Irrelevance and musicians- action vs contemplation?

We can’t be satisfied fully as performers until we see and connect to our audiences again. This longing goes beyond the classical world, to the dancers, actors and popular artists all of whom can’t see their beloved audiences to give to. Performing makes practice worthwhile. It gives meaning and motivation to the hours upon hours of individual study, lessons and relationships put under strain during preparation. I struggle to see practice in any other way, but here I am being forced to try.

What if the ‘point’ of our artistic practice changes for a time? It occurred to me that this time of slowness might be valuable to see in terms of a time of contemplation. A time of rest, discovery and recovery as we consider whether our previous lives served us fully. What can we take back and what can we change, whenever we go back to full vigour?

Many religious and spiritual communities agree that central to their faith is compassion, love and kindness. A dedicated prayer and mediation practice gives room for true peace, separate to that which the world and the ego promises. Space and time is made for retreat and pilgrimage to give up the comforts of everyday life and seek something deeper. We are without our audience, so our everyday life has changed from how we knew it. This is our pilgrimage. Our time of contemplation. We don’t need to prove our relevance to anyone, we need people to see the power of music and art to bring people closer to themselves and the world around them.

The American Franciscan friar, Fr Richard Rohr is the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Fr. Richard’s teaching is grounded in the Franciscan practices of contemplation and self-emptying, expressing itself in radical compassion, particularly for the socially marginalised. Richard focuses on the importance of acting out of an awareness of our common union with all beings. Often as musicians, we can feel tempted to separate ourselves from others in society, perhaps, completely unknowingly, performing for certain people or sacrificing our relationships for music and practice.

There has been a glamorisation through the years of the ‘tortured’ artist. Sometimes we are taught to believe that the more sacrifices we make, the better musician we will become. The problem is that this isn’t usually in line with our needs as humans. We need to cultivate space for silence, connection and reflection and then subsequently see how our practice can fit into that space. Our time away from persistent and compulsive performing and practicing could be the time to explore this and see how much wider we can spread as a community.

It is easy to speak purely in spiritual terms if the reality of financial loss isn’t an issue, which it most certainly is. Many of us are looking to the government or generous charities for financial support in this time. Because of the apparent lack of value in the arts from our government, remaining as musicians is becoming a challenge. Some have made drastic life decisions and others graduating, like me, are looking into alternative ways of living whilst the virus runs its course. Our community has shifted, but is still strong. Still, the struggles we face in this time, both personal and financial, can be terrifying and I don’t want to downplay that.

This new situation that our lack of work has created doesn’t need to be the end. Our lives have opened in new ways. New ways of making ends meet financially and new ways of being vulnerable and asking for help when we need it. This maybe isn’t a time of huge musical thriving, nor close connection with our beautiful vast audiences, and that’s ok. We each have space to find a new voice in the silence, whether that be through a new artistic practice, or spending these months – or years – dedicated to research, teaching, study or composition.

We haven’t lost anything, because the world continues to move and change. We are being told that this time is ‘terrible for the arts’, but why do we believe it? Things are bound to change, close, move and fail. This is the nature of the world. We can be open to the joy and new opportunities this might give us. New ways to connect, share and let go of our rigid self expectations. Maybe soon the ways we judge ourselves will shift and we can enjoy our musical gifts in this moment, without believing this constant need for more and better.

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