DSO Conversations: Coping with COVID-19


Dr Sarah Lynar

In these unsettling times, it’s important to stay connected and to continue sharing our experiences. To this end, we have started a new interview series called ‘DSO Conversations: Coping with COVID-19’, where we chat to musicians about how they are dealing with the changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

For our first interview we sat down and talked (virtually!) with Dr Sarah Lynar. Most of us know the talented trumpeter and DSO board member for her musical rather than her medical skills, but during the day Sarah is a doctor and a Specialist in Infectious Diseases working hard to care for COVID-19 patients and to coordinate the NT’s response to the virus. Here she talks about her work, how she is coping with #isolife, her recommendations for a #stayhome playlist, and more.


Could you tell us a bit about the work you do and your part in the NT’s response to COVID-19?

SL: I’m a doctor, and a Specialist in Infectious Diseases. I work at Royal Darwin Hospital, and moved to Darwin just over 4 years ago because of the interesting variety of tropical infectious diseases up here and the vibrant medical community I had heard about. COVID-19 has been a strange experience for me, in that it is in some ways ‘core business’ for people in my profession, but in other ways completely unprecedented, as people love to say these days. For me it started back in January, at first with an escalating number of meetings regarding the NT’s response, trying to model risk and work out what it might mean for us. Then as the world started to take more notice and things started to ramp up, it began to completely saturate both my home and work life.

Currently, I am the specialist looking after the Top End’s COVID-19 patients (we are on a rotating roster aimed at giving each person some rest), which comes with a unique set of challenges, and coordinating of a newly established ‘COVID-19 ward’. I am clinical lead for Infection Control at the hospital, which means I am involved with decisions regarding personal protective equipment, writing a lot of guidelines, and trying to keep people safe from both COVID-19 and of course other infections at the same time. I am charged with coordinating our department’s outpatient clinics, so a lot of time as gone into restructuring that to include only urgent reviews now mostly done by phone. I am also clinical lead for the Hospital In The Home program at the Lorraine Brennan Centre, where a whole wing has now been converted to manage patients with COVID-19.

My other position is with Menzies School of Health as a Research Fellow. I was meant to be in Timor-Leste over these past few weeks where I’m involved in research looking at antibiotic resistance, and that has had to be put on hold while international travel is restricted. The Masters course and other interstate courses I had been taking have had to be put on hold. And the meetings continue, about everything from our departmental response up to our NT-wide response. Essentially almost nothing is as it was a few months ago.

As a medical professional, you are presumably still going to work. So what’s the biggest change the COVID-19 restrictions have brought about for you personally?

SL: For me the lack of music has definitely made the biggest impact on my life, despite all the huge work changes. I count myself so lucky that my job and income have continued, in contrast to many of my good friends who have been impacted significantly by a lack of employment opportunity and financial stability. I really can’t complain. However, my evenings pre-COVID-19 were invariably filled up with music rehearsals and the occasional gig, and this has, in a way, been my saviour during my time in Darwin. Musicians have become my family, and music has become my creative release and my source of balance. COVID-19 has removed a large portion of that, while significantly adding to work stress, so I’m having to be intentional in looking for ways to balance work with other things that allow for some rejuvenation.

How has COVID-19 affected you as a musician? Are you finding more time to play at home or less? Are you able to connect with other musicians?

SL: I live in an apartment, so I find it difficult to find times in the day where I can easily (and unapologetically) play trumpet at home with our tiled acoustics. I can feel my lip muscles atrophying as we speak. My housemate is musical, so we have had a few jam sessions with me attempting to play some the guitar and violin, but my skills with these do limit me a bit. There are a number of musicians that are reaching out in the virtual space, for which I’m so grateful. I also sent in a vocal submission for a ‘couch choir’ the other day, where they assembled over a thousand individual versions of a three-part song and created a virtual choir. A fun experience with a really heart-warming result. Yet nothing quite fills the void that the lack of live music has left. The weekend before last I was meant to be singing with the Vocalective choir doing Brahms‘ beautiful German Requiem, and playing with the local band The Neo, in two gloriously contrasting concerts. These were the first to be cancelled on my calendar, and of course the DSO cancellations mean that the immediate calendar is looking very empty. I guess we’ll get used to the little pangs of loss over the next few months, as each of these planned dates goes by unacknowledged by communal music.

Do you think music has an important role to play during this time in helping keep the community’s spirits up?

SL: I’ve been so impressed seeing how creative our arts community has been over this time. They are some of the most impacted, yet there is a sense of ‘we can (and must) still do this’ over the virtual music world. I’ve been watching live musicians play from across the world and been able to comment in real-time, and listened to beautiful layered recordings by artists stuck in their houses alone. I love that people are still finding ways to share their passion. I also think listening to, and playing, music in our own space is so important while we can’t go out and share it with other people. It brings clarity, relaxation, comfort, and stimulation all at the same time. There are not many other things that achieve that.

What are your top recommendations for a #stayhome music playlist?

SL: Ooh that’s a tough one! I like a mix of genres, and love to listen to whatever Spotify playlist has been recommended to me. This week with the deaths of Bill Withers and Ellis Marsalis I have been playing a lot of their music, as well as a bit from Ellis’ son, Wynton, who is my all-time trumpet idol. How could anyone go past that Arutiunian Trumpet Concerto?! I otherwise have a fairly eclectic musical taste, and am happy as long as the music makes me both feel something and think something. This week’s high rotation has included Hiatus Kaiyote, Nils Frahm, Zaz, London Grammar, Emily Wurramara, Esperanza Spalding, and Michael Kiwanuka. ‘Meditation’ from Thais by Massenet, ‘Bedouin Song’ by Lior and ‘Us Against the World’ by Coldplay are three of my go-tos when I need to relax. I also enjoy just randomly searching for newly released classical music albums, which introduces me to a whole variety of composers and artists I’ve never known about before. Who knows what next week’s playlist will look like!

Finally, what are your thoughts on how Australia is handling the crisis? Any parting thoughts on how we can all get through this difficult period together?

SL: There have obviously been a lot of opinions and conflicting advice around, which has made it hard for people to know how this pandemic should look for them. A lot of that confusion stems from the fact that both human behaviour and infection dynamics can sometimes be difficult to predict. It has also been hard to work out what applies to us in the NT, where we don’t yet have community transmission like many of the other States. However the message that I’m sure almost everyone has internalised by now is to stay at home where we can, in order to #flattenthecurve and prevent the healthcare system from being overwhelmed by the cases that do come. I think this week has been promising in the drop in numbers both in Australia and in the NT, yet we can’t be complacent. We have a beautifully eclectic community here, and there are some that are far more vulnerable than others, so it’s our responsibility to keep everyone safe. I want to say thanks to everyone in the orchestra and the wider music community – the healthcare community couldn’t do this without you, and the Darwin community couldn’t do this without you either, in more ways than one.

Technology is amazing, and I think the DSO initiatives in trying to keep us all connected and enjoying music in some way are really commendable. We all need each other more than ever. In saying that, I can’t wait to be able to see everyone again and make music together.


Portraits Livestreamed Concert Series


DSO is delighted to announce a new initiative designed to bring beauty and joy to our homebound lives – Portraits, a special fortnightly livestreamed concert series that highlights the individual talents of our brilliant musicians.

Our first concert in the series will be livestreamed tomorrow, Thursday 2 April, at 12pm from CDU Theatre. Featuring DSO pianist Chen Hui Tan playing Chopin, Bonsor and more, followed by sparkling performances by Concertmaster Tara Murphy, our talented musicians will be sure to brighten your afternoon. Tune in tomorrow at 12pm on our YouTube Channel to see them live!

Future Portraits recitals will be held at 7pm every second Friday. Make sure you follow DSO on social media or check the blog to stay up to date with the concert program and to access the URLs.

With thanks to Michael Vernau and our generous sponsors, Charles Darwin University, for making this series possible.


Important Update: COVID-19


DSO regrets to announce that due to Coronavirus risk reduction measures, performances between now and the end of June will no longer take place.

The following events have been postponed or cancelled:

Kids’ Classics: A Soldier’s Talepostponed until later in the year

DSO Up Close – cancelled

ConocoPhillips Symphony: DISCO – cancelled


In making this difficult decision, DSO Board and Management carefully considered advice from Government and Health officials and conducted rigorous risk assessments. While this may be a disappointing outcome for music-lovers, ultimately, the health and safety of our musicians, audiences and the broader community remains paramount.

On a positive note, DSO is currently exploring innovative ways it can continue to make music and stay connected with audiences and the community during this period. Updates on our activities will be available on our website as our plans are finalised.

In the coming days, we will also be in contact with those who have purchased tickets for forthcoming events to outline their options for an exchange or refund. Like many other arts organisations, cancellations have a large impact on DSO’s revenue. We are grateful to those patrons who are donating the value of their ticket to support the DSO in this challenging time and to help us keep the music playing.

For individuals experiencing hardship and requiring further support in the wake of the nationwide cancellations, DSO encourages reaching out to Support Act Wellbeing Helpline on 1800 959 500. This is a free, confidential counselling service available to anyone in the Australian performing arts sector to talk to someone about any aspect of their wellbeing.


Meet your guide!


Shalom Kaa


We are delighted Darwin’s own Shalom Kaa will be our guide on our next musical adventure, Around the World in Eighty Minutes.

DSO sat down and chatted with the multi-talented artist and entertainer about what he’s most looking forward to on the upcoming journey, as well as what he’s been up to since relocating to Darwin in 2015.






Tell us a bit about yourself.

SK: I come from a very talented family of Maori musicians, which is a awesome way to grow up. Since moving to Darwin, I’ve had some so many awesome opportunities including theatre, music directing, production, dance and more recently, stand up comedy. At my recent cabaret show at Darwin Fringe Festival, I proposed to my partner of 17 years. He said yes – thankfully!

How will your last experience collaborating with DSO differ to the what’s been planned for Around the World in Eighty Minutes? What’s special about this event?

SK: I’ve loved singing with the DSO in previous events, and I’ve even been a video tech and stage manager for them! As Host for this event, I’m looking forward to having some fun with the audience and the orchestra. Around the World in Eighty Minutes reflects our multicultural community down to a tee!

What do you love most about working with DSO? 

SK: To be honest, when I first moved to Darwin, it’s was hard to believe that an orchestra this good, with a population this small, in a town this remote, was even possible. And as high as the calibre is, their sense of community remains intact.

Can you tell us which stop on the upcoming musical journey, Around the World in Eighty Minutes, you are most looking forward to and why?

SK: I have to say Japan. I have seen Taiko drumming before and for me it’s pure theatre. However, I am very much looking forward to the Australian finale!

What are you listening to at the moment?

SK: Postmodern Jukebox. I’m a huge fan and even got a chance to sing with then when they were at the Darwin Entertainment Centre.

What’s the main reason you think people should book a ticket to this unique orchestral ride around the globe? 

SK: The world is truly a small place now. Yet, as connected as we are digitally, we are also quite disconnected. So, for eighty minutes, this is a great way to reconnect, though the joy of music.


Shalom Kaa is a multi-talented artist who has always had music and singing in his life. He grew up as part of a large Maori family of musicians who performed throughout New Zealand. Since arriving in Darwin in 2015, Shalom has played and sung in lead roles in musicals Jesus Christ Superstar and Chess. He is also the Music Director for Darwin’s first LGBTQIA choir, True Colours Chorus. Shalom made his acting debut in 2017 in The Crucible and in Darwin Theatre Company’s production of A Black Comedy.  He was the Artistic Director for Darwin Chorale’s Beatles Cabaret in 2016 and ABBA Cabaret in 2017, and in 2018 he wrote and directed Voices of Remembrance: A Territory Story of War and Peace. In 2019, he won Peoples Choice Award and Best Producer for his cabaret show Purple Plastic Maori and also won Artist of the Year at the Darwin Pride Awards. He is the host of the entertainment series The Seen NT and is also one of Darwin’s hottest new stand-up comedians.