I was in San Francisco in early March when the first concerts in the U.S. were cancelled due to the Covid-19 crisis. I had just played a recital with a colleague in the Bay Area and was taking a couple days of vacation before my next set with Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. When management from PBO contacted us with the news that those concerts would be cancelled, I flew home to the west coast of Canada instead of to my New York apartment, following a gut feeling that the rest of the year’s schedule would go in the same way. In the next few weeks, two summer tours to Europe were scrapped, time-sensitive visa applications were delayed, and live final rounds for competitions were all moved online. With every email came more bad news.
As musicians, our work makes up a vital part of how we identify ourselves. Many of us began lessons when we were just toddlers, and over the years our instruments became natural extensions of our bodies. Making music together is essential to our ways of life. For us, it’s not unusual to spend more time with our fellow musicians than with our own families. Our work colleagues are often like family to us and it has been absolutely devastating to be separated from them, as well as from our audience members. It’s also been strange to grapple with the notion that our jobs are not “essential” – for musicians, our craft is our world. The reality is the world is shut down right now and no one knows if and when our industry will be able to recover from this. Artists everywhere are grieving, but at least we can find solidarity in our collective experience.
All musicians are used to spending time alone for practice. That part of this new reality is not so jarring, but when our performing outlets are torn away from us, it feels impossible, worse, sometimes pointless, to take one’s instrument out. I know I’m not alone in feeling like this. To mitigate these feelings, I’ve been listening to recordings my wonderful teachers have released – anything by Elizabeth Blumenstock, Rachel Podger, and Monica Huggett, as well as the occasional poking about in the Juilliard415 archives for my favorite past performances. Although my personal relationship with my violin is at a difficult place, I’m finding that the silver lining in all this time is the opportunity to rest and reconnect with family and friends. Taking care of our bodies and minds and our loved ones has never been more important. Recently, a dear mentor of mine shared a few words of wisdom with me over the phone: sometimes just getting through something is enough. I hope those words can give us all some measure of strength now.
My wonderful, wonderful teacher Elizabeth Blumenstock, who is really a musical mother to me – here she is playing some gorgeous Schmelzer:
AN INSPIRED POEM
Corona #10 (Essential)
She walks ahead of me. We don’t touch yet
except this place within—my phone, her scroll
and fingerboard not skin but living, set
under her chin for life. She plays although
her audience has scattered into screens.
She plays alone. It’s night. She offers
us her home—the fire escape a ladder leans
against in chips of light—her
beside the bed. I said she walks,
walks in music, climbs each step practised
since she was three. Listen to breath, talk,
meal, the wine, the world, the window, listen
to sweat and sleep. Outside: off-kilter
boards on a frame, a hose and pail in shadow.
— Barbara Nickel
Part of a larger series of poems which can be found by clicking here.