Art Ambassadors J'Nai Bridges and Ryan McKinney
The purpose of this project is to provide a collection of transcriptions from the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. This project seeks to give a platform to all parts of the vocal performing arts to better understand the lived experiences and mentality of those professionals. In collecting stories from the COVID-19 pandemic, I was joined by Morgan Brophy and Tehvon Fowler-Chapman from the Artist Relief Tree. Their efforts to not only create emergency funding, but recognition of the tremendous impact to mental health of those effect impressed me. Furthermore, their selfless actions in this time period are inspirational across the performing arts field.
Artist Relief Tree
Interviewed on April 11, 2020
TB: First off, thank you both for chatting with me today. So you are both with the Artist Relief Tree that has raised an astonishing $300,000 at this point?
MB: Yes, and rising! We’re at $308,000 or around there.
TB: It’s a really fantastic program that we’re going to chat about more as we go, but I always like to start off the interviews with something positive. So, could you both tell me, what is the best thing that’s happened to you in the last week?
MB: Well, that’s a good question. I’ve spent a lot more time with my cats and I’ve really enjoyed it here in DC. Springtime is actually my favorite time of year. Also, I’ve enjoyed having the time to go out for a walk through the neighborhood and see all the blooming things. There’s not nearly as much color and fragrance in Illinois, from when I was growing up there. It’s the dogwoods, cherry trees, forsythias, and just all these bright, bright colors. So my husband and I have been going on walks through the neighborhood. The Cherry Blossom Festival here in DC is my favorite time of year and, of course, we couldn’t do that. But just being able to see things in the neighborhood here has been really nice.
TFC: I was so sad that I missed the Cherry Blossom Run. I was super excited for it. As you will probably know, there’s not a lot of nature in New York City, except for the parks that I shouldn’t travel too. So, I’m just here in this concrete jungle. The thing for me is, there’s a lot of the work stuff and keeping yourself busy, and doing things that are perceived to be normal for American society or our global society. This has created a huge pause on productivity that has allowed me to build a lot of really solid connections with friends and family; just talking to people so much more than I’ve ever had the opportunity to in the past. That has been good for my mental health right now, but it’s also allowed me to reconnect with people. To build deeper friendships and relationships with people, but also helped me think more about myself and just be reflective—be more reflective in that area. So that’s my favorite part of it, because I can’t see cherry blossoms.
MB: Yeah, I feel like I’ve met more people and formed deeper relationships with them over the last four weeks, than I have in the last three years.
TFC: It also brought Morgan and I back together because I used to work at Wolf Trap. I left in December of 2019 and I have not seen her face as much in the last three months. It’s like that whole connection piece where it’s like, “Oh, I remember all these good things and I miss her so much.”
TB: So, in the middle of that, one of the things you brought up is that you worked for Wolf Trap in the past, but where are you at, right now? What is the work that you’re engaged in?
TFC: So, in December or November, I accepted the role of Director of Artistic Administration for National Sawdust. Which is a really crazy, amazing organization that champions new music and emerging artists. So they center as an incubator and laboratory for music, music discovery, and art discovery, that’s in Williamsburg. I started that job in January, and you know, unfortunately due to COVID-19, that’s... that put a lot of financial strain on us from the get go. And so now, I’m a free agent, as the NFL would say. But in addition to that, to keep myself busy, I have the Artist Relief Tree and I also work as the Manager of External Affairs, or basically communications, for Vocal Arts DC, in Washington. So I lost one thing, but I’m still trying to keep myself busy.
TB: Lost one thing, but ended up with two.
TFC: Almost three, like I’m pushing it.
TB: So, Morgan, would you give us a quick update on where you are in your career right now?
MB: Sure, I am the Assistant Director of Artistic Administration for the Wolf Trap Foundation, specifically for the Wolf Trap opera and classical programming department. My background is as a stage manager. I freelanced right out of school for a long time for opera companies and then shifted into administration; specifically with young artists programs, and worked at the Lyric in Chicago, Washington Opera in DC, Charlottesville Opera, El Paso Opera, Opera North, and on and on. I ended up at Wolf Trap six years ago now, on the operations side of things, and then as our department grew, and with staff changeover, I shifted to the artistic side. So, now I’m responsible for casting our studio artists program, programming our chamber music series, and mentoring directors and singers in our young artists program.
TB: I’d like to turn to the subject that we’re dealing with today, which is the COVID-19 pandemic that you both have already alluded to. So, backing up to just before the Artist Relief Tree, could you tell us a little bit about where you were and how you first realized that your lives were going to be affected by this pandemic?
MB: I think... I think I knew pretty early that my life was going to be affected by it, [but] not knowing quite how. At the foundation, we started getting tour cancellations, not for opera or chamber music, but the whole pop side and presenting part of what we do. Tours were being cancelled pretty early. Some folks coming from out of the country started having problems with visas and so our organization started to make plans and pivot pretty quickly. So, that’s been as... as hard as it is. It’s also been sort of—I don’t know, fun isn’t the right word—but those of us in the performing arts, particularly in administration and production, sort of thrive on these crisis situations and... and respond to solving problems. And here’s a problem we have to solve. So it’s been interesting to watch everyone go from the status-quo-mode to crisis-mode, come up with creative solutions, and figure out how to handle this.
So I... I knew it was going to affect me because I mean, on a public health level, my mom is an immune compromised person. Immediately, my first thought was making sure she doesn’t go anywhere and that she’s... she’s safe. I have a couple of other family members who are also immune compromised, and my husband was on tour. He’s a production manager and he was on tour with a company... Pretty early on, I kept asking, “Are they going to send you home yet? Are they going to send you home yet?” His tour eventually did get cancelled about six weeks early and he packed everything up in the suburbs of Chicago and got in a rental car and drove home. So, he’s a freelance stagehand, and he’s out of work right now and struggling to find that unemployment paycheck. So it’s... it’s definitely had a direct effect on lots of different levels.
TB: And so, Tehvon, could you tell me a little bit about your story as well?
TFC: I was talking to my dad about this all throughout February, where it’s just like... There are two things that I know for sure that are going to happen (or things that are very likely to happen). New York will definitely be hit hard by it, because there are so many people and it’s really hard to slow down life in New York. You know, there’s a really high chance of me getting sick not having to go through this. So, for the month of February, as this was starting to ramp up, that’s kind of... those are the things that I was preparing myself for personally. My biggest concern was for my dad, actually, because he lives in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. That’s really close to Iran. And in early March, late February, Iran was getting hit very heavily, and I was concerned about him. About how that would travel and how COVID-19 would travel into other parts of the Middle East. Just because I had a health scare with him a couple of years ago, and so it’s like, “I need you to not get sick again, which would be great.”
In regards to the work part it’s... It changed really quickly. First week of March was... it was business as usual for us. We were planning and doing things as though COVID had not been in New York already. It was starting to make its way, but it’s like, we’re going to continue operating as though we have to—because a lot of us do. The week after, which is like the week of March 9th, it started from this very slow thing like, “Let’s figure out, you know, for when this eventually hits.” We want to make sure that we’re making financial plans on the back half of our season. But that week changed a lot, because in that short amount of time a lot of travel bans started coming in. Italy’s number of infected cases started growing; the number of New York infected cases started growing; and over the course of five days it went from, “We’re canceling or we’re looking at a couple of shows in May, that we may have to reschedule or postpone” to, “We’re going to cancel or postpone some shows in the next couple of weeks” to, “We’re not going to do anything through the end of April.”
Which, you know, in the course of five days, that’s a lot of change to happen. You know, not even one or two weeks later, it was decided, this is more than a health crisis. This also has become a financial crisis as well. In which, we can’t really sustain any other part of the rest of the season. So at that point, it changed very quickly into, “We’re... We’re dark for the rest of this fiscal year, for the rest of this programming season.”
MB: Yeah, I was just looking back at the calendar and I was actually in Appleton, Wisconsin, March 6-8, to see a production that Andrew Crooks was conducting. He had invited me out to come see his students. I spent the weekend in Appleton and came back to Virginia on the 9th. We had talked about it over the weekend because it was starting to pick up steam, and he—with his networks in Berlin and Italy—had seen the writing on the wall, and was already talking about getting out of the US and going back home to New Zealand.
On Wednesday night, the 11th, we were on the phone and he was on fire about like, “We’ve got to do something. Cancellations are starting to roll in and we’ve got to help somehow. You know, you and I are in stable positions, we have an obligation to do something.” So, we launched this on the 11th. By the 13th, he was on a plane back to New Zealand, and I said, “Cool, this has taken off faster than we thought and you’re going to be MIA for 17 hours on a plane and then on the other side of the world for, who knows how long like, I’m gonna need help.” And that’s when I called Tehvon, Rachel, Thomas, and Marco and was like, “Hey, guys! I’ve got something for you to do.” I mean, it was so quick, in less than a week.
TB: So, obviously, you guys made a quick pivot, much like you said. You saw a problem, and you decided to deal with it, which resulted in the formation of this organization. So, could you tell me about what you envisioned it to become? Has that changed?
MB: So we started it: Andrew and I were on the phone, and did not start that phone call with the intention to launch a six-figure organization. Our initial goal was that, maybe, we could raise $10,000. We ran through some really quick mechanics, I as a stage manager and logistics person. (I’m not a professional fundraiser, but I know some things.) So, we quickly established this separate bank account, that we’re both on, for transparency and redundancy. We did a quick search across various fundraising platforms, and decided that the Facebook fundraiser was going to give us the maximum amount of leverage in our networks. We talked through, you know, is it US or international? How much money are we going to give away? How do we determine who gets the money? You know, just really rapid fire, and if I had to guess conservatively, within a half an hour on the phone all of that was set up.
We really felt that if someone has the means and the resources to do something, you also have an obligation, and a responsibility to do something. In this situation, we both work for organizations that are relatively stable and, for now, our jobs are not going to be affected by this, but everyone we know in the industry was starting to roll in with cancellations and... and we knew we had to take action. At that point, there hadn’t been any sort of government—in the US anyway—government response, or industry wide response from theaters or service organizations. So we set a $10,000 goal and said maybe we can help some people. We said this from the beginning; the money part of it is just a vehicle.
We decided on Artist Relief Tree because 1) it gives us a nice acronym in “ART,” but 2) this metaphor of a tree; in a forest... trees send resources to each other through the root system. They communicate with each other through the root system, regardless of species. This idea that we have resources, not just in money, but in skill, time, and networks, that there are people that we know and love that need some of those resources. So we feel a pull towards providing that. There’s no... no need for a surplus to remain on my part. Otherwise, that’s... that’s selfish and hoarding. And I just... we couldn’t... we couldn’t stand around and let that happen.
So this metaphor of the tree has served us well. Not just in connecting this network of people, but trees provide shelter and protection, and trees provide a gathering place for people. So we’re really trying, as an organization to create that gathering place. There are a couple of other initiatives that are not fundraising based, but are just an effort to provide resources and a place for creativity to continue to blossom, even if it’s difficult right now. The money is just an attention getter; it’s the clickbait of the whole. And I think that’s worked. Then bringing in folks like Tehvon—I’ve worked with Tehvon, I know and trust Tehvon—and that was really the litmus test. We weren’t going to bring in another fundraising expert. We were going to bring in people we know and trust.
TB: So, first off, I want to ask a really specific question about this. So, Tehvon, you get this phone call and you see Morgan’s name on the phone. So you pick up the phone and she pitches you this idea. What did that feel like at that point? What was going through your head?
TFC: I remember, there are so many random moments when I was working at Wolf Trap for Morgan, and the rest of the opera and classical programming team in which it was like, Morgan and I are sitting in a meeting—I get teary about it now— it’s always the perfect moments in which, we both have a similar goal in mind, and we both understand what the other person wants to do at that moment. This call was very much the exact same thing. That week, the week that she had reached out, you know, I found out we were closing a bunch of shows. And that the people who are being impacted by it the most were all of our part-time people, who are going to be out of work. They were our artists, who’ve lost some of their shows and were slated to lose a lot more. It’s just like, man, the financial and emotional impact of this is going to be staggering. I posted something about it on Instagram, I think the day after, and I’m thinking like, what can we even begin to think about doing for people in this time? How can we help? And Morgan reaches out to me, it’s like, this is exactly what we’re going to do to help people and provide solidarity. For me, it was kind of perfect because this is exactly the thing that I believe in doing; that I believe needs to happen in this time. And regardless of the size of the solidarity grant or disbursement, I’m still super happy to be showing up to help people who could use it.
TB: One of the things that you said was the money is a vehicle to get people to pay attention. So, what do you want them to pay attention to?
MB: In the immediate term, in terms of collecting donations and collecting funds, it is to support these artists. If you... if you are a living breathing human, you participate in the arts every single day, whether you know it or not. In the US, our government and our society isn’t really set up to support the arts in the way that we see it being done in other places. Therefore, I think getting people to realize just how much of their lives are permeated by art—whether it’s movies, soundtracks to movies, TV shows, fashion, music, or live concerts. I mean, it’s everywhere: the engineering in your laptop, a designer and artist had to come up with that, and figure out the user interface and make our interaction with it beautiful and pleasing. It’s not just a piece of hardware. So these things are everywhere, and we... we take it for granted. I think the bigger call to action, other than donating, is to pay attention To see how much of our lives are affected by the work that artists do and to fully appreciate it.
TFC: That’s kind of the same thing that I would say. For me it falls into two buckets. Which is one, it points out the fragility of the arts sector in the US, and also worldwide because we’re helping people overseas as well. And how difficult and how much of a struggle it can be for people, especially when unprecedented things like the COVID-19 pandemic come up. Still, the other bucket is to get people to see the value to what it is that artists do, and the value that the arts bring to our culture and to our society. Also in turn, making sure that people continue to see, and receive, the moral of the value in the people behind the art that’s actually happening.
TB: So, in dealing with this organization, I hesitate to call it just a relief fund at this point, because you’ve raised over a quarter of a million dollars. What do you envision the mission becoming, post-COVID?
MB: Well, that’s a good question. That’s a conversation we’ve been having internally a lot lately. I think, post-COVID is... is something that’s really hard to identify right now. We’re... we’re all not dealing with this as an organization, but dealing with our own lives, and our own situations and trying to figure out what that looks like post-COVID. It’s really hard to determine. We’re sort of right in the middle of it.
Our goal right now with ART is to raise a million dollars. A million dollars will allow us to fully fund everyone who initially applied for funding in the first round, and to reopen the application for another 300 to 400 people. So in total, we’d be offering these solidarity donations to about 4000 people. That’s a lot. And that, in some ways,—I’ll speak for myself, maybe not for the whole team—but that feels like a really valiant goal.
Also, I have to keep in mind how to balance my own family, my own work, and my own situation in a post-COVID world, and it may not include Artist Relief Tree. Someone else may take the reins and really run with it and have it become the next evolution of what it can be. I think it has the potential to continue to be a gathering place for artists and people who support the arts. I think there’s obviously a need in the community for this kind of thing. There’s always a need for emergency funding. People are always losing gigs, whether it’s COVID or plane travel complications. If you don’t get to your gig, you don’t get paid. That’s a really fragile system.
TFC: Yeah, force majeure, all that stuff happens beyond our current emergency or our current situation. I would echo Morgan that this is such a grassroots thing. I think we know what we want in the right now, what our goals are, and how we’re trying to help people to strategize and figure out how we can best serve people going forward. I think that saying, “Yeah, we want to continue supporting artists” is the easy part. But also the parts that go around it—the stuff that Morgan and I love doing—that is the stuff that takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of consideration, and a lot of strategizing. There’s a lot of potential for supporting artists and creating; to fulfill the tree portion of it and create these networks underground throughout all of these different people within the arts community. It’s just, we’re not at the point in which we have said, this is exactly where we want to go. There are just so many places that we can go, but it’s hard to say, this is the direction.
MB: It’s still changing every single day, because the global health situation is changing every single day. We’re very aware that this message of supporting artists is secondary to the message of saving lives and being conscious of that is really important.
TB: So, how do you think that this pandemic will change the musical landscape? I think that it’s important to answer this both in terms of the Artist Relief Tree, but also in terms of your own positions as those in the arts administration world.
TFC: I think as an administrator, just based off of my own experience from COVID and how this has affected me, I think that it’s going to hurt a lot of organizations and their capacity, as it currently stands. Also, I think once all of the dust settle from the pandemic, it’s going to be a lot more than just saying, “All right, we’re ready to go back at full steam ahead.” A lot of these are months of revenue planning, relationships, or relationship-building that’s been lost for a lot of people and it’s... it’s going to be a really slow start for some. For some, I don’t know if they will be able to start again, which is really sad. But it’s also a period of growth, as organizations try and find their way again—organizations, venues, festivals, fairs, and all these things—they try and find their way back to where they were. A similar thing for a lot of donors, they’ve lost a lot of their livelihoods, retirements, and their finances to the stock markets. That’s also another part to consider in that they will also be more conservative in giving to these organizations, because they have to look out for themselves. So, in short, it’s going to be this very slow ascent for the ones that can weather the storm. I’m hoping that there are a lot of organizations that can still remain beyond the Summer of 2020.
For Artist Relief Tree, I feel like we said it before, but there’s so much need; it goes far beyond... far beyond the pandemic. Our goal is one million, but we also received a staggering amount of people who are requesting funding, who need funding, support, and solidarity beyond that first 3,500 people. And so I think for us, so long as this problem persists, and so long as people are willing to support it, we’re going to continue supporting artists, for as long as we need to, and as long as it needs to happen. Again, in the long term, this is also a time that is an opportunity to think about how this is going to affect organizations and how many artists can actually exist within what we’ve created before COVID-19. What are some opportunities for us to continue providing support—whether it’s financial, emotional, mental, or any of the above—past this?
MB: So many things running through my head as an administrator. You know, a colleague of mine recently said something like, “The opera art form has existed for more than 400 years.” It has survived, according to his calculations, 167 different pandemics and significant... significant tragic events like this. So the idea that this is going to be the end of opera... People have been saying opera and classical music are dying for forever, right? We’re still here, but it will definitely change and I think my biggest... I don’t really fear for the art. I don’t fear for the... the artists and the art that they’re capable of creating, that will absolutely survive. I think the concern is when I look at the demographic of our audience and our donor base. They are largely the vulnerable demographic for a pandemic like this. Likely, many of them will not survive, literally, not just financially. These are people who are already immune compromised or elderly. The audience was already aging, but... it’s going to have a big impact on that.
I think the other impact is on this idea that gathering in large crowds is going to be a scary thing for people for a long time, even if the art and the shows recover. You know, I mentioned early on that Wolf Trap is hoping to start programming again by July 3rd or 4th, pending the next few weeks. But just because we’re ready to go public with a show by the Fourth of July, in three months, doesn’t mean the public is going to be ready to buy a ticket and show up. So, how do organizations respond to that public perception? Whether it’s safe or not, you have to fight the perception.
I think the evolution that we’re going to see, that we’ve already seen, is in so much of this online content. Which existed, I mean, the internet is a huge place, and there was already tons of content out there. Now just because it’s the only avenue available for artists and audiences to experience what they know and love, there’s this huge, huge boom of creativity coming out that way. And it itself is another art form. Ryan McKinney recording a duet with a pianist, and posting that edited video; that video and audio editing, and that coordination between the three of them, is something they didn’t have to do previously.
In some ways, I guess a part of me is a little bit excited for the creativity that is to come. It will look very different. Audiences will look very different, but if we can figure out how to bring audiences back together, whether it’s online or in person, it will be ok. Continuing to expand on our analogy of the tree and the forest with ART - let's look at forest fires that nature allows to happen. This is a phenomenon that is not inherently bad, despite causing destruction. It is also a necessary part of the process. There are seeds that cannot sprout without that intense heat. So yeah, we’re going to lose a lot. We’re going to lose a lot of the really big, 600-year-old, monolithic trees in the industry. There will be artists and institutions that will not survive this moment, but the Art will survive, it always survives.
TFC: I think I said this in graduate school too, but it goes back to the thing that Morgan was talking about; which is the fact that people have always said that classical music is dying... It’s going to change and things are going to change drastically. The way that people engage in music and the arts will likely change. I think it will impact the institutions and organizations that create it, but it doesn’t actually kill the arts off. I feel as though people lump the two together, as though without this organization the art stops existing. The music’s not... the music’s not dead, it’s just transformed. It’s grown in a different way, just not what we’re used to.
TB: Building off of your analogy, one of the things that you have said is that art itself will not die. So, art is the soil in which all of these different things grow. But one of the things that we haven’t talked about that you’ve already alluded to is the idea of the seed and young artists. So, what would your advice be to those who are watching this transpire and are at that graduate level getting ready to go and do auditions?
MB: Wash your hands! [Laughter]
TFC: I think it kind of goes into two different things. I’ll speak from both my logical and emotional brain. In terms of the logical side, I mean, I’m applying for jobs right now. There’s a hiring freeze. So now from the logistical side of trying to get auditions and trying to get jobs in general, it’s just going to be difficult. This is very similar to the 2008 economic [crisis]... I was not old enough to truly understand it, but I’m assuming it was bad. This is like that, but it’s harder, because the difference with that is that people had the option to go back to school, people had so many more options. The fact that we have to socially distance ourselves and be isolated, takes away a lot of those alternatives and those other ways of coping. Because now it’s like, not only are my chances of getting a job a little bit lower, I also can’t see my friends and we can’t share in the pain and bond over a beer, pizza, or something.
From the logical side, it’s understanding what the limitations are of the general economy, but also of arts organizations and their capacity to open up new hiring. They might even be making cuts. Understanding that, but also just from the more emotional standpoint—the things that you pursued, the things that you set up to do, and the drive that carried you forward—I am hopeful that this does not destroy that. It doesn’t destroy the will, it doesn’t destroy the passion, doesn’t destroy the love that people have for the arts, whatever capacity that they engage with it. You know, not being able to find a job at this moment in time, it’s not the end of the world, because that’s also a thing that persisted well before COVID-19. It was always hard to find a job in music, and yet people still persisted. People found the good to doing it and pursuing it. That’s the other side of it; this will eventually get better. Things will continue to be hard, but you’ve... you’ve trained for it. You’re battle-tested. You’re ready for it.
MB: My best piece of advice is actually the same advice I gave folks pre-COVID-19, which is to diversify. What we’re seeing is that artists who thought they were diversified in their income streams—such as an opera singer who made money performing on stage, taught private lessons, builds websites for other artists, and maybe had a church job; they’ve got four or five streams of income and they think they're diversified—but then something like this happens and you realize that all of those streams of income rely on the arts. So how do you make sure you are truly diversified in skills and income, so that when something like this happens, you can truly pivot and not be devastated by the consequences. Artists are experts at pivoting, right? We all know how to improvise. The show must go on, use what you got, do more with less; that's our whole mentality. It’s easy to forget that those skills can be applied elsewhere, especially in a crisis when you also have this emotional layer, and the thing that you thought you were, is gone.
I went to conservatory training and I was a singer in college. The message there from the faculty in academia was: if you’re there to be a performer, you can’t also take classes in music education, or music business, or any of these other things. You can’t... you’re here as an opera singer, you can’t audition for the musical theater show because you have to be all in, or... and if you’re not, then that tells us you’re not committed enough to being an opera singer. I remember at the time feeling really uncomfortable with that idea, and I couldn’t articulate why, but it didn’t take much longer after that to realize why. It’s because that’s just not true, you have to know all of these other things. You have to know not just how to be a singer, but a business manager and a brand expert. You have to have all of these skills because your instrument is your product. If you can’t be a salesperson, an accountant, and all these other things, you’re going to end up really, really helpless. That idea that you have to pursue this 300% and not anything else, is what set people up for failure. I get that the folks who are in principle positions are rehearsing and practicing 12 hours a day just to get that audition, much less get the job. But, I just talked to the principal timpanist for the National Symphony, he is one of our partners with ART. He’s the principal timpanist for the National Symphony Orchestra, the nation’s orchestra, and he has his own business, selling and renting backline percussion to companies around the region. So, even he finds a way to make sure he can stay stable when his job is in jeopardy.
TFC: I was talking to a ballet student at one point in time at IU [Indiana University], who asked, essentially the same thing. Like, I don’t know what direction I’m trying to go in because there is so much... so much pressure on the, “you are this and nothing else.” The whole thing that I had to realize as a musician, transitioning into administration, but still trying to keep it all together, that I passed on to her was you’re more than your profession. You’re more than your instrument. For her, that’s her entire body, but you’re more than just one piece that school tells you that you are and it’s important to realize that.
When Morgan talks about diversifying, when I was applying for administrative jobs and general jobs my first year of graduate school, I relied entirely on the skills that I learned from being a performer and educator. My resume was like, “I planned a recital, what does that take?” I had to coordinate people. I had to coordinate rehearsals. I had to fill up space, and to do all of these things. I could get money for that. I have to do so much stuff that people sell themselves short on, because they only work at the performance part of it, and they miss all the skills that they built in doing it. It’s a lot of entrepreneurial skills that every single musician who has been through a college program has. Again, it’s like talking about this pre-COVID stuff, this whole idea of an entrepreneurial artist existed well before that. You had to lean into those skills before as an artist. You’re going to have to lean into it again as an artist, and beyond this [crisis], because the situation for our art or our larger organizations does not change.
We’re not trying to dismantle colleges and universities. [Laughter] We come up with some anti-establishment stuff sometimes, I love it. Also, there’s a lot of stuff that’s been coming out, which is like, you know, you’re okay if you’re not super productive at this time. Which goes back to the whole, you’re not just your instrument. You’re a human being. You’re a plant with emotions. You have the opportunity to practice 11 hours a day, everything day right now. If you want to do that, if that makes you feel really good, if that’s the way that you can distract yourself from everything that’s going on, and the uncertainty, then that’s awesome. If you can’t, that’s also awesome. Go make those human connections with people. Just do other things that feed your soul. Don’t obsess over a future that’s not going to happen in the next month because, we have to let things unfold. I obsessed over finding a job when I realized I was going to be laid off: but what am I going to do? No one’s hiring right now. Calm down. Figure out what it is you really want. Talk to people, cook, and do things that will keep your mental and emotional health really in tip-top shape, because that’s a really important piece at this point in time.
MB: I’ve been looking a lot lately at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the pyramid. I think a lot of people have dropped a level or two in... in making sure they’re providing for themselves, and their families. Recognizing that and feeling okay with like, “Oh my god, self-actualization at the top... How come I can’t feel that anymore?” I’m like, “Well, it’s because you’re trying to get groceries home. That’s a stressful experience right now.” It’s important to recognize that.
TB: First off, I want to thank you both for your time today. Last question, What’s your video binge recommendation?
TFC: Oh my goodness....
MB: I’ve been watching a lot of Madam Secretary right now, because it is the fantasy political world I wish I were in. Also, Schitt’s Creek because it’s just the best.
TFC: I have so many things. First and foremost, everyone’s probably seen it already, but Tiger King because it’s a hot mess.
MB: I haven’t watched it. I don’t think I can.
TFC: So that’s one, I’ve, also, watch the show on Netflix called Ozark, starring Jason Bateman, very good show. Then I’ve been doing this thing with one of my friends, in which we watch—every night actually, she’s in San Francisco right now—movies from across the country and [especially] the newer ones that are just coming out. So Knives Out, which was amazing. I’m seeing Jojo Rabitt tonight. I just saw this movie about Igor Stravinsky and Coco Chanel, and it’s French. If you understand what French films are about, I would highly recommend it. Partially because it’s just interesting drama, but also they take so many different themes from the Rite of Spring, and put them in. I love arrangements like that so much, this is just a playground for me cinematically.
MB: Amazing. I also recently watched Frozen Two and Toy Story Four...
TB: I like it. Well, I want to thank you both again for your time and work for the Artist Relief Tree.
About Morgan Brophy and Tehvon Fowler-Chapman
Morgan Brophy is the Assistant Director, Artistic Administration for Wolf Trap Opera and Classical Programming at the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts and has been at the Foundation since 2014. She has previously worked in arts administration with Washington National Opera’s Cafritz Young Artist Program, Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Ryan Opera Center, and Charlottesville Opera (formerly Ash Lawn Opera) in Charlottesville, Virginia. In addition to a career in arts administration, Morgan worked as a stage manager at Opera North, El Paso Opera, University of Virginia, and many community theaters around the country. She graduated with honors from the Hartt School of Music at the University of Hartford with a bachelor’s degree in opera performance and arts administration.
Tehvon Fowler-Chapman has worked in several capacities in the performing arts, as a music instructor and designer for high school marching bands, managing a dance company in Indiana, and serving as the Coordinator, Company Management for Wolf Trap Opera and Classical Programming. As a percussionist, Tehvon has had the honor of performing with several ensembles nationwide, including a performance at Carnegie Hall with the Indiana University Wind Ensemble. Tehvon holds a Master’s in Arts Administration from Indiana University and a Bachelor’s in Music Education from Arizona State University.
As a special thank you for all of the work done by the Artist Relief Tree, Caitlin McKechney, mezzo-soprano, sings John Duke’s “Loveliest of Trees” with text by A.E Housman.
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.