Hundreds of freelance musicians call for aid with Parliament Square performance

Some 400 freelance musicians have performed in Parliament Square to demand more targeted support for self-employed performers amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The socially distanced protest, called Let Music Live, featured a rendition of Mars from Holst’s The Planets before the group held a two-minute silence.

Among the attendees were violinists Tasmin Little and Nicola Benedetti, conductor David Hill, cellist Raphael Wallfisch and clarinettist Emma Johnson.

Coronavirus – Tue Oct 6, 2020
Coronavirus – Tue Oct 6, 2020

A second performance took place concurrently in Birmingham’s Centenary Square.

The Government has launched a £1.57 billion fund for the creative industries, much of which will go to venues and organisations, but organisers say more financial help is needed within the freelance community.

Hill, who led the performance, said it was an example of the freelance community’s “brilliance”.

He told the PA news agency: “It was an emotional experience because these people play with incredible passion and precision. You probably saw that many of them – most of them – didn’t have any music. They had memorised it.

Coronavirus – Tue Oct 6, 2020
Coronavirus – Tue Oct 6, 2020

“It is just yet another element of just what brilliance we have and just why it should not be silenced, and why they have been forgotten. They must be remembered.”

Hill, who has performed with The Bach Choir in London and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, described freelance musicians as “the backbone” of British culture.

The ensemble played a fifth of Mars, representing the maximum 20% support freelancers receive from the Government through the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme grants, according to organisers.

Their two-minute silence hoped to draw attention to the “the 45% of musicians currently not covered by the SEISS grant,” they added.

Coronavirus – Tue Oct 6, 2020
Coronavirus – Tue Oct 6, 2020

Benedetti said: “To hear all of these people playing together and see and witness the organisation that it has taken behind the scenes just shows how deeply all of these musicians love and care for, not just what they do personally, but the whole industry.

“It is not rocket science to see that this industry particularly is extremely hard hit because it relies on gathering people and getting mass groups of people together.

“Obviously there has been a massive, large lump sum given from the Government but freelancers in particular have their own fight to fight and they have their own plight.

“It is impossible not to make the comparisons to other countries where individual musicians and people who contribute to the creative industries have been specifically targeted and taken care of in ways that I think we could do better.”

Coronavirus – Tue Oct 6, 2020
Coronavirus – Tue Oct 6, 2020

The Grammy Award-winning Scottish musician said there was a real risk freelance musicians would leave the profession or move abroad in search of work.

She said: “If we were genuinely to have all our musicians retrain or leave the country we would feel it and we would notice it.

“We have almost become numb to appreciating what high-level music is. It’s just because it is omnipresent.”

Little, a solo classical concert violinist, was due to retire this year but postponed so she could fulfil her concerts delayed because of Covid-19.

She said: “It matters to support the freelancers who are playing today because they are part of a highly important, very skilled group of professionals who aren’t always as visible as other people within the profession.

“I am a soloist so I am visible but many of the people here you wouldn’t get to see.

“They are the people who go into recording studios and provide the glossy soundtrack for a blockbuster film. They are the people who play in the pit for West End shows that draw enormous amounts of tourists to London, and also of course that feeds into other sectors as well, all the bars and restaurants, because people come to have a night out. They want to be entertained.

“These are also the people who provide the music for your favourite Netflix series, your favourite television series. These people are not always seen but without what they do, you would find a very different experience for all of those entertainments.”

Little also called on the Government to purchase empty seats in auditoriums, for as long as social distancing remained in place.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has been contacted for a response.