The experiences of mid-career and seasoned orchestral musicians in the UK during the first COVID-19 lockdown

Professor Jane Ginsborg – Royal Northern College of Music Professor of Music Psychology and Associate Director of Research

Part of the Music Research Colloquia series of events

Abstract by Professor Ginsborg:

In this talk I will report on research project that I carried out most recently. Between February and July 2020, Dr Susanna Cohen and I investigated the experiences of freelance professional orchestral musicians during the first UK lockdown. Based in Israel, Susanna is herself a former professional orchestral bassoonist and now a music therapist and music psychologist. Our original plan was for her to come to the RNCM in Manchester for six months so that we could undertake qualitative research on the experiences of a cohort of ageing (“seasoned”) professional musicians whom we had already recruited to the project. Susanna’s arrival coincided with the start of the pandemic, however; all that the participants wanted to talk about was its devastating effects on their careers. We recruited a second cohort of younger, mid-career musicians, rewrote the interview schedule, and changed the focus of our research to explore the experiences of musicians unable to earn their living, support their families and – above all – pursue their lifelong passion. A total of 24 musicians took part in the research; half were aged between 35 and 45, the other half aged 53 and over. A single interview was conducted with each participant via Zoom. Data were transcribed verbatim and analysed using thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006; Clarke et al., 2019).  Themes common to both groups included the loss of a much-loved performing career, missing music making and colleagues, and anxiety about the future of the music profession. Themes suggesting differences between the groups related to challenges to participants’ identity as a musician, the extent of their anxiety about finances and their emotional distress, attitudes towards practising and engaging in collaborative music making, and confusion over future career plans. I will discuss the findings with reference to lifespan models of musicians’ career development and the PERMA model of wellbeing.


Jane Ginsborg studied music at the University of York and singing at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London before, having established a successful career as a freelance concert singer specializing in 20th century and contemporary music, she took a bachelor’s degree in psychology with the Open University and a PhD at Keele University. She won the British Voice Association’s Van Lawrence Award in 2002 for her research on singers’ memorizing strategies and was shortlisted for a Times Higher Education award in 2013 for research on musicians with hearing impairments. She is Professor of Music Psychology and Associate Director of Research at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, where she has worked since 2005, and has served as President of the European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music (2012-2015) and Managing Editor of the journal Music Performance Research (2010-2018). She is currently Editor-in-Chief of Musicae Scientiae. She has many publications to her name; recent and current research interests include expert individual and collaborative practice, rehearsal and performance, particularly involving singing; musicians’ health, wellbeing, literacy and resilience; memorization; practice-led research, and virtuosity. Her co-authored textbook, Performing Music Research: Methods in Music Education, Psychology, and Performance Science (with Aaron Williamon, Rosie Perkins and George Waddell) is to be published by Oxford University Press in March 2021.

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