivot everything online on short notice, but I think the Tafelmusik team has done a great job in maintaining the day-to-day operations of the orchestra while continuing to improve the remote working experience.
What drew you to want to work with Tafelmusik?
AS: As a self-identified orchestra nerd, I grew up knowing that Tafelmusik in Toronto was legendary in the world of Baroque music and historically informed performance, and I was always listening to Tafelmusik’s recordings on CBC on Saturday mornings, but I never really had a chance to attend a performance in person. I didn’t actually know much about the orchestra’s history until this past year, when I began studying at Queen’s and had the pleasure of working with Tricia Baldwin, one of Tafelmusik’s former Executive Directors, who was our instructor for Arts Marketing. When she spoke about the passion and dedication of the musicians and staff members at Tafelmusik, I was so inspired by the ensemble’s culture of musical excellence, exploration, and education, and knew that this was where I would like to do my placement.
Throughout the pandemic I have been eagerly watching the ways in which different orchestras have adapted their programming to suit online delivery—whether that is livestream performances, pre-recorded concerts, or free virtual performances—and have been attending many panels and webinars about the future of orchestras in this new digital landscape. I think it’s important that orchestras embrace this new technology as a way to reach new audiences, and I was impressed by the quality and creativity of Tafelmusik’s virtual concerts this past season. Seeing these exceptional chamber musicians pulling together such beautiful performances reignited my own hope and passion for the performing arts, and it made me want to be part of the team behind bringing these works to the public.
I don’t have a ton of experience with digital production, but this pandemic has shown that full digital or hybrid productions will continue to be part of orchestras moving forward, so it was great for me to be able to work with a team where I could improve my skills in digital marketing.
In your role at Tafelmusik, you work with—and have been an invaluable member of—our marketing department. Can you share some of your experiences so far, marketing an orchestra and online content during a pandemic? Any surprises, or surprising learnings?
AS: Wow, where to begin!? I first joined the marketing department at the beginning of May: at that time, Café Counterculture had just premiered, and we were preparing for the final Tafel Talk of the season, Joseph Bologne, Black & Classical. After getting up to speed on the re-release of The Music of Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint Georges and all the associated events like the Tafel Talk, portrait unveiling, and magazine article, one of my first projects was to research and collect informative articles about this incredible composer and his musical legacy to share with our audience. This process really helped me to get a feel for the commitment that the marketing department puts behind ensuring that all the emails, social media posts, and communications are written from an informed and conscientious perspective.
Part of my role here is working to create emails and social media posts that help us connect with our audiences. Without the possibility of face-to-face interactions at performances, it is so important that people feel that same sense community and stay in touch with Tafelmusik and the musicians. I think this is one of the major ways that marketing has had to shift its focus this past year. There are elements of marketing the orchestra online that are similar to the pre-pandemic days—like setting sales goals, ensuring our messages are reaching the right people, and promoting exceptional musical programs—but almost everything else has changed! We are looking at new advertising channels, new digital landscapes, and new potential audiences from all around the world.
It’s been a long year of experimenting and learning how best to approach creating great digital concerts, and then finding the best way for folks to view them. The pandemic has really shown how important it is to be flexible and communicate openly with audiences at every step of the process.
One of the things that has surprised and impressed me most about the Tafelmusik team is the many ways in which they are always checking in with audience members and subscribers, and trying to improve the Tafelmusik experience all the time. From surveys after every concert, to regular emails with bonus content and industry articles, to all the exciting editorial content like the Breaking Baroque blog and Tafel Magazine: it seems like there are more ways than ever to be introduced to the work of Tafelmusik, and to connect with the team about what is working, and what needs to be changed.
It has been inspiring part of such a hard working team, and even though the past year hasn’t been easy, I feel like the team has created an amazing foundation of digital content to build on for the future.
What has been your favourite experience of working with Tafelmusik so far?
AS: It’s difficult to choose just one favourite, but I would have to say Tafelmusik’s Baroque and Beyond performance at Dream in High Park has certainly been a highlight. It was my first time hearing the musicians of Tafelmusik perform live in-person—and, it was my first live concert experience in over year. It was also my first chance to see and meet my colleagues in real life! It was a beautiful evening, and it was so magical to hear Beethoven (my favourite composer!) accompanied by birds chirping and the sun slowly setting behind the trees in the park.
A close second would have to be the Café Counterculture concert. It’s probably one of my favourite programs ever (pre-pandemic included) and I am so happy that I am able to listen to it on repeat and make everyone I know listen to it on YouTube this month while it streams for free! I think I’ve had this version of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” stuck in my head for about three months, but it’s totally worth it!
What are some of your career goals, after you complete your Masters? Do you plan to stay in the music industry, or work elsewhere in the arts?
AS: I would love to stay in the music industry after completing my Masters! If the pandemic has shown us one thing, it is how important the arts and music are to mental health and our collective spirit during difficult times. I would love to be able to continue playing just a small role in bringing that joy to people if I can!
During my studies I have been introduced to many different artists and administrators practicing in a variety of fields, and I am gaining a new appreciation for each artistic discipline’s unique quirks and needs. Since the Masters of Arts Leadership is open to all artistic fields, many of my peers in class came from outside of the music sphere—and, through conversation and collaboration, I’ve gained some insight into the theatre world, and dance, and visual arts, and even multi-disciplinary arts. I like to approach each with an open mind and heart—but I think I’ll always have a particular soft spot for the orchestral world.
My main career goal is really to support artists and organizations dedicated to bringing unique experiences to audiences, so I will seek out that passion for performance and creativity wherever I go.
More generally, how have you been keeping busy during the pandemic? Any socially distanced activities you’ve been enjoying? Any new hobbies?
AS: Last March, when things first shut down, it was a real chance to take a break and focus on mental health for me. I filled my time with lots of gardening, bread-baking, and hikes to really help myself feel grounded when the world flipped upside-down. I also enrolled in grad school, which is when my relaxation time ended!
While in school my days were filled with classes, readings, and projects which got my creative brain fired up again. Even if the workload has been difficult to manage at times, the rewarding conversation with my fellow students has been a real highlight of this pandemic for me. Since then, I’ve enjoyed reading, yoga, learning to collage, and taking part in a number of creative projects online with friends. Last summer, we wrote and printed a magazine filled with essays and art related to our pandemic experiences; at Christmas, we recorded a holiday song together (remotely, of course); and we currently have online weekly film discussions and a book club that keep me pretty occupied.
With being back to work full time, plus course work, plus all these new activities that started up when we all had a little more time on our hands, I’m almost feeling like my schedule is as busy as the “old normal”!
Anything else you’d like to add?
AS: I would just like to acknowledge the rather sudden loss of Jeanne Lamon, Tafelmusik’s Artistic Director Emerita, and one of the reasons that the orchestra has earned its reputation as one of the premiere Baroque ensembles of today. I never had a chance to meet Jeanne or see her perform live, but in reading articles and listening to interviews with her colleagues in the past few weeks, I am in awe of her achievements and her trailblazing attitude. She seems like such a magical person and I am grateful that we have a huge catalogue of her recorded concerts and tours to enjoy and remember her legacy with Tafelmusik. It has been an exceptionally unusual time to be an arts professional, but hearing from people all around the world who reached out to share their memories of Jeanne is the perfect reminder of why we do what we do.