‘I’m selling my cello to keep my family afloat’ – coronavirus realities for musicians

20 March 2020, 12:06 | Updated: 20 March 2020, 12:49

‘I’m selling my cello to keep my family afloat’ – coronavirus realities for musicians
‘I’m selling my cello to keep my family afloat’ – coronavirus realities for musicians. Picture: Getty/Facebook/Matthew Sharp

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

Concerts halls are shutting their doors, gigs are cancelled, and for many musicians, several months of potential income have vanished. We spoke to one cellist who has decided to sell his instrument to keep his family afloat.

The impact of coronavirus has brought about huge challenges for musicians across the globe, with sudden concert cancellations and venue closures resulting in a devastating loss of promised income for many.

Amid all the uncertainty, one professional musician has made the heartbreaking decision to sell his cello. Matthew Sharp, an international touring cellist, opera singer and father-of-three, wrote in a Facebook post on Tuesday:

“It’s worth considerably more but I want to sell it for £20k. This feels like a bizarre message to be writing... [but] we’re living in bizarre times.”

Read more: The latest coronavirus advice from the NHS >

We spoke to Matthew about his decision to sell his second instrument, and what these numerous concert cancellations could mean for the wider arts world in the coming months.

Read more: Violinist says “Every musician I know is now facing bankruptcy” >

‘The tap has turned off’

“Essentially, the money has gone from my usual monthly take to 0. The tap has just turned off. And as far as I can see, probably until the end of June and maybe beyond that.

“I was walking around the village delivering coronavirus helpline leaflets and just doing the maths in my head and realising that actually, if this lasts for three months, that creates literally an impossible situation financially for my family.

“So, I just thought, I’m going to do something about it.”

Today’s action: 1) leafletted the village with Good Neighbour CoronaVirus support & contact numbers 2) THIS...sale of...

Posted by Matthew Sharp on Tuesday, 17 March 2020

‘Flogging a cello’

“It happened in a flash. One of those pragmatic choices. I’m lucky enough to have two cellos, so I felt I was lucky enough to have an asset I could try and liquidate. It wasn’t that emotional in the moment. I think my sense of priority became very clear.

“That was the thought that went through my mind in flogging a cello. You think, well, how do you make 20 grand back? Because in a few months’ time, my income will be down by that amount of money.”

‘Heartfelt messages’

Since Matthew posted about the decision to sell his instrument, he has received “lots of really heartfelt messages”.

“Help has come in the shape of offers to raise awareness around the particular story of the cello. But also, the situation in general for self-employed musicians and people.”

‘Creative solutions’

“I received two very personal and beautiful responses – one from an illustrator friend of mine who couldn’t buy the cello but asked if he could help financially.

“And another from a dance company I’m collaborating with in June – probably not anymore. And he called me up and he said I’ve been wondering whether our company could buy your cello.

“The creative solutions people are coming up with are wonderful.”

‘Nothing could have prepared me’

“It’s thrown up so many interesting things. I’m the son of musicians, so I’ve grown up with this self-employed status. But [coronavirus] has thrown into stark relief how precarious, and lacking in security, self-employed lives are in this country.

“I’ve been lucky enough to have a busy professional life and I’ve been able to support a family with three children. I’ve suddenly realised even with the outward show of success, it’s a very quick descent from living your daily life to this position.

“Nothing could have prepared me for what it would be like to suddenly not have any work for three or four months.”

Read more: Quarantined Italian tenor sings ‘Nessun dorma’ from his balcony >

The wider impact on the arts world

“People are becoming very productive. And art will, of course, continue happening.

“The degree to which culture is valued in this country is now coming into question. Because it really is the glue that holds everything together. Once upon a time, culture and commerce were basically the same thing. You trade ideas and you trade goods. In that comes an exchange of cultures, and maybe if we can bring those ideas a little closer together again, that would be useful.

“Music is good for commerce, and it’s also great for the spirit.”

If you’re a musician affected by COVID-19, visit Help Musicians UK.