THERE was no template for the effect on 21st century society of the outbreak of Covid19 coronavirus, but there was a small precedent in the arts in Scotland precisely two years previously in the blizzard weather phenomenon that will always be remembered as The Beast from the East.

When it became clear that there was a risk to public safety if events such as classical concerts went ahead as the country’s transport infrastructure ground to a halt, even when the musicians were able to get to the venue, government-funded organisations immediately pulled the plug. There was some good-humoured mockery of their caution. Finnish conductor John Storgards, who was due to give a series of performances of Rautavaara’s Percussion Concerto, Incantations, with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Scottish soloist Colin Currie, but found himself twiddling his thumbs in a Scottish hotel rather than wielding his baton, wryly suggested on social media that such a defeatist response to a bit of snow would not be tolerated in his homeland.

So when the threat posed by the current health crisis began to be understood, it was immediately clear that national arts companies, and then the entire culture sector in Scotland, would be among the first to do the responsible thing to limit the possible spread of the contagion. There was no jocular dissent this time around.

That sense of communal responsibility has been setting an example ever since. In an area where many people work freelance, and although few organisations have much in the way of cash reserves to tide them through dark days, there were early words of reassurance for those whose performances were cancelled. English National Opera, although often hovering on the brink of disaster itself in the arts news, set an early example in saying it would honour all existing contracts.

At the same time, musicians were the first to utilise other platforms to keep their show on the road. I hesitate to even begin to name-check the performers and organisations who sprinted out of the blocks with on-line concerts and recitals within days of the box offices closing at theatres and concert halls, because there were very many indeed. Before the last of my live concert reviews ­– for the time being, I trust – appeared in The Herald, I had watched guitarist Sean Shibe playing Scottish lute songs in a rather fetching cerise coat with a raffish ruff collar, and harpist and composer Ailie Robertson give the first of a series of concerts being broadcast on the internet by Chamber Music Scotland. As I write this, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland has just launched RCSatHome, an online community of staff, students and audience with a performance by dynamic world music group Moishe’s Bagel. Will I opt for the New York Metropolitan Opera’s free transmission of Wagner from its Live in HD cinema performances, or revisit Opera North’s astonishing Ring cycle, once again available to view on its website? Decisions, decisions. And, of course, a First World problem for someone comfortable in front of his home screen.

It is a little ironic that I had chosen to introduce the new season announcements by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra by focussing on their successful pitch for younger concert-goers in a Herald Magazine feature a fortnight ago. For that generation, apparently more medically resistant to the virus, if equally exposed to its economic effects, the technological opportunities of the current crisis are more immediately apparent, and accessible. In any case, that demographic of the audience is, by definition, constantly-renewing (and, in fact, doctors are predicting that process may be accelerating during the current phase of voluntary incarceration).

When this is all history, there will be new under-18s and 26s to take advantage of the orchestras’ special deals; it is at the other end of the age-range that the loss of Scotland’s luxury regular diet of top-quality concerts will be being most keenly felt.

Those orchestra season-launches are pitched squarely, and first, at the large number of subscribers who sustain our musical life, as much as the contribution from all our taxes either in direct government support or via Creative Scotland and other arms-length agencies. For a great many older people the social experience of going to concerts, no matter what sort of music is to their taste, is central to their lives. For many of them some performance is part of the equation as well, especially singing in a choir or orchestra chorus, to which they will regularly set aside one evening a week for rehearsal. The absence of live music, and music-making, in the lives of thousands of Scots will be a matter of no small importance to their health and well-being, and a real downside to their sensible isolation.

For the orchestras, ensembles and individual musicians – and other artists – the prospect of many months of inactivity is even darker. This disease has struck at a time of year usually full of anticipation for what lies ahead, but the announcements still to come have all been put on hold, among them the concert series by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the already-printed programme for this year’s Edinburgh International Festival, and Scottish Opera’s new season. Only a fortnight into the shutdown it is becoming clear that even what was planned for months from now may be very uncertain indeed. That some well-loved organisations and established events may not have the resources to survive is beyond doubt.

It is another paradox in a political situation replete with those that the relative cost-effectiveness of our meagre investment in the arts may be the source of some salvation. The lack of success of campaigns to win culture just one per cent of the national budget means that taking money away from the arts would mean little in the context of the scale of government intervention at present, and cause unnecessary distress and outcry.

Justification for that support is just a keyboard click away, and the inventiveness artists are demonstrating in finding new ways to work is well worth seeking, as we all sit it out. Conductor John Storgards and Colin Currie are scheduled to give that postponed performance of Rautavaara with the SCO at the end of the new season, in April 2021. We can only hope and pray that this traumatic period is a distant memory in time for those concerts.