I have been very touched and moved by the many responses I received via this site and also on Twitter and Facebook in response to my article about my own estrangement from the piano during the past year, and I’m very grateful to people for writing with so much honesty – like David, a friend from my piano group, who has felt the loss of live music and singing with his choir really acutely:
Music was my release, my passion, my individuality and this was all taken away from me. Overnight. – David, amateur pianist & singer
Like me, David has found it difficult to engage with music via livestream, and regards making music, either solo as a pianist or with other people through his choir, as a more than just notes, but rather a “lifestyle” – something which brings not only pleasure, stimulation and self-fulfilment but also a sense of living a full life.
Others told me how the piano has been a lifesaver for them during a very challenging year. For Andrew, who was made redundant and had to move house, the piano has provided important continuity in his life:
I have played everyday through this whole traumatic period and I simply went back to the beginning. Bach. I opened book 2 of the ’48’ (I always seemed to play from book 1 in the past) and selected 2 preludes and fugues to start with and have slowly added another as I gained some sort of mastery over each one. The concentration, attention to detail, constant twists and turns in the part writing, compelled me to focus on this, and this alone for 60- 90 minutes a day. It was time away from the outside world and the pressure that surrounded me… without it I would have collapsed.
(It is interesting to note that several other people cited the music of Bach in providing much-needed stability and focus on their life, and I do think there is something about the structure of Bach’s music, coupled with its depth and beauty, that perhaps makes it a good choice for the long days of lockdown.)
It was my friend Rhonda who articulated so well what I had been feeling
In my experience, the loss of the music industry as I knew it feels as if the world has been upended. What had great meaning the day before the first lockdown felt drained of all relevance a month later.
Few people would dispute that the last year has been difficult. Many of us have lived under extraordinary restrictions for months, unable to see family and friends and enjoy social and cultural activities. Largely confined to our homes, we have had to adapt to new ways of working, socialising and interacting with colleagues and friends.
For professional musicians, the last 12 months have been very challenging indeed. The almost complete shut down of concert venues and opera houses has led to loss of work and has highlighted the precariousness of the working life of musicians in an already insecure profession. The disruption from such a big external event as a global pandemic, and the loss of the music industry as they knew it, feels as if the whole world has been upended, and this has caused many to question whether live music will ever recover, and if so, what will it be like in the future? Some musicians are even considering leaving, or have left, the profession altogether.
In addition, many musicians – and I include amateur players in this too – have felt estranged from their instrument and the music they love. At times of stress, many of us turn to music for comfort and refreshment, as a listener and/or player. Yet the pandemic has, for some of us, put a huge gulf between us and the music we used to love to play and/or hear in concert. It no longer speaks to us or is meaningful in the way it was previously.
Rekindling that love will take time and patience. I felt a huge sense of loss when the London concert halls were forced to close in March 2020 and for many months I simply did not want to listen to or engage with classical music. It was akin to a sense of grief. Finding a way back to enjoying and playing music has been slow for some of us, and at times frustrating, but it is possible to rekindle the love.
I am grateful to the people who have contacted me in response to my earlier article, who’ve shared their experiences, and who have offered practical advice, some of which I am sharing here:
- Don’t feel guilty about not wanting to practice or listen to music. Be kind to yourself and accept that these feelings of dismotivation/disengagement will pass.
- Seek out music that speaks to where your mind is now, even if it’s not what you would usually play or listen to. In recent months, as I’ve re-engaged with classical music, I have found myself drawn to more gentle, meditative or ambient “post-classical” repertoire.
- If practicing feels like a huge chore, revisit previously-learnt repertoire which you like and know you can play well. Give yourself permission to just play, not make progress.
- Try to gradually re-establish a routine, even if you’re only playing for 30 minutes a day. Routine fosters creativity and can also be very steadying in times of stress.
- Talk to others. Many people are feeling the same and knowing you are not alone can be very supportive.
- Listen to music – and listen randomly. Some of the music streaming services create random playlists based on your listening; this is a great way to discover new repertoire and may even encourage you to learn new pieces.
- Be patient. The passion will return, don’t force it.
Dear Frances, Thank you for the meaningful article. Yes, we have all had to deal with these difficult and sad times. Even though I did one virtual presentation ( I shared it with you), I have felt like an alien in away not being able to share what I consider “My Real Voice”. I identify with what you say very much. Through this whole experience I have found that playing and analyzing the Preludes and Fugues of Bach from both books of the W.T.C. have been my best psychiatrist. Bach was mentioned in your article, so I wanted to re-enforce the power and greatness that his sublime music has been for me specially during these uncertain times.
Wishing you and your family much affection and continue to stay safe !