Lockdown 2.0: Musician’s thoughts before the Descent

Lockdown Lite

Back into Lockdown

Germany is going into lockdown again on Monday. No more live music, concerts are being canceled, people are again stocking up on toilet paper, and people are not happy. The government is branding this as lockdown lite; schools, preschools, and the essentials will stay open, while everything “non-essential” will close. They say for a month. This lockdown is not a shock, I saw it coming a month ago. I am surprised that it took this long. The cases have been relatively low until several weeks ago when the rates started to quickly climb. It shocked me so much that I decided not to attend a workshop that I was looking forward to. Inbetween lockdowns concerts and some workshops were allowed to happen, with proper precautions, but now most or all things are canceled for November. My kid’s birthday is on Tuesday, and we were planning on a party next Sunday. instead, we did some quick work and arranged an early outside get-together party with some of his friends from the Kita before that is no longer allowed. I am so thankful that there is currently no plan for shutting down the Kitas (preschools). However, we go told today that one of the parents in the other class tested positive for C-19 and that the other class wouldn’t meet until Wednesday. So with the Kita, it is currently roulette whether one gets care or not.

This lockdown feels different from the last one. The extreme shock of everything suddenly closing down is not there this time; we know more or less what to expect, and not everything is closing down like last time. However, the energy in the streets is funny. People aren’t happy to relinquish freedoms, particularly when people feel they are unwarranted. There is some backlash against this lockdown, and there are currently court battles to prevent some restrictions from going into place. Lots of people are complaining about the strong measures, and it will be interesting to see what happens Monday, whether the rules are followed or not. Personally, I am pretty neutral. I think some of the rules are too strict, while others are not strict enough. Since we haven’t had a high rate of infection, it is hard to gauge exactly where infections are occurring, and I imagine the longer we go on the better we will understand what are the truly dangerous situations.

Work Work Work

I have had almost no work during this pandemic. Some musicians have been fortunate enough to have work, but as I am still the somewhat new person on the block, and most of my work was in cold churches with choirs. These events are not happening, even when we aren’t in lockdown. I was beginning to substitute teach on the recorder, and I haven’t managed to continue that through the pandemic. I have some work in 2021, but 2020 has been quite empty. Luckily my partner makes enough for us to live off of, and even without a pandemic, works from home, so we don’t have to worry about paying rent. For this, I am immensely grateful. There are plenty of musicians who are really struggling, and I am blessed that I don’t have to rely on my work to survive.

That is not to say that I don’t miss my work. When I have it, my work gives me outside structure and meaning to my day. Work is part of my identity, for better or worse, and It is hard not having it. I also have ADHD, so the complete lack of structure is rather difficult for me, and it makes it incredibly difficult to stay motivated. Still, the pandemic has forced me to look at and work on how I organize my day, my productivity levels, what truly motivates me, and genuinely acknowledging and trying to manage my anxiety and depression. I sometimes use anxiety to get me moving and get things done during the day, but then after a while, I break under so much stress, and depression rolls in like a fog at inopportune moments and brings everything to a screeching halt. Managing anxiety, strangely enough, hasn’t been a problem for me during this pandemic, but the depression, the depression has been relentless. It is human to not be on top of your game during these times, but the ver looming depression is something I have avoided acknowledging, trying to stay always busy in avoidance. However, I am forced to find ways to manage it without relying on anxiety to kick myself out of it. So for my homework, corona task number one: mental health.

Thankfully, I do have some things to do, so my schedule is not completely empty. Many musicians in North Rhein-Westphalia received a generous grant from the state government with the official purpose of spurring on new projects. I haven’t yet applied to many grants here in Germany (something I was starting when..well, you know…), but the application process for this grant was incredibly easy. I didn’t know that the words easy and application went together ever in Germany. Particularly when the application is a request for money. My project is to write several études for baroque bassoon, and I am looking forward to starting that during lockdown 2.0. At least there is some work. I am happy to creating something new for the baroque bassoon. As I mentioned, before lockdown 1.0 I was substitute teaching on the recorder. I was impressed by the amount of well written contemporary études for the recorder and was inspired. Writing these études was already on my list of things I wanted to do, and now there isn’t the possibility of much else, so here I go, making lemonade. Corona task number two: compose some new music for an old instrument.

Montages and Form

I have been in awe and honestly a little jealous seeing all the creative ways people have been making music within the confines of coronavirus. I am just trying to keep a consistent schedule, and generally failing. This blog post, if I ever finish it, will be one of the first things I have finished in a while. I want to join in with my colleagues, to be creative, but have realized that it is not my corona task during this time. The energy and resources to make anything of value at this time aren’t there for me. My third corona task is to take a step back, practice a lot of mindfulness, and work on my craft. Consistently working on those little details that bother me and other people is on the list of what I can and want to do. Being consistent with practice has never been easy for me. However, practicing, making reeds, composing, researching performance practice and ornaments are what is keeping me sane at the moment. Just imagine an upbeat montage, maybe with a split-screen, with appropriate music. However, now that I think about it, it wouldn’t be an exciting montage, just me with different clothes practicing in front of a music stand or at my desk making reeds or reading treatises or books about ornamentation.

I have been watching the show Better Call Saul for the second time. Better Call Saul has many creative montages showing people at their work, people doing their job well, whether for good or ill. The show takes its time establishing the work that the characters do in great detail, taking their time in a way that no other show that I have seen does. I find it calming and inspiring at the same time. This time has really driven home the message to me that I need to slow down and take care with the things that I do. I rewatched breaking bad, the original show, during our first lockdown, and then wanted to continue the trend. Breaking Bad is one of the best shows I have ever seen, but it is quite violent in a way that Better Call Saul is not. I feel like these shows are an education for me in the art of drama. Watching the camera angles, noticing where and how the drama is played out, paying attention to characters arc, I find all of this fascinating. Maybe because creating a story is a way of creating sense out of unusual times and events, I have been drawn to the power of storytelling and figuring out ways in which I can implement it in my musical life.

Stray Thoughts

I then read an interview last week from Van with the recorder player Dorothee Oberlinger. The article is in German, but I highly recommend it here if you can read it. She speaks upon several interesting topics in this interview, but her discussion on the difficulty of programming several short pieces together for a concert drew my attention. When she creates a concert program, she thinks about the overall arching form of not just the pieces, but the whole concert experience itself. This ties in nicely with what I have been pondering these last couple of weeks. She uses the example of how if you program ten pieces by Castello, then you risk performing ten pieces with the same high and low points, the same story-arc, then it isn’t going to be so interesting. I have experienced this in concerts myself. The musicians programs many beautiful pieces, but they all have similar forms, and so they all start to blur together. Plus, the ADHD thing starts to kick in..which is my problem. This question of form is not an issue with larger pieces or with opera, pieces where the structure is already there for us as performers and listeners. The difficulty lies with these little pieces, which can be powerful in their own right but need to be placed in the right place and the right time.

This lack of creative programming was a major problem I had with typical orchestra programming. Just throw together an overture, concerto, and symphony, and you are done. A while ago I went to a concert by an excellent orchestra. The concert started with Adam’s violin concerto. A little creativity was involved in that decision; at least it wasn’t an Ouverture. The soloist was wonderful, the orchestra on the top of their game, everything was great. This piece was followed by On the Transmigration of Souls. Also, a good choice. This was in 2003 or 2004 and the music really moved me. However, this was then followed by Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra. The music felt so out of date and old sitting next to these new fresh pieces. I have nothing against the work, it isn’t my favorite, but I found it such a letdown after those other pieces. Where and when music happens matters. Part of music is the time in which it takes to perform the piece and the acoustical space in which it happens. A symphony that can move hearts and minds within a concert hall setting would be rather annoying if you were trying to have a beer and a conversation with friends in a bar.

New Toys

In other news, I found myself in the position of needing a new computer. I was working on an old Surface Pro 4, and it was slow as hell; the battery was mostly dead, and my keyboard’s cause of death was cat puke. It was time. I decided on a refurbished Dell Latitude, and this computer is pretty fantastic. As someone who has previously used shopping as therapy, and honestly, I still do on bad days, I have been trying to be more aware of my purchases. If I need something, I first try to get it second hand. Firstly, to help me slow down the consumption rate, secondly, to be a little friendlier to the planet, and thirdly to save a little money. We have limited resources on this planet, and we need to start acting responsibly. I know that changing things up in my little corner of the world won’t make much of a difference to the planet, but we all need to take up a little responsibility for the world’s change. I have to say my refurbished computer is pretty great. Maybe I will be inspired to write more blog posts.

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