Music in a time of crisis: Southern Illinois holds 16th annual music festival

By Janae Mosby, Reporter

The 16th annual Southern Illinois Musical Festival was held this past week in various places around Carbondale for audiences.  

This event was initially meant to be held for two and a half weeks at the end of June, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic it had to be delayed. 

The early, entire plan for the festival consisted of two operas, three orchestra programs, and six Beethoven string quartets. They are hoping to do this program again in 2021. 


During the eight day event, there were four programs, repeating each program twice. These included music by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Grieg, Wagner, Puccini, Prokofiev, Copland and Chris Walczak.

The coronavirus pandemic caused the orchestra to make some major changes.

Trumpeter and staff member Kristy Demos helped keep the other musicians safe during performances and rehearsals. 

“We sanitize everything that is touched by the musicians before every rehearsal and every performance. Before tonight we had a crew come in and do audience seating and sanitize all of that,” Demos said.

The musicians were seated six feet apart on stage unless they were living together. 

Edward Benyas, the Artistic Director, had been preparing for this performance all summer making sure everything was following regulations. 

Benyas is the Professor of Oboe and Conducting at SIU and the Music Director of the Southern Illinois Symphony.


The first program was held on Aug. 10 and 9th in Shyrock Auditorium. This included music from Bach, Grieg, Wagner and Mozart. 

The second program, held on Aug. 10 and 11 in ArtSpace 304 and Shryock Auditorium, had music from Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, and Puccini. 

The performance held on Aug.15 included music from Mozart, Walczak, Copland, and Prokofiev. It started with Copland’s Appalachian Spring and moved to Mozart’s Divertimento.

Despite there being some adjustments to the show, the audience members gave raving reviews. 

 “The music is absolutely fabulous,” audience member and longtime resident of Carbondale Barbara Bates said.

Audience member Kathryn Neely said that she enjoys listening to live music and she was glad SIU had this concert. 

“It’s amazing to be in the space, it’s amazing to get to hear live music, and it seems all the more special given everything going on in the world,” Neely said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the many aspects of life and live music is no exception to this. 

“It changed everything. […] this is probably going to be the only live performance I give all year,” piano soloist Andrew Staupe said.

Staupe has performed with many symphonies including the Minnesota Orchestra, the Baltimore Symphony, San Diego Symphony, and many others. 

In the performance on Aug. 15, he performed Chris Walczak’s Concertino for Piano and Chamber Orchestra. 

Walczak  is a composer of contemporary music. He is also the Assistant Professor of Music Theory and Composition at SIU.

Walczak said he appreciates the fact that an effort is still being made to put on concerts despite the pandemic. 

“I think at first everyone thought, ‘What are we going to do?’ and ‘How are we ever going to make music again?’.  It’s just been wonderful to see that the drive to keep making music is causing people to use every resource they have to make concerts,” Walczak said.

Being able to perform live was special for Staupe, as this was the first time he performed for an audience in five months. 

Staupe has many performances scheduled throughout the year, though most of them will not be for a live audience.  

Benyas is planning another Beethoven concerto in two weeks and Staupe has been invited to come back to perform.

The music festival will hold its closing concert on Aug. 16 at 2 p.m. in Shryock Auditorium. 


Reporter Janae Mosby can be reached at or on Twitter at @mosbyj.

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