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 this interview, we virtually sat down with Bingbin Cheng, our Development Coordinator, to hear her perspective on how this “new normal” has affected her work and life.
Tafelmusik: The phrase “the new normal” has become a part of our everyday language. What does “the new normal” mean for you, as it relates to your life, and your work with Tafelmusik?
Bingbin Cheng: First off, I definitely have more responsibilities in terms of my day-to-day duties—which is not a negative thing!
For my job in particular, the pandemic has meant that I have even more opportunities to be in contact with our donors, and more frequently, because we don’t have in-person experiences taking place at this time—which is where, pre-pandemic, I would be communicating with them most. So, this has made me focus on providing donors and patrons the same level of customer experience: ensuring we maintain the same quality of patron experience as they had before the pandemic arrived. And because of the ways we have to communicate now—by email, mostly—it has meant more work for me.
More generally, in the beginning when we transitioned to working from home, I was quite excited that I didn’t have to dress up to go to work! But then, I realized that I miss that human connection with colleagues, and our patrons. And I do miss the process of getting up, getting dressed, getting ready, taking the subway… it gives you a sense of purpose to your day, and it’s a significant amount of time. I feel like that time is “gone”, even though technically I have more time.
Personally, one good thing is that I’ve started to go outside more, just to take a walk and get exercise. I live close to Evergreen Brickworks—an organization Tafelmusik has partnered with in the recent past—and I walk there two or three times a week. It makes me appreciate nature more, which is something I took for granted before.
I am also trying to eat healthier… sitting in front of my monitor for 7 to 8 hours a day is tough!
TM: In terms of the day-to-day, what does it mean to work your role, the Development Coordinator, in this time? What has changed?
BC: Because of the pandemic, we don’t have the same resources as we had before (in terms of staff, in terms of time). Sometimes my days are chaotic… there’s no day that goes as I planned it. I personally don’t mind, because I don’t like monotony, I like a challenge. So day-to-day, my work is “more work” than before.
I am also spending a lot more time in Tessitura, our Customer Management System database, which I like—it’s nerdy, but it’s like an online game to me: you never know what you’ll find, or what you’ll learn next. I like to see clean data entered correctly.
TM: As a development professional, how has the pandemic impacted the fundraising landscape? Are there new challenges, new opportunities?
BC: I would say definitely that I’ve noticed people are more generous. Our patrons have always been very generous with Tafelmusik, but I am seeing more volume in terms of the quantity of donations we receive.
Before, my involvement around donation campaigns was more administrative. But now, I’m fully involved from the beginning: drafting letters, planning campaigns, planning content, overseeing all aspects of the mailing. I’m doing everything, involved in every single step, which has been an exciting challenge.
I would say surprisingly—even though so many things are going digital—direct mailing is performing extremely well. It’s an extra touch point that complements our full scope of activities like email, and I suspect that people really appreciate receiving something in the mail, especially now that we are home all the time, with many people being completely isolated.
TM: What have you missed most about being away from our physical space, our home base at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre?
BC: I am actually one of the few Tafelmusik staff who still has access to our office—when we are not in a stay-at-home order, of course. But I have access to the office to complete activities like mailing important paperwork, which I cannot do from home.
Honestly, I think being away has made me want to go to the office more. There’s no one else there, I can concentrate on what I’m working on. I just miss the space. And as I spoke to earlier, it gives my day purpose, to know that I’m going to wake up and head into the office.
TM: Is it quiet there? Eerie?
BC: No, it’s never quiet, haha! You hear things in the walls, like the pipes, because it’s an old building. I do really enjoy it, most especially the ritual of getting up and going in.
TM: In terms of working as a development professional during a pandemic, what do you consider to be the biggest challenge so far? The biggest success?
BC: The biggest challenge has to be communication. As a staff, we send and receive a lot more emails, so sometimes to me it feels like it’s harder to keep track of things—for example, trying to find information that’s buried deep in an email chain. In general, working from home has just meant a lot more volume in terms of communications. I feel like sometimes I’m trapped wondering if we should be having less emails but more Zoom meetings, or if more Zoom meetings means less time for work, and more emails… I’m not sure what the balance is!
The biggest achievement, to me, is the work I have successfully taken on. I have taken on vastly different responsibilities. I’m proud of that.
TM: Are there any socially distant activities you have been enjoying?
BC: I live by myself, so there’s not that much I can do. Once in a while, I’ll have walk with a friend, or with colleagues—when it’s safe to do so, when we’re not in a lockdown. That’s pretty much it. There’s a Korean supermarket in Don Mills I like to visit—whenever I go, it’s a highlight of my week! It’s also nice to take drives.
I went back to Peterborough last summer, and enjoyed having a drink at a safe distance—in front yards, in back yards—with friends there. I look forward to doing that again when allowed.
TM: What aspect of our Spring Digital Season are you most looking forward to? Or, other aspects of our programming you’ve been enjoying?
BC: I loved the recent Musik in Motion video with Alex McLeod— the video featuring the 3D animated sculpture. I loved that one because I like and collect antique ceramics, clay artworks—so seeing that visual connected with our music was very exciting to me! And, I think it’s something that can potentially attract more audiences. I thought it was very inventive, and a way to show that Tafelmusik is not just about baroque music, we can be new and exciting.
I think also, because of our digital concerts, I’ve been able notice all the little movements of the musicians, and notice things which I couldn’t see before. It’s just so pleasant to be able to watch something on your screen, and enjoy the music. I do miss the live experiences, of course, but the two things—live concerts versus digital concerts—aren’t really comparable. To me, it’s not like one is good, or one is bad, they’re just different. I can explore the beauty of ta digital concert and notice lots of things you wouldn’t otherwise see—their fingers, their facial expressions. When I watch digital concerts, I feel like I see our musicians more as people, more as a person, versus as a performer far away on stage. I’m proud of that. And I’m excited to watch more, and see more, from our Spring Digital Season.
TM: Anything else to add?
BC: Before when we were in the office, I was the one in charge of birthday cards, getting cards each time it was a staff member’s birthday… now we can’t do that, and I miss it! So, a very happy belated birthday to all of my colleagues.