Arts & Culture News

Taiwan shows how music can continue during pandemic

Victor Michael Coo as soloist in the Kabalevsky concerto in May last year. Photo by Wang Shih-Bang.

It must be a blessing living in Taiwan in time of the pandemic.

Health experts world-wide agree Taiwan has one of the best government approaches in dealing with the pandemic with a woman president — Tsai Ing-wen – successfully calling the shot.

HealthCare Europe reported good government measures in Taiwan including broad sharing of test data and results led to a broad collaborative effort to find the best ways to fight the virus.

As of latest figures, total cases reach only 440 and only seven casualties from the virus.

And the big surprise: no lockdown since February of 2020!

Taiwan-based Filipino cellist Victor Michael Coo –who is married to Taiwanese pianist Ya-Hsin Wu – has an interesting experience to share on how the Taiwan government dealt with the onslaught of the virus.

When Taiwan got wind of the news in January 2020 about the virus originating from Wuhan, China during the Chinese New Year break, the government realized the severity of the virus infection and initiated quick measures.

Coo said the Taiwan has learned a lot from the SARS outbreak some years back and quickly imposed travel ban in the borders.

What makes it critical is that Taiwan is just 180 kilometers from the source of the virus — Wuhan, China.

The cellist recalls: “Surgical masks were rationed, all public transportations, schools, buildings (both public and private) required temperature checks and also to wear masks.At the beginning, shows and concerts were still ongoing. But some performers including audiences were already wearing masks and having their temperatures checked and contact information noted in their assigned seats.”

Later, concerts had to be cancelled including his solo recital.

The cellist noted that the arts sector of both local and national government gave opportunities musicians by providing halls and funding to have their performances recorded and streamed on YouTube. “I was lucky to have a chance to have two performances recorded during that time.Around the beginning of June 2020, a sense of stability was reached and concert halls started to open but limited to initial half-capacity of any hall.”

Victor Michael Coo with his String Voyage Quartet in Taiwan. Photo by Wang Yung-Nian.

That year being Beethoven’s 250th birth anniversary, Coo was able to perform the Triple Concerto Op. 56 with the Kaohsiung Symphony Orchestra – the first concert with full audience with his wife, pianist Ya-Hsin Wu and violinist Jimmy Hsueh. “In September last year, I performed the Cello Concerto of the Taiwanese composer, Tyzen Hsiao with the Taipei Chinese Orchestra.”

Up to that time and now even with the recent spike in new cases, Taiwan never had a lockdown. “The early success I think may be attributed to the early precautionary measures from contact tracing, strict quarantine rules, temperature checks and strict quarantine rules among others. The president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-Wen, has made tough, but wise decisions in leading Taiwan, by listening to and assigning professionals to lead each sector of the government. Her decision is always well-thought out which in the long run is always for the welfare of the Taiwanese people.”

The past three weeks saw the cellist coming to terms with online teaching now in effect in Taiwan. All gatherings of more five people are prohibited.

For the cellist, the toughest part during the pandemic was performing in front of a camera instead of a live audience. “The sense of doing something and experiencing something at the moment with the audience is something that I feel cannot be recreated in recordings, even if streamed live. It is of course a personal feeling for me. Some people are just naturally comfortable recording themselves.I just think that connecting with people is something that performing artists work on so much that — even with the greatest technology — can’t be recreated.In teaching, I do think that doing lessons in person is still different.There are certain things about tone, nuances, sound projection that are lost in doing online lessons.”

He takes note of the interesting phenomenon of big name performing artists now using online platforms in doing videos on teaching and performing. “They are all very creative. I like to think it is good in promoting knowledge and also very good for people who might otherwise have no chance to see these artists in person. I do not see myself going in that direction yet.”

In May last year, Coo performed the Kabalevsky Cello Concerto No. 2 with the school orchestra (Taipei National University of the Arts), with conductor Lu Shao-Chia at the National WeiWuYing Center for the Arts Concert Hall. The succeeding performances were cancelled due to spike in infection in Taipei.

In April this year he appeared in a production called “Luminous Shadow” where he performed the second movement of the Kodaly Sonata, and two movements of the Babadjanian Piano Trio.

The Coo family in Taiwan (left to right) Nica, 11, pianistpianist Ya-Hsin Wu , Rico, 9 and cellist Victor Michael Coo. From FB page of Victor Coo.

He admits the pandemic has turned lives upside down of most musicians. “But in terms of learning and improving oneself, it is much easier now through the internet. It is also the best time to work on projects that may have been neglected. So we just have to be creative with our craft.I think the gloom part is more from not being able to be with other people in person. I know this will pass.These trying times are also a good time to reflect on ourselves and re-evaluate our priorities and values.”

The cellist who is a graduate of the Philippine High School for the Arts has two kids now – Nica, 11 and Rico who is turning 9 next month.

On the whole, Coo remains optimistic. “This year may have some setbacks in terms of cancelled concerts but I think it will open doors to new opportunities. It is also the best time to practice more scales and etudes!”