“I didn’t know how much I would miss art and culture until it was gone.”


“I didn’t know how much I would miss art and culture until it was gone.”

Those words were from a prisoner who attended a recital I gave back in 2017. He explained to me that at one time he was a regular symphony subscriber and he used to take art and music for granted until he ended up in prison. His words have been echoing in my head these past several days as quarantines take effect for us all, essentially imprisoning us in our homes.

As we all watch businesses temporarily close, symphony orchestras suspend seasons, theaters briefly go dark, and art museums close for the time being, we are basically experiencing those exact words. You don’t know how much you miss art and culture until it’s gone.

Unlike the prisoners, we do have access to many online streaming artistic outlets, however they will become very old as we ultimately feel and know we are not as engaged as if we were experiencing a live in-person performance.

As we all have adjusted our lifestyles, our days, our work, or lack of work, we have begun discovering unexpected perspectives: what’s important, what’s needed, and what’s not. And there is a genuine fear in the artistic community that people staying home will not come back to the concerts after this virus has passed. I see comments on Facebook like, “With people binging Netflix, why would they come back to see our concerts? Will they become accustomed to staying home?”

But I keep coming back to what I’ve learned from the recitals I’ve given in the prisons. Humans need interaction and humans need art and music. And these words from another prisoner also resonated: “All we get in the dorm are shallow movies, reality TV and news. This [the live recital concert] is a great way to touch humanity and the depths of the human spirit!”

For musicians, as we take stock in our craft while we sit home, let’s lean into this loss. Let’s plan on how we can sincerely engage and include audiences even better.

For the audiences and future audiences, there will never be a more vibrant and inclusive experience awaiting you as these first few concerts are offered after we make it through this crisis. Lean into the words the prisoners have shared.

We will need art and music more than ever to help address our fear and anxiety and also to help us define beauty and love. We will take what we will have learned. Most definitely.

About Holly Mulcahy

After hearing Scheherazade at an early age, Holly Mulcahy fell in love with the violin and knew it would be her future. She currently serves as concertmaster of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra. She spends her summers at the celebrated Grand Teton Music Festival. Believing in music as a healing and coping source, Holly founded Arts Capacity, a charitable 501(c)3 which focuses on bringing live chamber music, art, artists, and composers to prisons. Arts Capacity addresses many emotional and character-building issues people face as they prepare for release into society. Holly performs on a 1917 Giovanni Cavani violin, previously owned by the late renowned soloist Eugene Fodor, and a bespoke bow made by award winning master bow maker, Douglas Raguse.

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4 thoughts on ““I didn’t know how much I would miss art and culture until it was gone.””

  1. Oh, I believe that they will come back. I am teaching Kindermusik classes on Zoom right now. It’s all I can do, but not what parents signed up for. Most are grateful that I am making an effort to keep their kids connected to music and movement and each other. Some are not thrilled and want refunds or credits. They miss the live, in-person class experience. That’s what they signed up for. They assure me that they will be back when we are back to regular classes. I hope so. I miss the up close interaction with the children too. It’s not what I signed up for either.

  2. Holly, when you are in Chattanooga, please say hello to composer Douglas Hedwig. He is often doing things with the symphony. At one time Major Hedwig was commander and conductor of the 89th Army Band, New York Guard….. He was also trumpet player for the Met Opera and Professor at CUNY..

    • Doug has come to the prison recitals actually! I won’t likely see him in the upcoming months but I pass on a hello via Facebook! He’s a wonderful composer and musician and I’m happy to know him.


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