It’s a strange, strange time at the moment. We’re all in this together so I know you know what I’m saying. Some really awful things have happened to me lately – as I’m sure that they have to you as well. People who I thought would behave better haven’t. They’ve spoken (or written) without thinking of the consequences their words or actions would have. They’ve bullied. They’ve acted totally and utterly selfishly.
I’ve had conversations with people who are teachers – and they’ve been totally overwhelmed with things. They’ve been pulled in a thousand directions, and yet they are trying desperately to do the right thing for the children they see.
I’ve had conversations with artists who are sinking low into dark places. They are worried, and creatively silent. They are watching their livelihoods slip through their fingers – like they are trying to hold milk in their open hands. And it’s all very well to say ‘This won’t be forever’, but it’s hard to see the end of the tunnel.
And then I’ve been truly humbled by other things. People who have been so incredibly selfless. Who have put others first. Who have righted injustices that they’ve seen.
I am putting on a concert at the end of this week. I’m live-streaming a program that got cancelled in mid-March, which seems like a lifetime ago now. I deliberately chose a low price so that everyone could have access to it. And then put in a button for donations. I have been overwhelmed by the generosity of people who have booked tickets. At first I watched donations come in wide-eyed. Then I cried. Then I smiled. Then I told my fellow artist what was happening, and sensed the same reaction going on. And it has been actually life-changing. It has reminded me of the good in people. Of the love for arts, and artists. Of the need for music.
So if you are one of these people who have changed my life, thank you. I truly thank you. From the bottom of my heart. You have all inspired me to play. And to be kind to others. Because this all comes around, doesn’t it.
I love my various jobs.
I love performing – but that has been put on hold. It was a really hard day when concerts started to get cancelled. I was anxious, very low – and at one point physically sick. But it was the right thing to do in these times, and I understand that. We move on.
I also love music teaching. I love going into schools and seeing children discover the magic of music. It happens every day I teach, and I relish it. But today I don’t want to go to school. I am worried. If the Government, in all its wisdom, is closing cafes and bars and restaurants (don’t talk to me about the cruise ships…), why isn’t it closing schools?
I have heard all the arguments. The children of health-care workers. Yes, I’ve read that, or heard it. Endlessly. But at no point have I heard a teacher being interviewed about what they think. You know those people? The ones in the classrooms? The ones in a small room with 30 children? The ones dealing with the anxiety, the worry of the kids they see. The ones still trying to teach. I’ve not heard them speaking in the media.
The ones that I see are still trying to do their job. Amazingly so. They are cheerful, and trying to teach. They are encouraging hand-washing, and trying to get children to read by keeping away from them. They are not being paid any more than usual. They are not being helped in their shopping hours to try and get the things that are running out by the time they get to the shops.
But they aren’t having a good time. For this music teacher, I’m feeling it too. I see whole schools of children. SO many little people. And no, I can’t social distance. I can’t wipe down every instrument played after every music lesson. There isn’t time. I’m nervous.
Why is it that everything else can close, but not schools? And why is it, in all these discussions about school closures, EDUCATION HAS NOT BEEN TALKED ABOUT? ‘We don’t want to close schools because children need to learn?’ Rather than ‘We don’t want to close schools because of the parents that can’t look after children?’
I don’t have the answer. I’m glad I don’t have to make the decision. I’ve heard a few good suggestions from teachers. But I don’t want to go to school today – and that feeling is rare. Very rare.
Yesterday I had to let everyone who was coming to the next set of concerts that they wouldn’t happen. It filled me with great sadness. I know it’s the right thing to do, and anyway, the decision was made for me. St James decided that the concerts wouldn’t go ahead.
In all my years of playing, this has never happened. I’ve never been due to perform and then not. It’s a strange feeling. Ben Ward, my associate artist, has been nothing short of fabulous. Totally understanding. The people who I’ve spoken to at St James have also been very helpful. But still I feel terribly sad.
I listened with horror to a radio program yesterday about all the performances, shows, gigs and festivals that are stopping. Opera Australia may have to sell off assets. Will the already battered and fragile arts community in this country survive this crisis, I wonder?
It’s a sad time to be an artist. I feel strangely muted. Anxious and unable to speak through my cello. I know that this will pass – both the feeling and the crisis. I know that come the spring time, things will be different. This is not the end-of-days, and a friend reminded just at the time I needed to hear it.
But it’s hard. Standing apart from people is difficult. Not hugging people I see if difficult. And not performing what I had practised and rehearsed and got really excited about is also difficult for me.
I know that in a few days I’ll feel better. And I know what I will do. Because I know how it will make me feel. I will sit down at my dear, dear cello, and I will play Bach. And it will soothe and calm.
Thank you, J.S.B.
I write this surrounded by packing boxes. Most of them are full. And in between packing boxes, life goes on. Children are taught in the schools I’m in. Rehearsals are happening for the next concert. Yoga is practised (although I have to admit, I’m tired) and taught. And in between I’m packing up my life.
Long-suffering-husband and I have lived in the same house for 8 years, and for the most part, we’ve loved it. It’s a beautiful house, made of sandstone. I have a beautiful room in which to practise, and a great veggie patch out the back. It’s in a great location. We have fabulous landlords that leave us alone. So why are we moving?
It’s funny that two musicians living in a house are not the noisy people, isn’t it? It’s the noise from our neighbours. Shouting. Constant shouting. Adult to adult. Child to child. Adult to child. Child to child-across-the-street. There’s tantrums that would win at least a Logie, if not an Oscar. Sometimes I think that something genuinely has happened to one of the kids, like a limb has been amputated. But no.
There’s also industrial noise. Grinding of motorbikes that are being restored. And spraying of something that smells so awful I get headaches. Paint? Glue? Varnish? Who knows.
As someone I spoke to said ‘It’s human-ing at it’s worst.’ Yep. It’s hard not to want to totally remove yourself from society. Is everyone that thoughtless? It’s been hugely upsetting. It’s been hard to practise. It’s made me feel anxious and incredibly angry.
The good news? We have a beautiful house to go to. It’s quiet. We even know the neighbours. It has a dishwasher (our house, not the neighbours. Actually, they have one too…). We’re moving soon. But right now, surrounded by boxes and dealing with noise and paint smells, things aren’t all beer and skittles.
But it’ll be over soon.
This week I started a new music program. New school. New teachers. New kids. New hall.
It’s a school in western Sydney, and there’s funding to run a music program out there for three years. I’m hugely excited about it, and very hopeful.
I walked in to teach this week in a hall with no air-conditioning. So it’s going to be steamy for a while. And freezing for some of the year too. But that, I think, will be the hardest part. Don’t get me wrong, I have some tricky characters there. Refugees. Kids doing it seriously tough. But there seems to be a really supportive staff, and a hugely supportive principal and assistant principal.
After all these years of teaching the types of kids I do, it’s now easy for me to clock the trickier ones. And I’ve chosen to be pretty hands-on this term, getting the kids to engage. So lots of playing. Lots of noise-making. And today I watched some serious grinning happening.
You know when you see a kid smile with their whole body? Not just their face, but their whole body changes? I got that. A number of times. I saw shy little people look at me sideways and smile. I watched some ‘busy’ boys calm down drumming. And this is week one.
It’s so important, you know. This music thing. Especially for kids doing it tough. It truly does change them.