It's hard being collaborative in lockdown, but there's always a silver lining
I had been feeling quite pleased about how my family and I had been handling lockdown. We've been out of action for what seems like an eternity as the kids were poorly before the schools closed, and we finally seemed to be managing the tantrums and tears and life seemed to be coming together. But when I sat down and started to write, my feelings changed and I started to feel quite sad, alone and jealous - something I wasn't expecting.
At my very core I live, breathe and thrive off music. I am someone who wants to share making wonderful musical journeys with others through playing chamber music. I have been like this since I was very little; refusing to go to birthday parties because I wanted to go to my piano lessons so badly - this is not something that happens now - and resigning from ballet at age 6 without my mother's knowledge because I was too busy with my music. All I wanted was music.
Having had music at the centre of my life for as long as I could remember, I felt the need to explore life without music in my mid-20-30s and became a lawyer. I can't deny that it was liberating not practicing every day! But during this time I still frequently mused about returning to the fold and when I finally summoned the courage to go back to music I was more sure than ever that I wanted to be a collaborative pianist.
Mourning the loss of truly collaborative music
Now, this awful lockdown situation in which we find ourselves means that it feels like pause has been pressed on that particular part of my identity, again, as until we are released, there is no-one in the flesh stood next to the piano for me to collaborate with. And that makes me sad.
Many musicians are mastering the technology so that they can produce ensemble recordings for others to listen to, which is a wonderful achievement, so why don't I do that? Would that not lift the sadness? Well, I have recently tried this from two angles (a) singing to a recorded accompaniment and (b) playing the piano for someone else. The singing collaboration was great fun and felt great as I sang along to the recorded part. It was also exceedingly rewarding and moving to listen to when broadcast. But doing it from the piano just made me feel lonely. I was alone in a vacuum recording the music. Maybe I'll change my mind on this one if I give it another go. So when I have the chance, I'll try again... In the meantime, thank you to the wonderful people who are keeping this side of things going.
Perhaps I could join in with online rehearsals for the choirs I play for? Well, there are two hurdles with this. The first is that there doesn't appear to be the technology yet - let me know if there is!! The second is that the shortcomings in technology combined with talented MDs means that the accompanist's role is being paused and put on the shelf while the MD, rightly, takes over. So now you're not just not collaborating, you're also a bit useless!!
Another option could be to do an online recital. But with what time? And here comes the jealousy... As a mother with two young children and no childcare and a husband who's job is intense, even finding the time to practice is impossible.
I'm watching other musicians perform and I can't even get to the instrument underneath the toys let alone get the time to sit and practice and play. Oh my God, am I jealous! The only place I can play without the children is in the bathroom and I haven't yet worked out how to get the piano in there! Plus, I can't believe anyone on a conference call wants to listen to me practicing the same notes over and over again in the background!
So instead I've been looking for the silver linings. Number one being my husband has stopped asking when he can hear the whole piece rather than just the darn piano part! But in all seriousness, I'm lucky because in taking my foot off the pedal, so to speak, I've found the time (at night when the children are sleeping) to plan programmes for my ensemble, Secret Strings, and to adapt the material from my children's music course, Harmony's Music Club, for home use in a bid to do my part in keeping children involved in music while the schools and nurseries are closed. I've also found the time to start working through my late father-in-law's fabulous opera dvd collection so my horizons are broadening all the time!
In addition to the the personal silver linings, I believe that there is a big real silver lining for music's place in society in all of this. And that is that live classical music is finding its way back into people's lives, albeit via the internet. I pray that this means that classical music is on the rise again in this country and that the amazing talent of our country's musicians will become properly appreciated. Also, more and more people are joining virtual choirs and the benefits of singing are countless in terms of mental health. And hopefully the importance of the Arts to society will begin to be recognised again, and the funding, backing and recognition that they deserve will hopefully start to reappear! There are more, but not for now...
I know that this feeling of sadness in losing the collaboration of live ensemble work is not unique to me and that many musicians are feeling the same, so I'm going to stop thinking about my negatives and focus on the silver linings for music, once I've checked my identity is still where I left it, somewhere in the baking cupboard...