“Hey, Travnicek, you hear how they closed the opera, too?”
“Yeah, so are you missing it?”
“Naaah … as far as I’m concerned, it can just stay closed…”1
I’m writing from my home office, where the crisis currently has me working as a part-time webinar lecturer and as “facility manager on duty”—which is to say, I’m currently working at home on my computer and doing the housecleaning myself.
I hope you’re all healthy and doing well during a time that feels quite strange, that’s in any case entirely new for me, and that—even if it’s not actually new—will hopefully at least refrain from repeating itself. I’m following the news, reading the papers, getting informed on the Internet, and quite generally being bombarded with information of all kinds—some of which is fit to make your hair stand on end.
A few days ago, my daughter asked me: “So, are you missing the university? Do you miss playing concerts?” And I must admit that I didn’t exactly have an easy answer to that, which kind of amazed me. Seems funny … I’ve only stopped playing publicly for three weeks, but it feels like three years. It’s the audience contact that I miss most. Travelling, on the other hand, is something I don’t miss at all…
So yeah, I’m doing my work, but it doesn’t feel that way. Every day, I arrange and compose pieces of music. But for whom? I’m keeping in touch with all of my students by phone, and they’re doing okay. I’m under the general impression that people haven’t practised and composed this much in an awfully long time, and that they’re creating truly beautiful, long, and above all finished symphonies once more. Music school and university students are now receiving multiple visits from the “web music school”, because it’s finally got time for that. Students are practising as if possessed, because they can finally do nothing except practice (if the neighbours will allow it, that is, and if they’ve got a suitable instrument sitting around—after all, who’s actually got a fortepiano at home? … One that’s dusted off?). And there’s much talk of the progress they’re finally able to make, since there was never enough time for that in their old working lives, lives that came to an abrupt halt three weeks ago. But why? Does the hamster in its cage count how many times its running wheel turns or at least wonder about the whole thing? No … to do that, it would need a clock. But it does have time—and we, incidentally, have both right now…
The present time feels like being on break, albeit with a slightly bad conscience (and with our actual summer break also fast approaching…!). The only antidote to this is a daily look at our mdw mailboxes first thing in the morning, a look that—ideally—tells us how many turns we’ll need to run in our wheels today.
I’m currently teaching online, and after just two weeks, I’ve discovered that I don’t find it so terribly awful compared with the “old” way of teaching. And some aspects, I go on to think, are even better … and talking with my students … even partly confirms this…? Nonsense! Nothing’s better … I’m just getting used to a stopgap measure, and that should be grounds for caution.
I—or, for that matter, probably all of us—can do nothing other than I’m and we’re able to, than what we’ve learned; we’re all musicians, and while some of us are perhaps still analogue-oriented fossils, we’re all creatives in the eyes of the Lord—and the Lady. We’re tightrope walkers, fire-eaters, wordsmiths and fabulists, and indeed “trouble(d)” in the best possible sense—all of which are good things. And what’s more, we’ve learned how to use fine quavers to knit warming jackets to protect us from social frigidity—con anima, of course!
But, we’re also dependent upon people who let us trouble them, people who—for whatever reason—would come to our concerts (if they only could) and will come to study music with us at the university (if and when they actually can).
I’m not a pessimist; I get nothing from complaining this situation to death. But one thing has indeed become very clear to me: before all these people gradually end up getting used to the idea that they’re generally safest at home, completely bereft of any live culture, those of us who work in the arts need to do everything in our power to make sure that what’s currently happening in the virtual realm (because it can’t happen elsewhere) doesn’t—as creative as it may be—become the new normal. And to this end, we need to stay in touch with our audiences and start getting things on track for the post-crisis era right now. Because if we do, all of these alternative methods that we’re being forced to use right now will have served a deeper purpose.
…which is why I’m getting back to work and heating up my stove of ideas in hopes of being able to cook up something that’s nourishing indeed!