A little while ago I wrote about stopping performing for a while to reset. Lots has happened since then.

I’ve sat in the studio with a dear friend (and instruments, of course, we weren’t just sitting there) – tracks are being edited – stay tuned. I know. It’s a long process….

I’ve been sick a bit. Actually, I’ve been pretty sick. First with the ‘flu. Then COVID.

I’ve done a lot of gardening.

And I have been practising. Learning things I’ve not played before. And I’ve started to smile again when I’ve been practising. I’ve been experimenting a fair bit – does this sonata sound better when I play it with my baroque bow, or my modern bow? How does this ornament sound? Is it silly? Is it silly enough? Is it too silly? I’ve been taking the time to learn things, to really wonder about phrases, or chunks of music. It’s been wonderful. To remember why I play the cello. This constant exploration of music that has been written that I am playing – some pieces many, many years ago, others just the other day.

I remarked to a friend not so long ago that I seem to have lost my joyfulness. It got buried under stuff. And little by little, the stuff is falling away. And it’s appearing again. It’s an excellent feeling, you know.

So I’m guessing that you can already deduce that I’m not a big supporter of NAPLAN. In fact, I think it’s a total waste of time. Teachers do teach to these tests. Children (I can only speak for primary-aged kids, since that’s where I work) do worry about them and get stressed by them. Children in regional and remote schools are disadvantaged by them. The tests disrupt the entire school community – lots of other lessons have to change around in the weekly timetable, there needs to be silence in the school, and it’s tiring for everyone. The list goes on….

So I’ve been wondering today, and thinking about what I think children should be tested on. Actually, it was quite fun. (Maybe you’d like to add to the list…) Here’s the start of my list – in no particular order:

  • How many songs can a child sing, and can they adjust the words to at least one of them to make someone laugh?
  • How many pieces of art can they create in a day?
  • How can they be kind to someone who looks like they are having a hard time? How many ways can they come up with to make that person feel better?
  • Can they create a garden, and care for it?
  • Can they devise a game outside, and get someone to play the game with them that isn’t in their friendship group?
  • Can they cook a meal using fresh ingredients?
  • Can they negotiate a situation that is going a way that they don’t like without using names, or force?
  • Can they control their emotions when they lose in a game?

Wouldn’t these skills be better than what are tested at the moment? Maybe?

 

It’s the start of a new time for me, I think. The last two years have been a challenge, in so many ways. Like for so many of us – I know I’m not alone in that regard.

Actually, the last three months have been possibly mentally the hardest. I am tired. Bone tired. Teaching is hard at the moment – ask any teacher, and they’ll agree. Kids are challenging – many young ones have lost their social skills. Sharing is hard for them. Tantrums are numerous. Tears are frequent. Older ones have missed out on certain learning things. Teachers are getting sick, and relief teachers are hard to source, so there’s often a lot of weird behaviours in classes I see as kids try and rule the roost for a day with a relief teacher that doesn’t really know them. Teachers are tired. And often wary as they do their job – is this child a close contact of someone with COVID? Am I going to get sick from them? In one school I’m in, the school community is dealing with grief – a member of the school family died suddenly. It’s shocking, and tragic, and it’s left us all feeling very raw. And through all this, I have taught. I have watched the power of music make children smile, and laugh, and forget a bit of what’s going on. It’s made me more sure of what I do, but also drained me.

And I’ve kept playing the cello – but concert management at the moment is also draining me. There’s a huge amount of work that goes into not just working out a program, and practising for a concert -but the huge amount of admin that needs to happen. Setting up ticketing links. Publicity. Dealing with emails. Taking a deep breath before you reply to an email that isn’t particularly kind (do people wonder about the tone of what they write, I wonder?). I don’t want this to take over the feeling I have when I play. I still want to love playing, and love creating – so it’s time to step back for a bit, I think.

BUT I am interested in recording some things. Pieces I’ve played that have been written for me. Pieces that audiences have really loved. Pieces that I’ve loved. My playing is in really great shape, so it seems like the thing to do at this point. There’s new repertoire I’d like to learn. And hard repertoire – things that take time. And I can’t do that when I’m gearing up for performing. I need to get excited by pieces again. Get excited by unpeeling music I’ve not yet met.

And I need some time to cook up some new projects. Some head space to think. To wonder about things. To explore new ideas, and new musical friendships.

I also need some time to get back to the yoga studio more often. To swim. To sit and share meals with friends. I’m hugely grateful to be able to have kept performing – massively grateful. But now, instead of being a cellist and a teacher, I need to get back to being Rachel. Rachel the person, who also happens to be a musician.

You know that thinking problem about the tree falling in the forest? If no-one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound?

Well, here’s something I’ve been wondering over the last few days…. If a performer doesn’t play to anyone, are they still a performer? It’s something that many performers of all sorts of disciplines are thinking at the moment – and have been over the last two years. I guess I’ve been too busy to actually sit and wonder about it. But now, at the end of the summer break with no days taken up teaching in schools – so I have a bit of time and head-space, I find myself thinking the same question.

I know that I have been lucky having the opportunity to keep playing – hugely lucky. But live-streaming isn’t the same as playing live. And I had really hoped to be back playing live. Yet it seems that Sydneysiders aren’t ready to come and watch a Bach in the Dark concert live, because tickets aren’t selling. It’s making me a bit glum.

Is it too soon to stage a live concert, even with distancing? Or is it time to stop Bach in the Dark concerts for a while? I don’t want to just live-stream things for much longer – it’s not the same, and I am longing to play to a real-live audience again. Perhaps it’s time for me to stop and step back from all this performing for a while. Am I ready to do that?

It’s something to think about, I think. Something to talk to a few trusted friends about. Because if I stop playing, the sun will still rise. Life will keep going on. The trees will keep falling in the forest, even if no-one is there to hear them…..

In my Macquarie Dictionary under ‘optimism’ it says….

  1. disposition to hope for the best; tendency to look on the bright side of things

I’d like to give this a January-2022-updated definition for NSW residents – “Someone who books tickets to a live event”.

It’s a funny time, isn’t it? I’m told by our State leaders that all will be fine. Go ahead. Do my job. Out on a concert. I’ve tried to think how I would feel comfortable if I went to a live event, and what I can do as an organiser to make people feel relaxed and safe. But I still worry that I won’t sell enough tickets to pay all my costs, or that everyone will feel incredibly nervous, or that it won’t happen at all (and the amount of back-end admin that goes into cancelling a concert is DULL. And hugely depressing.).

And yet, still I do it. I hope for a live concert. Because, as a performer, that’s what we want. We want people to respond in real time. We want to hear the sighs and that wonderful moment after a piece when the last notes hang in the air, and everyone is suspended in the magic of what has just happened.

I worry, and fight off waves of panic. I practise. Because I am a lucky performer. If my live concert is cancelled, I have a plan B. I will be able to play, whatever happens. But it doesn’t feel so great at the moment.