Sali-Wyn Ryan (Second Violin and RPO Board member) tells us about her lockdown highs, lows and hopes for the future in this month's player blog.
"As we tentatively creep out of yet another lockdown, and dare to hope that our lives can start to return to being even a little bit ‘normal’, it is an interesting time to reflect on the highs and lows of the past year. When I say highs, I mostly mean that indescribable sense of achievement at finding a Sainsbury’s delivery slot or a forgotten £20 note in a drawer! It’s perhaps not quite comparable with the final movement of Mahler’s Second Symphony but, let’s face it, during the last year we have all learnt to lower our expectations and find pleasure in much simpler pursuits.
“At the start of 2020, the RPO was exceptionally busy and, as whisperings of a swiftly spreading and potentially deadly virus hit the press, we were in the middle of an exciting tour around the U.S.A. Little did we know that this would be our last tour as an Orchestra for over a year.
“When the UK lockdown began last March, I think most of us never believed we would still be in this situation a year later. It is truly extraordinary – a real piece of history that won’t ever be forgotten and, of course, the story is far from over.
“After the initial shock, financial panic and general disbelief that the only time I’d see people would be on my iPad screen (or, of course, banging saucepans on the street), as well as the secret (or not so secret!) relief at having some time off, it soon became obvious that this was going to be challenging, unpredictable and… I just have to get it in… unprecedented! I couldn’t quite believe that our lives had ground to such a halt, and that I was rubbing out incredible concert dates and replacing them with lists of supermarket opening times and food expiry dates.
“As a member of the RPO Board, it’s been a busy and demanding time. Behind the scenes, we are always thinking of ways we can help, make fair decisions and look after the morale of the Orchestra.
“‘We’re all in it together’ was the constantly repeated approach by the media, but I’m not so sure that’s true. In some ways, I feel that there has never been a more obvious and painful divide between people: those with money and those without, and/or those with family and those without. If nothing else, I hope that the last year has taught us all to be a little bit more considerate to other people’s circumstances, and never to simply assume that someone is OK.
“As the summer months approached last year, I became completely preoccupied with spending time outdoors – either walking for hours around some of our fabulous green spaces in South London, or pottering around at home and gardening on my little balcony. In fact, I’ve decided balcony gardening is a real art! Space-wise, there’s not much room for error, and I’ve now managed to fit in a grand total of 38 pots in a very small area: I’ve created shelves out of old pieces of furniture, hanging baskets out of old salad bowls, and even a wine glass holder out of an old metal bracket. All in all, I’m feeling quite proud of myself – I guess the trendy term for this is ‘upcycling’, but let’s just call it DIY!
“I’m not very good at doing nothing – don’t get me wrong, I can laze around in the sunshine for hours or snuggle up in front of the TV, but I’m always thinking, and always planning my next project or mission. A few years ago, I set up a small events company called Classical PopUps as a side-line, and last year gave me the opportunity to put some much-needed time into making plans for it. The middle of a pandemic isn’t quite the ideal time to focus on an events-based company, so a little imagination was required! Despite everything, we managed to put on several outdoor performances, raise over £2,000 in fees for musicians, record podcasts, and even took part in an on-air gin tasting session!
Classical PopUps at Beckenham Place Park
“Like many people, I have spent hours scouring websites looking for part-time jobs. It’s a funny process this one – I’ve oscillated between believing I could apply to run entire organisations to looking at shifts in shops at about £8.50 an hour! I ended up securing a couple of lovely but totally pointless jobs, as both organisations have now been shut for months! One was at a tiny local garden centre that’s barely open these days, and the other was as an events manager for ‘PopUp Painting’ that’s now ceased functioning until the summer. Oh well, I’ll get back to my upcycling!
“When it was permitted, I managed to escape London and visit my family in South Wales who live on the coast, just outside the Mumbles, in Swansea. I feel truly lucky to have been able to spend some time there – being by the sea is just so invigorating, inspiring and, I honestly believe, good for the soul.
“In terms of playing the violin, I have missed the feeling of being in an orchestra and in a section so much, but we’ve all learnt to adapt and develop our skills online; whether that’s teaching, coaching or creating videos together. I’ve also been involved with a fabulous project in Wales that has kept me very busy recording and coaching a youth orchestra’s string section. This term, they’re playing the Can-Can and the theme from The Great Escape – very RPO, in fact.
“I think, as musicians, we sometimes all take for granted just how high a standard of playing we are surrounded by within the RPO. I have really missed hearing my colleagues play as well as that unique feeling at the end of a performance that unites us all. The daily giggles, grumbles and chats – it’s all part of being in an organisation where the incredible music-making, as well as the close relationships we have with one another, are inextricably linked. I can’t wait to get back to performing and, in particular, when we can have a huge orchestra on stage and get stuck into some Mahler. If anyone can do it, the RPO can.”