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View from: Natasha Morris

15 October 2020

Part of Supercool's Arts + Culture In Lockdown series

Natasha Morris tells us how Opera North pivoted in lockdown

Waving Hello!

With video calls every day, it seems I’ve got into the habit of waving hello to everyone I meet. So here I am, *waving* from my working from home set-up in York, where over the past 7 months I’ve led on corporate fundraising for Opera North. Every day, the company uses music to create extraordinary experiences for, and with, the communities it serves across the north of England.

Natasha wears a colourful headscarf, dark-rimmed glasses and a blue long-sleeved top, and is smiling and waving at the camera

The Pivot

As a fundraiser in a performing arts organisation, the impact of the pandemic was immediate and devasting. Overnight we found ourselves having to cancel performances, and education and community activities – with no assurance as to when we would be back.

The team’s first priority was to look after our artists, audiences and supporters, connecting and engaging digitally and delivering our programmes online where we could.

When the orchestra’s performances of Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra were cancelled, players from the Orchestra of Opera North decided that the show must go on – virtually…

In speaking to many of our friends and supporters throughout the early days of lockdown, in some ways, I felt more connected than ever before by the incredible solidarity and support everyone shared.

Quite honestly, the company has been outstanding in its creativity and I am genuinely bowled over by the dedication, hard work and incredible vision of everyone within the company. We have necessarily become ever more agile, and in doing so, have been able to grasp new and exciting opportunities at every turn.

Opera North’s digital reach is stronger than ever; in the summer months, our education, artistic and digital teams collaborated to deliver our first-ever digital singing programme From Couch to Chorus which saw over 2,000 participants take part from all over the world.

It was incredibly moving and special to tune in to the sessions, and take part occasionally too. Plans are afoot to deliver a special festive edition so do watch this space.

In the summer, the company toured an outdoor Whistle Stop Opera: Hansel and Gretel, and it has been brilliant to partner with Leeds Playhouse to present ‘Connecting Voices' – a series of live indoor performances bringing together artists and audiences safely to explore the themes of isolation and connection, of resilience and reflection.

What’s Next?

Opera North is presenting a season of live performance, outdoor events and digital projects throughout the coming months. I’m particularly excited to book for As You Are – a digital soundwalk for Leeds – as well as La petite bohème – an animation re-imagining of Act III of Puccini’s La boheme which will be projected onto buildings across the North over coming months.

Challenges

I realise this is all sounding super optimistic – and I caveat that this is an incredibly challenging time and will continue to be. My kittens and my kitchen have kept me sane and (sometimes) grounded throughout and, having learnt so much so quickly, I feel better prepared both personally and professionally to weather the storms of the coming months.

Making Music

I wear multiple hats in the musical world; one of these is as Chair of Trustees for York Music Hub, I was very proud to see how the young people, teachers and families of York came together throughout lockdown virtually to share their music-making with the world:

My husband works as Assistant Director of Music for York Minster. Throughout lockdown, Ben led virtual rehearsals for the choristers every morning from our living room, and so I was lucky to have the opportunity to enjoy listening to him singing and leading on the piano.

The making of music every day – even if that is still limited in scope – gives me hope about the future, despite the difficulties and uncertainties we are all experiencing during this time.

The making of music every day – even if that is still limited in scope – gives me hope about the future

The Future

We are all living in a time of global crisis – and that was before Covid-19. We’ve adapted at a speed and scale that I have never experienced before, so in my day to day, I am constantly challenging myself to think about how we think strategically and for the long-term, so that the arts can have real, sustained and relevant impact in the world.

I am a strong advocate for partnership working and collaborating across the sectors – it is more imperative than ever that we join forces and overcome sector or organisational boundaries to solve the complex problems of today. To that end, it was great to present an event for Leeds Digital Festival last month together with some of the sector’s leading cultural organisations and digital experts and learn more about their responses and experiences in lockdown.

Hopefully, now that we’ve all learnt that physical geography is not such a barrier these days, working collaboratively and in partnership will become easier and more impactful.

Part of Supercool's Arts + Culture In Lockdown series

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