Suddenly, when I am supposed to write about something a little bit less practical, writing feels difficult. How am I feeling about the current situation? Do I even know?
So let's start with the practical stuff. I am now two weeks in to the distance teaching situation, and some habits have started to form. I rarely sleep well after an evening at work, and wake up early the next morning with my head full of thoughts, self-evaluation and all kinds of emotions of how I and we did. Even though I've also been positively excited about this new challenge and grateful for the purpose I've found in helping people out, it is a lot to take on. It is very easy to feel inadequate in the process.
My singers have been wonderfully appreciative of what we've come up with in the current situation, but they too feel tired, many of them quite exhausted. When the occasional cancellation messages start rolling in hours before a rehearsal is about to start, or when people turn up late, missing out on the introduction I have planned, it is easy to feel discouraged. I try to, best as I can, meet all of this with kindness, and remind myself that in these times, it is certainly not about me or about the group. These are exceptionally difficult times, where everyone have a lot on their plate, and we need to support each and every one in our groups in getting through that.
More than ever, my work as a conductor/teacher/singer has become about health and well-being. Of course it's about music too, but the therapeutic and communicative aspects of it are now clearer than ever. We meet to connect, to nourish ourselves, to get our minds off stuff, to do something for the pure pleasure it gives us, and to find an outlet to feelings that we might otherwise not be able to utter.
So what have we actually done with the singers? At the beginning of each session, I try to encourage building a connection, whether it is chatting a moment with the solo student about how they're feeling, or making a little ice-breaker in a bigger group, having the singers pass along a greeting from one to the next. With the warm-ups I've found myself very much inspired by something my colleague Hanna Lammi said, so I've directed the students to consciously look away from the screen, and have a moment for themselves, their bodies and their voices. When we're depending on the screens as our means of communication, I think that is a welcomed change of focus. With some of my groups, we've still very much worked on our voices and continued with our repertoire, in the hope of being able to bring our now cancelled concerts about when the situation is over. With others, we've explored other forms of connecting; analysing video recordings of our performances, brainstorming ideas for new repertoire and writing entirely new music. With a smaller ensemble, we tried recording the parts of a chorus and having me combining them, which worked out surprisingly well, and was clearly very very popular. (I predict that my audio editing skills will improve exponentially during the upcoming weeks.) With my singing students, our work continues pretty much as before. Through this all, I am immensely grateful to be able to continue working in a way that feels meaningful to me. I believe it is a big part of what keeps me feeling sane in these weird, weird times. For next weeks blog posts, I am thinking of a post dedicated to different warmups and icebreakers online, and another one about creating and holding a master class for an entirely new group. Do let me know if there are certain topics and/or questions you'd like me to write about. And above all, stay safe.