For more than a year, the only way for music lovers to hear the Victoria Symphony Orchestra was through the group’s YouTube channel.
Bach concertos, Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” and more were transmitted via headphones and computer speakers.
But on Thursday, Victoria Symphony’s brass quintet performed together before a live audience at DeLeon Plaza during the orchestra’s Downtown Rhythms concert. Although just five musicians from the orchestra performed Thursday, the brass quintet’s energy was enough to move the audience and to herald the anticipated return of live music this summer.
In chairs near the stage, Victoria friends Susan Morrison and Shelly Frank sang along to the Neil Diamond classic “Sweet Caroline,” while wearing masks and swaying along.
“You have everybody else around you. There’s just a different energy,” Morrison said. “Streaming is better than nothing, but nothing beats live.”
Morrison said the connection audience members get with each other — like when the crowd joins in to shout “ba, ba, ba” in the chorus — are moments that can’t be replicated in a virtual concert.
The local orchestra’s last live performance was in February 2020. After that, the same forces that quelled live music everywhere halted the orchestra’s season.
As the SARS-CoV-2 virus spread through the U.S., performances were postponed and then canceled. The orchestra switched to virtual performances for the rest of its season, said Director Darryl One.
The stopgap solution provided music that was easily accessible to anyone with an internet connection, but it’s not quite the same experience, One said.
When experiencing music in person, listeners can focus on the clarinet player, like One tends to do, or else keep their eyes on the musician doing the solo, or even watch their fellow audience members take in the sound.
“It’s kind of like we’ve been told to see the world in black and white for a year, and now we’re used to it,” One said. “And then when live music starts to play, it’s going to be in color.”
Thursday’s Downtown Rhythms concert also featured the Victoria East High School’s percussion ensemble, Victoria West High School’s jazz band and the Staudt Brothers, an Americana group that often plays in Victoria.
The symphony’s brass quintet will return for a larger concert on Saturday, when the orchestra will bring together about 26 members for its first performance since before the pandemic, One said.
Saturday’s concerts will be shorter than a usual program, with no intermission, and audience members will be spaced throughout the concert hall. One said he is hopeful that the full orchestra can return at the start of the next season in September, barring a dreaded fourth surge of COVID-19 cases or additional variants of the virus emerging.
Trumpet player Mary Thornton, who has been with the orchestra for about 20 years, said hearing music in person is an all-encompassing experience.
“Sound isn’t just ears, it’s a feeling,” she said. “Your whole body can hear the vibrations in a concert hall, and you really don’t get that over virtual.”
Thornton, who is also a professor of trumpet at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, said she is hopeful that as more Texans get vaccinated and cases of COVID-19 start to decrease, opportunities for live music can continue.
“Everyone has this feeling that you can see a light at the end of the tunnel, and we’re just maybe not 100% sure it’s not a train,” Thornton said. “But we feel certainly more hopeful than we did five months ago.”