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 Kaitlin Saito, our Artists Services & Operations Coordinator, to hear her perspective on how this “new normal” has affected her work and life.
Tafelmusik: You are our Artists Services & Operations Coordinator. What has working this role during the pandemic looked like?
Kaitlin Saito: When the pandemic hit, I had only been with Tafelmusik for about five months, so I was still in the process of learning the ins and outs of Tafelmusik—and, was finally in a place where I was starting to feel confident in what I was doing. Within what feels like a blink of an eye, my role changed instantaneously.
The majority of my job is working directly with all of our out-of-town artists, extra musicians, and our guest artists. This ranges from arranging travel and accommodations, to being their Tafelmusik contact for any concerns they may have—both before and after they arrive. With the cancellation of concerts, travel bans, and changed programming, I have had to adjust and start to lean into the Operations portion of my job more. I’ve been fortunate to be able to jump in and help other departments with different aspects that they require and learn new skills along the way.
TM: What are the biggest differences of working to support digital concerts, versus helping to coordinate live events?
KS: With the live events, especially if we have a guest artist visiting (such as Vittorio Ghielmi, the guest artist and guest director of last season’s Dreaming Jupiter concert), I would be at each rehearsal and every concert to ensure that our musicians are taken care of, and to provide them with any assistance should they require it. I would coordinate with our stage managers, and ensure that our guest artists were ready in time for the start of a concert—and, coordinate with the other departments if there were any events that they needed to attend.
With a digital concert, my work is more behind the scenes, and helping to support our amazing Production Manager, David Costello, with anything he needs. This can include anything from providing paperwork to COVID pre-screening of the musicians and rehearsal coverage.
TM: You have been overseeing the logistics of Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute (TBSI): our annual training program, which this year has gone virtual. How is that going, and what are the challenges of coordinating a virtual institute?
KS: Coordinating TBSI is actually one of the newest parts of my role, and it has been an interesting and humbling learning opportunity. It has allowed me to work in tandem with all of the other departments, and to learn more about what makes Tafelmusik so special. In the past, this event is usually two weeks, with participants coming in from around the world to learn from our amazing musicians and faculty. This year, we’ve had to look at what are the absolute best parts of attending TBSI, fit it into one week, and make it virtual.
With the entire world moving to a virtual setting for the past year, we weren’t sure how or what the response would be to us going virtual for this particular event. We’ve had an overwhelming amount of support and excitement, with the same amount of participants attending this year as we have had in previous years for a live event. Knowing that we have something so special and unique to offer the next generation of historically informed performers is inspiring every day, and makes me want to offer them the best program we can.
There are, of course, technological and logistical challenges to take into consideration. As mentioned previously, we’ve always had participants from around the world join us, and this year is no exception. The ease of access and making a program available to everyone, no matter where they live is, without a doubt, one of the most challenging aspects of a virtual institute. Scheduling takes on a whole new meaning to make this work, and working alongside Charlotte Nediger, our harpsichordist and the Artistic Coordinator, gives me an even greater appreciation for all that she does.
Of course, there are technical considerations as well, especially for a musician: how to have the best sound possible for each individual; how to logistically set up opportunities for the participants to interact and have a social atmosphere; how to teach new skills and provide individual feedback. With the current stay-at-home order in effect, we’ve had the opportunity to work on some of these challenges with the faculty in advance, which is a great way for us to prepare for what we expect is to be an exciting and rewarding week of learning.
TM: Our Tafelmusik staff has largely been absent from our physical home, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. What have you missed the most about our physical home base?
KS: I’ve been rather fortunate in that I’ve been one of the few lucky ones who have been able to go in to TSP on occasion. Even more fortunate: I was going in to the building for rehearsals with our musicians and choir members, and getting to listen to the beautiful music they make live. While I have been lucky to hear our musicians do what they do best, what I miss the most is just that, the live music component and the excitement of having our audience in the building to share in that joy.
TM: Are there any socially distant activities you have been enjoying? How have you been keeping up, outside of work?
KS: This is going to sound so boring, but no. There is really nothing that I have been doing. I don’t go out and see people, and only leave the apartment to go grocery shopping unless I have to leave for work. Even more boring, I had started working out about a month before the pandemic hit, and now I start off each morning by working out with my husband (who is a professional ballet dancer), which is a fun way to start off our day. I’ve been enjoying spending my down time with him more than anything, because in pre-pandemic times he was always away on tour between four to six months of the year.
Other than that, I speak to my immediate family who lives in Alberta, especially my sister and niece, on FaceTime almost every day. I am looking forward to when I can visit with my family here in Ontario again.
TM: What aspect of Tafelmusik’s digital season and programming have you enjoyed the most so far?
KS: There’s so much to love about our digital season so far. Each concert has been different and showcased the versatility that is what makes Tafelmusik so great. But for me, just like the title of this season Passions of the Soul, I think my favourite concert has to be Passions of the Soul. It had such a wide breadth of different emotions being showcased, both through the music and from the musicians, helping to illuminate the many complex feelings we’ve had over the course of the past year and a bit.
I’m also looking forward to seeing the next Musik in Motion with the School of Toronto Dance Theatre and seeing what choreography the incredible Hanna Kiel has come up with. I’m a huge fan of her work, and STDT holds a special place in my heart, so to have them collaborate with Tafelmusik is the bridging of my two worlds.