FOR a listener, one of those great moments in a concert is when it feels as though you are the only person in the audience, and as if the musicians are playing just for you.
On early Thursday evening, that was more than a feeling for me. I was the sole audience member as acclaimed flautist Sally Walker peeled off notes that floated towards the heavens in Christ Church Cathedral.
We were participating in a 1:1 Concert, an idea that sprouted in Germany before the pandemic, but has spread to nine countries since COVID-19 has shut down venues and decimated cultural life. It is an idea that has flourished because of the times.
Mozart once declared, "The music is not in the notes, but in the silence in between."
However, for musicians around the world, since March, the silence has contained nothing but the sound of livelihoods suspended. For audiences, the silence rings with a sad emptiness, as they are denied the live music they love.
The one-to-one concerts are filling that silence. Each concert involves one musician playing for one listener for 10 minutes at a COVID-safe distance.
As Ms Walker explained, the concerts were "a way of reclaiming that performer-audience nexus".
Sally Walker lives in Newcastle, but she has studied and performed around the world, as well as lecture at the Australian National University in Canberra. When the pandemic took hold, the opportunities for Ms Walker to play for an audience dried up.
"I lost half my income in four days, as I was cancelled by 20 different organisations," she recalled.
"Musicians were feeling disempowered."
Sally Walker considered herself more fortunate than many performers, still having her contract with the ANU, so she tried to find a way to help others - and to bring back the music.
She was aware of the 1:1 Concert idea, because her friend and fellow flautist, Stephanie Winker, was one of its founders. So Ms Walker contacted her friend in Germany, proposing to set up 1:1 Concerts in Australia, as there were many musicians here who were "COVID concert hall refugees".
The idea is taking hold in Australia, with about 20 musicians participating in not just Newcastle, but a number of the capital cities.
A 1:1 Concert is the musical version of a blind date or mystery flight. You book online, then you receive details about the venue. That can vary from a garden or bush setting to a chiropractor's clinic - or Christ Church Cathedral. You don't know who is going to play for you, or what you are going to hear. The musician decides that once they see you.
As the weather soured outside Christ Church Cathedral, I was escorted into the historic building by a host, Jose, who encouraged me to "open your mind, open your heart". He guided me to the Warrior's Chapel, where, sitting with her flute resting in her lap and wearing a serene smile, Sally Walker was.
There was to be no talking. We just looked at each other. So Mozart was right. The music is in the silence.
"I feel like I'm accessing the listener, and what they want me to know about themselves," Sally said later. "I am witness to their releasing of something."
After a minute, she stood and began playing. Sally had made her selection for me.
"I felt that it was noisy outside with the storm, and, when you arrived, I could see you were making an effort to calm yourself down," she explained. "So I wanted to play something that was very grounding."
The honeyed walls of the Warrior's Chapel were suddenly blooming with J.S. Bach's Sonata for Solo Flute BWV 1013.
"I wanted to give you something with a very meaningful, spiritual journey," Walker said.
It was one of the most spiritual musical journeys I had ever encountered. We may have been physically distanced, but in so many others ways, there was a closeness, an intimacy, that you could usually only dream of as a listener.
I could hear Ms Walker's breaths creating that extraordinary music. I could watch her fingers dancing.
And she was watching me: "It's an intense exchange because I can read my listener, I can see whether they are connecting or not."
Her playing seemingly lulled the storm and stopped time. Then the spell was broken, and the 10 minutes were gone. Again, no words. I was escorted out of the chapel. Outside, you can write a letter to the performer. The concert series' youngest listener, a seven-year-old girl, wrote, "I felt happy. I loved it."
You can also say "thank you" by making a donation to the Freelance Artist Relief Australia, for these musicians are playing to help fellow performers out of work. As Sally Walker pointed out, musicians were often the first to raise funds for others, but "we're not so good at speaking up and saying, 'We need help'".
Sally Walker said one of her listeners became very emotional, because, as she later told the flautist, "It's the first time I've realised you can't play concerts, and you have no audience".
The 1:1 Concerts and the COVID experience have also changed the way Sally Walker views what she does, and who she plays for.
"Now my focus is not on dazzling or impressing the audience," she said. "It's to connect with that one listener, and to ensure there is a connection."
While you're with us, did you know the Newcastle Herald offers breaking news alerts, daily email newsletters and more? Keep up to date with all the local news - sign up here