by Robert Fisher, Catoctin School of Music
As we pass over the year anniversary since the world was flipped upside down in a global pandemic, the need to communicate and express the gambit of our emotions and experiences grows more paramount. With many ensembles and venues shuttered, many musicians face a seemingly uncertain season wondering when the next performance will take place or what future seasons and gigs will look like post-pandemic. In a year of lockdowns, social distancing, masked rehearsals, virtual performances and closed concert halls, it can be especially discouraging for some musicians, especially less seasoned students or beginners, to find motivation to practice and hone their craft in a time of relative performance “silence”…
Here are a few encouragements to consider as musicians in this season of “waiting” to play and perform out of isolation.
First: Stop and take a moment to PAUSE!
This may seem contradictory at the surface, but it is a powerful thing to pause making or listening to your own sound. Pause for moment, if for only a few minutes a day, to stop the hustle and bustle of life, searching for virtual gigs, or the scrambling in the stresses of life in and out of quarantine. Life certainly brings its host of problems and responsibilities, but we all need a reminder to take a breath and pause – even from playing your music (sacrilege!) – just for a minute! Listen around you. Take a step outside. If possible, go for a stroll, explore nature, take a short walk in the park. Instead of only hammering out notes on your instrument, take a moment to hear the “symphony of sound” around you! Nature, sound, life – everyone is surrounded by a unique palette of sound just waiting to be discovered. Try to simply rest and observe for a moment, not as the performer, but as the audience! Consider spending time in meditation or prayer.
We know that studies show the mental and physical health benefits of pausing, focused breathing and even meditation. Who can’t benefit from a bit of self-care and self-awareness? We may be artists of sound, but our palette is all around us! Consider that the great composers not only produce plentiful masterworks – they are often seasoned “students” of sound, listening and observing contemporaries and influences in the world around them before crafting their own unique masterpieces. Similarly, great musical performers are generally masters of musical expression and their style and artistry are often informed by their unique life experiences. Creating and performing music well only comes from understanding how to essentially communicate to others about self and the world through sound and expression – and this is nurtured by first pausing and listening! Try pausing for a moment – you may find a spark of inspiration in what you observe!
Second: Spice it up and EXPLORE something new in music!
After practicing the art of pausing and listening, remember to explore as you create music. Yes there is value and wisdom in focusing, meticulously practicing specific passages methodically and repeatedly until mastered before moving on, and the countless hours every musician knows is required to perform something masterfully. Pursuing excellence is noble and worthy, however, never at the expense of crushing passion! If you, a colleague or student find yourself “burning out” from endless and mindless repetition, it may be time to try something new to keep the spark of motivation burning. We are not automatons and music is not simply pure logic and repetition of sound. It is an art and expression of the soul!
Search and discover new music. With the host of audio streaming apps (Apple Music, Google Play, Spotify, YouTube Music, Amazon, etc.), there has never been an easier time in history to access to a seemingly infinite library of song to listen to hours on end! Are you used to only playing or singing in a certain genre or style? Challenge yourself to listen and/or play music “outside your box” and comfort zone! Many websites (Musescore, Noteflight, 8notes.com) all offer public domain pieces and arrangements to explore for all levels of musicians! Explore new musical periods, discover a new composer, unearth an “little” known living composer – opportunity and access have never been greater than now. The nature of music is that it changes and evolves. Every generation, period, and era introduces new sounds, styles, composers and new performers are constantly emerging. There is a joy in exploration! Are you willing to embrace change and discover something new in music?
Third: CREATE something new!
Though concert seasons may be postponed and large performance gatherings will take some time to resume post-pandemic, there is no better time to create something new than now. Have you ever composed a piece, authored new song lyrics, or arranged something old into something new? Not only is there joy in listening to new music, one of the highest forms of “owning your craft” in music is to create your own! Whether it be improvising a simple chord progression, mimicking a favorite tune while adding your own embellishing flares or singing a fully self-composed melody, the sky is the limit to what can be created by musicians of all levels and experiences!
Don’t let lack of experience or comparing yourself to a “professional” composer become a barrier that stops you from trying to create your own music for the first time. You don’t have to have a formal degree in music composition to create your own melody or musical expression today! Create music to express yourself and explore ways of making music your own. Trying your hand at composing your own music or improvising your own melody is 100% free! Some may naturally have the gift of melody, harmony or rhyme but for the rest of us, find a teacher or sign up for lessons! You don’t have to be the world’s greatest composer in order to create music that is your own – start today! There are schools and programs to train those wanting to dive deep into composition and there are lessons teachers willing to simply guide those interested in the “basics”, but there is no “prerequisite” to taking the first step in creating your own music. Try it – you might get hooked! It can be a messy process, and that’s ok! Experiment with your instrument today! Dive a little deeper with the many introductory resources online. No matter your depth or breadth of compositional study, don’t let anything prevent you from coming up with your own music. Create something new today!
Another side benefit: when musicians begin to create and express themselves through their own melodies and song, they often find a greater appreciation for the process, influence and mastery of other songwriters or great composers. By trying to create your own music, you may even gain a deeper understanding as to how and why some of your favorite songs were composed. Experience is a great teacher!
Musicians, fear not! We have one of the most valuable tools in the arsenal to combat discouragement and disillusionment in this world through a challenging season – music itself! It may seem obvious or even cliché, but music is truly a great equalizer, universal communicator and one of the most powerful direct expressions of the soul. With a “reset” in our mindset, now is one of the greatest opportunities we have had to hone our craft and deepen the roots of our musical pursuits as we eagerly await the return of regular live music performing. Challenge apathy. Spark motivation. Re-ignite your passion to play and make music. Remember to first pause and listen for a moment; explore new music whether it be listening or playing; and finally try your hand at creating and improvising something new in music. Musicians press on! Stay motivated by nurturing your joy for music in this season of waiting to return to the stage post-pandemic. A weary world eagerly awaits to experience the gift and joy music brings us all!