Creating concerts outside the concert hall during pandemic

Live music shows are cancelled during the pandemic, but one American conductor has come up with an idea to bring performances to people’s front lawns. Rachael Worby is the artistic director, conductor and founder of MUSE/IQUE, a nonprofit that has been presenting unorthodox musical performances long before the pandemic. 

“We’re redefining what it means to be a civic orchestra,” Worby says. “Los Angeles is our concert hall.” 

Conductor Rachael Worby works to create unique musical performances for audience members.
Photo by Ben Gibbs. 

Since its inception, MUSE/IQUE has worked to escape the symphony hall, disrupt the music industry, and create music that resonates with guests at a deeper level. 

That includes curating a personal pop-up concert series in the days following stay-at-home orders. Each concert  lasts seven to 10 minutes on front yards. 

“We're just trying to work our way around the community and remind people of not the power of music only, but the power that it awakens within them.”

Each musical set is in line with an audience’s musical tastes. Worby says some concerts were built around a particular genre or group. That includes guests who love opera or The Beatles. 

“We have so many musicians who work with us who are musically ambidextrous that it's easy to just travel around with one or two musicians and continually flip the switch.”

Performances have always been outdoors, and that hasn’t changed during the COVID-19 pandemic. That includes drive-in concerts. 

Even before COVID-19, MUSE-IQUE held outdoor performances. Photo by Ben Gibbs. 

All guests and musicians, with the exception of singers, are masked during concerts and are socially distanced. Worby says one parking lot concert in the City of Industry felt particularly special. 

At the end of the concert, attendees honked their car horns in celebration. 

“I never thought the sound of 67 cars honking would bring so many musicians to their knees. … It was more than a standing ovation because people were leaning on their horns, and then bopping on their horns, and flashing their lights and screaming out their windows with their masks on.”

Attendees piled into cars to watch a recent MUSE-IQUE concert. Photo by Ben Gibbs. 

MUSE-IQUE is organizing other outdoor events, including a three-night concert series at the Huntington Gardens, starting on July 18. Each concert will take place at different spots on the premises, including the Orbit Lawn, the Japanese Garden and the Sculpture Garden. Worby is looking forward to the series. 

“People are going to feel reattached to themselves. And I always think that when people reattach to themselves, they get reminded of the essence of empathy. …  So that we can come to better understand one another and change the world.”

— Written by Danielle Chiriguayo, produced by Rosalie Atkinson