In The New Normal—our new 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 inaugural interview, we sat down with Executive Director Carol Kehoe, to hear her perspective on how this “new normal” has affected her work, her life, and her vision for Tafelmusik.

The phrase “the new normal” has become a staple of our everyday vernacular. What does “the new normal” mean for you, as it relates to work and Tafelmusik?

Carol Kehoe: I have actually banned the phrase “the new normal” from my vocabulary. I realized early on in life—and it’s always been part of my own personal life philosophy—that there never really is any true, constant “normal”. Whether we realize it or not, we are all, and have always been, in situations of constant flux and change.

Some of us acknowledge this easily, others don’t. In life, I’ve always lived with change and adapted, and tried to move forward with whatever I’m faced with at any given moment. I’m bringing these same qualities to my work: helping to steward Tafelmusik with the same adaptive spirit, and trying to assist everyone in understanding that we are going to have to do things differently—we don’t necessarily know what “differently” means, but together we are going to work this out.

How do you feel about Tafelmusik returning, and releasing our first concert of the season?

CK: I feel very excited, and am very happy about Tafelmusik returning to rehearsals, and releasing our first concert of the Fall digital season, Mozart Together.

After months of visioning and imagining what our return to the stage would actually look like, we’re now actively in the process of doing it: I find that both exhilarating, and at same time, scary. As an organization, we have ventured into something new—filming as well as performing. In a sense, we are learning as we go—which is a demonstration of the entrepreneurial risk-taking and adventurous spirit that Tafelmusik has always embraced. This situation is requiring us to boldly go where we haven’t gone before, and I love seeing how passionate our team is in achieving this, and making it work.

What have you missed most about being away from our physical office space, our home base at Trinity St-Paul’s Centre? Have there been any silver linings or positive surprises about working from home?

CK: There are two things I miss about being in the office every day.

One is the face-to-face interaction with my colleagues, musicians, and all of the people who work in our venue. I have very much missed not having those regular conversations, and having a daily understanding of how people’s lives are actively evolving. When you work in an office, you become a part of people’s lives: not just their work lives, but their personal lives. In person, there is more of an opportunity to have dialogue around what they’re up to, the things they’re doing and enjoying, the ways their lives are changing in subtle ways—and I miss that. Because working at home, you’re by yourself, and you don’t have as much time or opportunity to have those casual, interpersonal conversations.

The second thing I miss is my art. Several pieces of my personal art collection are in my office, and I don’t get to see them every day.

The thing I like most about working from home is the productivity. I find that I am able to accomplish more in a day working at home—and I think that’s saying a lot, as I always felt extremely productive in the office as well! And, I am eating healthier, better, more balanced meals, which has been positive.

What aspect of Mozart Together are you most looking forward to?

CK: I’m very excited to see the results of Tafelmusik’s musicians reuniting, after six months of not being able to work together. Elisa Citterio, our Music Director, mentioned in one of our recent conversations that very fact. That’s what I’m most looking forward to: seeing how they come back together, and how their reuniting—their reignited passion—will come through in the performance.

Are there any socially distant activities you have been enjoying?

CK: No! [Laughs] I am a people person, and miss engaging with in-person activities fiercely.

In all seriousness, though: I have very much enjoyed seeing many digital performances that I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to see, from organizations in different cities. While I do miss the live environment tremendously, I think there are huge benefits to digital performances, most especially in terms of accessibility: we can now “see” and attend performances we physically couldn’t before.

What kind of positive feedback have you heard from Tafelmusik patrons and supporters about our digital content?

CK: Our patrons and supporters have been commending Tafelmusik on how creative our digital output has been. They have been very impressed that we were able to stay engaged with them—especially very early on in the pandemic—and have expressed how much they appreciate that we are keeping in touch with them.

Many have also told me they are looking forward to what we are going to be doing digitally with our concerts, mostly because they have already experienced what they consider to be exceptional, high-quality digital experiences from Tafelmusik thus far.

We’ve also had a few patrons tell us because of their own health concerns or other issues, they were concerned about not being able to join us this season—and, that they’re ecstatic they can watch from the safety of their own homes. That’s an important thing for us to remember, as an organization, now as well as going forward: digital performances are a way to connect with people who are isolated, or who have other accessibility needs which prevent them from physically attending an event in person.

Any final thoughts regarding our “new normal”, and your vision for the future?

CK: The world of performing arts, as we have understood it, is not going to go fully back to the “normal” it was before.

I believe we are embarking on a bold and exciting new path as performing arts organizations, Tafelmusik being one of them. We’re going to be significantly relying on our patrons and donors to support us—less transactionally, and more philosophically.

The pandemic has brought about significant change, but also an exciting cultural wind, and organizations like ours have to ready ourselves to be quite unlike we were before. Tafelmusik will never stray from our core purpose—to celebrate joy and beauty through music of the past—but the formats we use to execute that core purpose may look fundamentally different in the future. I think this is something we need to prepare ourselves for: both internally as an organization, but also, externally an audience. Thinking about fundamental change can be intimidating, but also invigorating and full of possibility, and I am extremely optimistic about Tafelmusik’s ability to adapt, overcome, and blaze trails into the future.

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