Our COVID Survival Story

COVID: A pivot to Online Video

Everyone who survived 2020 has a COVID story. Here’s ours…
One of the photos that Bob Lang published to document the Sunday concert of March 15, 2020. CLICK HERE FOR THE WHOLE SET.

On March 21, the special concert that Civic Organist Raúl Prieto Ramírez has prepared to celebrate the 336th anniversary of the birth of Johann Sebastian Bach will mark a much more recent anniversary as well. It’s the first birthday of a unique series of Spreckels Organ concerts made available exclusively online: a full year with no live Sunday concerts in Balboa Park. Beginning on Sunday, March 22, 2020, the YouTube site of Raúl Prieto Ramírez (Click Here for Link) became the distribution point for the music of the Spreckels Organ.

Led by Raul’s commitment to keep offering weekly music from the Spreckels Organ to the public at no charge, the fulfillment of this mission — combined with the demands of protecting health during the COVID-19 pandemic — now attracts a worldwide audience. The pivot to online concerts has won many new friends of the Spreckels Organ. The online audience includes nearby viewers in San Diego, Riverside, Los Angeles, and Orange Counties, and remote viewers too — in the USA, UK, Spain, Australia, Germany, and other points on the globe.

Links to each week’s concert are sent out in an email bulletin, posted on the Society’s website and on these new easy-to-find pages:

To create professional quality online videos with excellent audio reproduction as well, in April of 2020, the Society invested in new cameras, a faster computer, and worked out just where to place new microphones. Raúl, together with Curator Dale Sorenson and a volunteer team that includes sound expert Gordon Stanley, have become experts at fast setups and intensive recording sessions that are possible only when busy Balboa Park is relatively quiet.

Example of the listings page from Classical music station KUSC-FM

The sense of resilience was part of the feature coverage given the online programming in the Union Tribune and other significant media, and new outlets ran the listings for the Sunday video premieres.

Curator Dale Sorenson

The coverage and favorable viewer comments showed that the Society’s COVID response was a positive and newsworthy development. Many viewers have been fascinated by Dale Sorenson’s brief segments that offer in-depth exploration of the organ’s pipes and mechanics.

Arts and cultural organizations have suffered severely because of COVID. But thanks to the Society’s donors and members who “dug deeper” in 2020 — and thanks to the Spreckels team commitment to find the opportunities that 2020 offered — the Society has developed new capabilities, reached new audiences, and lifted the spirits of many who rely on the power of music to sustain the long seige of COVID.

The shift from live to online concerts was a challenge to the Society’s budget, but not a knockout blow, since free public concerts have always been the hallmark of Spreckels Organ programs. Along with Society members who have renewed their membership for 2021 — many giving at a higher level — scores of the online viewers have donated to show their appreciation for Raul’s talent and the Spreckels Organ. CLICK HERE to Join or Donate in support of Spreckels Organ Society.

For some of the organ’s most devoted supporters, the absence of live concerts has left a great gap. This feeling is shared by many in the Society, who love to share the Park space with fellow music lovers, feeling the great bass notes in their chests and incorporating ambient sounds as counterpoint. While the online videos offer new opportunities to hear the organ’s quietest sounds, some feel only disappointment, missing the savor of Balboa Park’s outdoor setting. During 2020, all of us have confronted anxiety, rage, and heartbreak.

Online Viewers Write…

June 8 —– Thank you. My daughter and I enjoy the concerts every Sunday. Of course it’s better in Balboa Park; we have our family in Ireland, and Florida, and NYC. listening as well and we all ask each other which was  their favorite. Bravo Raúl and the Spreckels Organ Society.D.F., Menlo Park, California

May 25—- We spend the month of March in San Diego and our weekly highlight is attending the organ concert each Sunday. This year: one concert and our need to remain safe and return home. We are so enjoying Raúl and the livestream each Sunday. Each week it’s gotten better. Love the closeups of hands and feet, and Raúl’s impressive memory. Our “happy hour” – thank you so much. —- L.H., St. Paul, Minnesota

In 2021 we hope to begin live concerts once again. The Society must wait for official interpretation of public health guidelines to allow live concerts. Since the Organ Pavilion is always open, the size of public gatherings there can’t be controlled by the Society’s cadre of volunteers alone. The Society’s volunteers — many of them at high risk of COVID complications — should protect their own health as well that of the audience. Social distancing rules are recommended in Balboa Park, but compliance can be a problem.

When live concerts begin, the online programming will be sustained via regular video postings, though their frequency and duration will likely change from the current format. Along with online content, we’ll go on sending frequent e-mails to inform subscribers about concerts and the Society’s activities.

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