Safety First

Safety First

Symphony must overcome cacophony of covid


John Jeter is not trained as a facilities manager. Neither is he an epidemiologist. But before he can think about music these days, the conductor of the Fort Smith Symphony has to be on top of a cacophony of safety measures.

Jeter and the orchestra plan to perform their second live concert of the season Dec. 5 — although actually, it will be their third and fourth performances. This year, the symphony is presenting two short concerts each time they perform — one at 5 p.m. and one at 7:30 p.m. Each is only about an hour long, and the 90-minute window between them allows the ArcBest Performing Arts Center to clean and sanitize the facility.

That’s one of the things that Jeter knows more about than he ever intended. He also knows that the arts center is able to set its heating and air conditioning units to bring in 100% outside air, and a “very robust” exhaust fan moves that air back out of the building every four to five minutes.

It’s ironic, he says, that the only thing musicians ever complained about in the past was that the stage was “a little breezy.” Now, he says, it’s exactly what everyone wants — an environment where nasty viruses like covid-19 have less chance to hang in the air and find a ride home with concertgoers.

Fort Smith Symphony conductor John Jeter has learned a great deal about facilities management and epidemiology, thanks to covid-19.
(File Photo)

“It sounds daunting, but it’s going to be fine,” he says of the air movement. “Although I wouldn’t come in a T-shirt; I’d wear winter clothes. We love our concert hall. The acoustics are great, and the staff has been really amazing in their efforts to keep everyone — musicians and volunteers and audience — safe.”

Jeter also knows now about electronic tickets and programs, so no pieces of paper change hands as the audience enters the arts center. And he’s familiar with the protocols of covid-19 screening, which is being conducted for audience members by medical students. And he’s been in constant contact with members of the symphony’s executive board — which happens to include a physician and a nurse — as they discuss the latest recommendations from the state, the Centers for Disease Control, epidemiologists and other arts organizations who are fighting the same battles in 2020.

As for how covid-19 precautions change his role as the symphony’s music director and conductor, Jeter says “we just make it work.”

“In the classical music world, we are very used to and deal constantly with the finer points of music making, lots of little details,” he says. “It’s the sort of the world we live in. But in the world of covid, you do the best you can; you don’t sweat the small stuff. What’s so great is it comes off sounding really good anyway. Some of the pickiness just goes away, and it’s probably a good thing. We’re excited to play, and audiences are excited to hear us.”

That doesn’t mean everything will be normal for musicians on Dec. 5. The orchestra is smaller — about 56 players — and they’ll be spread across the stage, 6 feet or more apart. Everyone wears a mask, even wind players who have tiny holes to blow through. Plexiglas shields separate those wind players, and audience seating doesn’t begin until several rows back from the stage.

What will be normal — and such a joy, Jeter says, for musicians and audience alike — is the program, even though it fits tightly into the hour allotted. Selections include “Sleigh Ride,” portions of “The Nutcracker,” “Greensleeves,” the Trans-Siberian Orchestra version of “Christmas Eve: Sarajevo” and “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” featuring principal cellist Rob Bradshaw. The Kool Cats jazz quartet will also appear.

The last thing Jeter is learning about for this concert is live streaming, which will be available to all ticketholders at 7:30 p.m.

“We may offer a simultaneous livestream for other concerts,” he says. “We’ll just have to see how it goes.”

This time, however, it will be available only to ticketholders and will not be recorded.

“I just feel like playing live is really important,” Jeter says. “It’s just something we need to do.”



Fort Smith Symphony:

‘Tis The Season

WHEN — 5 & 7:30 p.m. Dec. 5

WHERE — ArcBest Performing Arts Center in Fort Smith

COST — Concerts are sold out.

INFO — 452-7575

FYI — Please check for up-to-the-minute news.

Categories: Music