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The Soundtrack Of The Coronavirus: Wichita Musicians Adapt To Show Cancellations

Dustin Arbuckle/Facebook
Local blues and roots musician Dustin Arbuckle plays the harmonica during a Facebook Live performance. Many musicians have resorted to live-streaming performances as concerts are cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

If people can’t gather, live music events can’t happen.


Nearly all concerts and music festivals for the next few months have been called off due to the coronavirus outbreak, which has shaken the entertainment industry.


Local singer-songwriter Maria Elena said that she and other musicians are hurting right now. 


“All of my lessons are cancelled, my tour is cancelled,” Elena said. “I’m looking at my bank account hoping that I get a government subsidy check, or I can’t pay my mortgage.


"And I’m one of many, many, many musicians who have had that to deal with.”



Credit Maria Elena / courtesy photo
courtesy photo
Maria Elena is a singer-songwriter based in Wichita who had a tour cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Elena said that while the gigs have dried up, most of hers weren’t paying anyway. 

“What [musicians] are doing doesn’t have enough support to live on here, regardless,” Elena said. “We’re all forced to work second, third jobs outside of being musicians.”

Quinn Lake is a cellist with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra, which cancelled the rest of its spring season. March and April are often the most lucrative months for classical musicians. Lake said she’s had more than 30 rehearsals and performances cancelled so far. 

"That’s a big financial hit, but it’s also an emotional hit,” Lake said. “As a musician, you want to be able to play through your emotions and be with your colleagues and use music as a way to get through your grief…and to be isolated in my house and to not be able to sort through my emotions that way, that’s really tough.” 

Credit Quinn Lake / courtesy photo
courtesy photo
Quinn Lake plays cello in the Wichita Symphony Orchestra and teaches cello lessons to about 30 students. Lake said that while virtual lessons are not ideal, she's grateful to still be teaching.

Lake teaches cello lessons as an additional source of income. She said she's been able to move most of her appointments to video chat platforms.

“If it has to happen at all, I’m glad this is happening in the year 2020 and not 1985,” Lake said. “I’m very grateful for the fact that I’m able to provide some continuity and normalcy for both me and my students.”

Many musicians are making good use of technology during this time, says artist Dustin Arbuckle, whether it’s through virtual lessons or live-streaming performances.

Arbuckle performs with two bands, the Damnations and the Haymakers. All of his gigs through April have been called off, as well as a couple of festivals in May and June. He’s done a few shows on Facebook Live so far.

“That’s a way we can at least keep playing and keep practiced up on the material, and hopefully make a few extra dollars through our virtual tip jar,” Arbuckle said.

And while musicians adapt to the new normal of live-stream shows on Facebook and Instagram, Arbuckle worries that that support is finite. 

“I think the fear is that, if this goes on for too long...we will reach a point where less and less people are going to have money to do anything like that,” he said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty right now. And that’s the part that’s really unnerving. Because we don’t know exactly how long this is going to last.” 

Though the social and business aspects of music are not thriving right now, the music itself is not going anywhere. Arbuckle says it’s still very much alive — just more contained for the time being.

“Music and art always weathers all of it, one way or another,” Arbuckle said. “No matter how great our societal tragedies might be...music and art weathers those storms. Because those are some of the things that make life worth living, and people need that.”