During the COVID-19 pandemic public musical performances globally have been impacted on and limited immensely by lockdown measures. As a music teacher, organist and choirmistress I have first-hand experience of the drastic influence the pandemic has had on the activities of musicians. Even early on in the pandemic the following question kept boggling my mind: How will I be able to retain my visibility in the community of music in which I work during the COVID-19 lockdown? I came to the realisation that I would have to turn to virtual music performances via social media – something with which I was not very familiar at that stage, therefore I would have to learn from other musicians’ responses to the lockdown. That evoked additional questions: What, exactly, is the driving force behind musicians’ virtual performance of music? What makes a virtual musical performance unique and special?
Considering the inadequacy of studying the phenomenon of virtual music performances isolated from the context (the pandemic, culture and society), Pierre Bourdieu’s institutional approach to the cultural field, in which the focus is on the relationship between mental (thought) systems, social institutions and different forms of material and symbolic capital, provides a valuable theoretical framework in which the investigation can be presented. The analytical value of Bourdieu’s ideas regarding cultural capital and a homology among fields (such as the economic, the educational, the political and the cultural fields) is still applicable in current-day musicological studies. Although Bourdieu’s field theory provides a useful analytical model according to which different preferences can be investigated by means of a series of fields ordered according to rank, it does not take cognisance of the view that more highly educated persons tend to display “omnivorous” cultural behaviour. As, during lockdown, not only pop stars were using social media as a “stage”, but also the supporters of the so-called higher arts, Richard Peterson and Roger Kern’s approaches to the differences in preference, based on the divide between omnivores and univores (“snobs”), are relevant in this investigation.
The artistic arena is a field of contending powers and conflict where the agents are continually in competition. Therefore it is of the utmost importance that musicians work creatively to have their “product” stand out from those of others. In her art sociology of the exceptional, based on the artist’s model of the Romanticism, Nathalie Heinich uses individualism and extraordinariness as the criteria in terms of which to measure success, and highlights the importance of the artistic occurrence (“becoming eventful”). As this investigation, typical of the personal narrative, is place specific, the question about establishing cultural heritage is relevant too. For that reason the criteria that Heinich proposes for the estimation of the value of cultural inheritance form the point of departure in this inductive approach. These value-assessment criteria are supplemented by involving other vectors in the rearrangement and adaptation of musical preference in a consumer society.
My study of the responses of other musicians as strategic actions in the midst of the pandemic and the experience I gained from my own responses to the national lockdown inspired me to share what I have learnt with others. For this reason the article is presented in the form of a so-called scholarly personal narrative (SPN for short). This research methodology, in which the research subject and personal experience overlap, and in which personal experiences contribute to the establishment of a structural framework for the investigation, grants me the space to combine aspects of my personal experiences with academic research in a way which clearly throws light on the issues and, in particular, possible solutions and proposals concerning this current and topical matter.
In the investigation into the occurrence of specific value-assessment criteria – among which exceptionality is one of the most important measures to determine success – mediation processes between works (musical recitals in this case) and audiences, and the construct of interdependency are of major importance. For that reason the number of times music videos have been uploaded, and the number of views, likes and shares are important indicators of visibility on social media and of people’s preferences.
Unlike what we usually find in typical narrative studies, qualitative methods were sometimes unavoidably mixed with quantitative approaches, and paradigm boundaries are crossed. In this article triangulation is, therefore, used – a method that has a bearing on the extent to which conclusions that have been based on qualitative data are supported by quantitative perspectives and vice versa.
Through the flexible use of various forms of data collected by means of posts on social media, photos, videos and e-mail correspondence, as well as diverse theoretical and methodological aids – a research method generally known as bricolage – a drastic increase in the number of musical recitals on social media has been noted, and the focus was on the role that social energy plays in differentiating between the exceptional and the ordinary.
From the investigation into the responses of local musicians to the lockdown, shared characteristics came to the fore. Although those who exercise the so-called higher arts usually position themselves within the artistic pool of the culturally orientated, the study also found an increase in their virtual musical recitals. It was also found that musicians sequentially and sometimes simultaneously had to play different roles within the cultural field due to their being personally responsible for the production of their musical performances during the greater part of the lockdown. As a result, their ranges were expanded. Although it is difficult to convert musical recitals to value in monetary terms, a trajectory or range that accommodates different roles in the cultural field makes it easier for musicians to make headway against the financial challenges ensuing from the lockdown. For all the participants in this investigation, obtaining and/or maintaining symbolic capital was the main driving force behind their virtual music performances. Due to symbolic capital (or visibility) being closely related to mediating processes between musical performances and audiences, interdependency crops up, and therefore the possibility of other vectors in the rearrangement and adaptation of musical preferences (and exceptionality) in a consumer community can never be excluded.
All the above-mentioned features display an inherent form of social energy and thus confirm the important role of negotiating and exchanging social energy in striving to attain symbolic capital.
Keywords: artistic occurrence; Pierre Bourdieu; cultural capital; economic capital; Nathalie Heinich; Roger Kern; lockdown; pandemic; Richard Peterson; social capital; symbolic capital; virtual music recitals