It’s been quite a crazy year. Covid-19 has taken so much from us: precious human lives, job security, normal routine, the luxury of grocery shopping without worrying that everyone around you could be contagious, seeing family without the fear of getting each other sick, the list goes on.
Artists have been touched deeply by the changes Covid has thrust upon us, and
it is incredibly easy to get frustrated or be disheartened or to simply give up.
I regularly find myself in a vicious cycle of negative questions these days:
How am I supposed to get any practice in while my husband is simultaneously trying to work from home?
What is the point of practicing in the first place, when there seems to be nothing to practice for?
What good is music when people are dying?
Why did I choose a career that can’t do any immediate good in these times?
At the same time, I miss it so much. I miss losing myself in the music, collaborating with others, performing live for people and feeling their energy in the room. Music wasn’t meant for this world of isolation in which we currently find ourselves.
I have to keep telling myself that if we don’t find a silver lining in all of this, if we don’t make this time worth something, then we have lost. In the words of Charles Darwin, “It is not the strongest of species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” No matter how frustrated I can feel on any given day, I know that in the end, we won’t lose. We will adapt, because the arts are so adaptable; it’s part of what defines us.
We are skilled at adapting how we interpret music based on who we are collaborating with. We adapt the motivations of our characters to suit the director’s vision or staging. We are always listening for and adapting to intonation and vowel matching and the constantly shifting nature of music. We know that there are no cookie-cutter answers in music. We prepare the best we can with the knowledge we have, and we leave ourselves open to possibility, open to adapt.
When thinking along those lines, every obstacle Covid has thrown at me can look like an opportunity to adapt, if I choose to see it in that light.
I can find a way to make my practice schedule accommodate my husband’s work meetings. It may mean practicing at 9 am, but I can adapt.
My home studio may be small, but if I practice with musician’s earplugs, I can sing how I need to without damaging my hearing or losing nuance (I highly recommend everybody examine their hearing protection practices, by the way).
I can video record myself more, prepare for the inevitability of performing for a camera. All of my contracts were cancelled for the foreseeable future, but I can use that as an opportunity to work on other roles I haven’t yet had the opportunity to learn. Small adaptations can make for some big, positive changes in the future.
On a larger scale, opera companies are adapting to keep the art moving forward. There are so many new, creative ways to experience opera now than there were before: opera scavenger hunts, Opera in the Outfield, drive-in opera, seralized video installments of larger works, and so on. Necessity is the mother of invention, they say, and I’d venture a guess that a lot of these new forms of sharing opera wouldn’t have materialized without the necessity to adapt. I hope this kind of creativity reaches beyond Covid and into the future. The possibilities are exciting.
Am I always successful at recognizing opportunities to adapt? Absolutely not. I can so easily get frustrated, and I have been known to find excuses to put off practicing for weeks, or to be generally apathetic when it comes to my own progress (extrinsic motivation is another blog post entirely). The mindset to adapt is not a switch to flip; it’s something to work on daily and get better at with practice. I have to choose to adapt to this brave new world every day and choose to see obstacles as opportunities.
I would love to hear what others have done to adapt in the days of Covid. How have you learned to make art and progress? Who knows, maybe your answer will inspire someone else to do the same.