singing in a pandemic?
You know, for the entirety of this global crisis I could not even bring myself to say “Covid-19.” It felt like saying “Voldemort.”
Well, obviously one can only avoid this for so long. The same goes for many realities that we have encountered, and are likely to encounter, for some time. The unreality of this pandemic is now our New Reality.
Once we move beyond the basic functions of feeding ourselves and staying safe and caring for our loved ones and sustaining an income, we encounter the second tier of concerns:
How am I supposed to be now? What am I supposed to do?
To the point for anyone reading this: how do I make music? By myself?
We are all wondering about our musical lives. Have you found your way through it all, yet? I am working on it.
There is the situation on the ground: family juggling, not enough work time, don’t know what to sing, no reason to bother, don’t have the energy, don’t have any damn privacy.
I think we need to accept the fact that choral singing and public performance will just be what it is (not what you or I want), and we are relegated to a virtual reality for a stretch. You know what this means? That at some point, we have to shift from Observer of virtual musical things to Participant in virtual musical things. Yikes!
And I wonder about our impulse to make music: I believe it is still as strong as ever, but my rational mind is overwhelmed with the question of How do I do that? There are too many unanswered questions, too much problem-solving, and perhaps still too much grief.
But this overwhelm leads to a state of inertia.
So what’s the hold up? What’s really going on?
Where do we start to shift the tide of our creative lives?
I see these questions bubble up for my students and amongst my peers. We are all figuring it out as we go, for this new Reality is seasoned with trial and error, successes and blips, and a sh*t-ton of learning.
My solution: craft a clear way forward when nothing seems clear at all. It is going to be bumpy. (Listen, it already has!) But in order to create some movement towards what you desire, you need to ignite your vision and then create structure around your goal.
Here is the basic format of how to move out of that stay-at-home singing inertia and bring back your creative flow.
Breaking Down the Process
1) Clarify your goal (Creative, Musical, Technical)
Unless you have some upcoming recording deadline, I recommend you identify something that is fun. You just need to get your juices flowing, not get prepped for a big performance. What is one, small thing that would be interesting and inspiring to play with right now? Grab your journal and write this down. Put in on a sticky note by your desk or in your studio. You just need one thing.
2) Allot time to meet your goal
Let’s shake hands with time. Pandemic time has different meaning for everyone. For some it seems eternal, for others it seems scarce. It doesn’t matter. Find the time, whether that is five minutes on a Tuesday when you are not taking care of someone else, or during your lunch in between Zoom calls. How much practice time will it take to meet your goal? This may not be so cut and dry, depending on the intention you may have, but grant yourself the time. Now write it down in your planner. Set a date with yourself, and keep it.
3) Claim space to work
This one might be tricky, I know. (I actually think it is the one thing that is holding most of us back!) But you need a safe space to make noise. I do not have a space in which I can close a door and not have my entire household hear me practice or be affected by what I am doing. And I still feel awkward sometimes, hearing my voice out in the world, no matter how long I’ve sung professionally. I know you may have family members, housemates, even neighbors who are around and busy and Zooming and whatnot. Dear One: they can handle your singing for X minutes on X day. Have a conversation with them. You need to do it. It is for your sanity and well-being. They will understand. Please do this for yourself.
4) Set up accountability
Remember that weekly choir rehearsal? Or band practice? Or church service? Your external obligations used to build this piece in for you. You may need to be accountable to yourself for a while, until these external factors are moved back into place. Believe me, I like a good, looming deadline to get myself motivated to learn something and to keep me active. If you are not someone who is easily internally motivated, I recommend an accountability partner or group, or create your own deadline! Organize a virtual recital, make a YouTube channel, ask your choir director if you can gather others together to learn some new music. I think we all know there are others just like you that are longing to do the very same thing: to sing.
5) Take action!
So you’ve gotten clear about your goal, you’ve set up some structure around how to achieve your goal, now you have to do the thing you have committed to doing. Why? Because you are committing to yourself. It is always that first move that is the most difficult. (I have spent years waiting to make my first move.) I also know that when I take action, I feel more alive and capable and proud of myself than in any other scenario in life. So go and do the thing that you want to do. Meet your appointment time with your voice. Go do it!
6) Assess your results
You showed up. Yay!! Is there nothing more satisfying than taking leadership in your own creativity? For your voice? Now step back and evaluate. Take it one week at a time: how did it go? Did you meet your goal? What kind of time did you need? Was that realistic? Was it awful singing at home, or was it just fine? Did you dawdle? Did you have fun? Did you procrastinate? Did you get creative? What could have made this easier? Did you think of a million other things to explore? What would be more fun? Do you think that accountability idea might be useful? Who could you do this with? Write it down and congratulate yourself: you did the thing!
7) Start again with a new goal
So now clarify your next intention and set that goal. Write it down. Allot the time. Claim your space. Be accountable. Do the thing! Assess your results.
Simple, but not easy
I know that this might seem like a lot. In some ways it follows that old paradigm that it is “simple” but not “easy.” I am not ignorant of the fact that there are a zillion obstacles in our lives, manifesting in complexity and strangeness and tumult and confusion. Does it not follow then, that by creating a clear, structured path forward will help to ease these burdens?
These suggestions come from a place of love and of nuanced understanding of our experience as singers. (Believe me, I get singers.) It’s hard.
But I believe that if we continue to divorce ourselves from our creativity and self-expression, we will continue to contract ourselves. I am not a fan of contraction. I seek expansion.
And I believe that it is through creating these simple, finite structures we can actually move forward in meeting our personal goals. We can move the subtle forces around us in favor of our well-being rather than stuck in that freaking, pandemic-y rut. Finding your voice again will be such a healing balm, and your Self will expand infinitely.
Dear Allison this is brilliant! How did you know exactly how I’m feeling and what I’m thinking? Walter and I are on vacation in the Shenandoah Valley and that word “vacation” doesn’t seem to have any meaning! What’s the difference?? Anyway reading your blog made me realize that my first goal is going to be singing along with Walter playing the guitar. He is a wonderful guitar player and I am a wonderful singer but neither one of us is doing anything! This “vacation” is a perfect time to start. Thank you so much for your beautiful words and your beautiful person! Love you lots!!
Cherie: I completely understand!! I too have a musician in the house but we have not made the space to work together. I love this first goal you have: go for it! Choose a song that will inspire you, that you can’t wait to sing! Let me know how it goes! Hugs, Allison