By Diana Ladio | From the September-October 2020 issue of Strings magazine
Performing musicians across the globe are suffering greatly amid the COVID-19 pandemic—live shows may not look the same for a very long time. While the rest of the world begins to slowly re-open, musicians’ art forms and professions are in question with no certainty in sight. Show cancellations began as a worry all those months ago, but it has become a deep and punishing sadness. Performing is a piece of our identity, a way of life. Its absence is difficult to fathom, much less know how to handle. But it’s important to name the feelings we’re experiencing, offer each other comfort, and allow our fans and support systems to better understand the depth of our current experience.
Because performing isn’t just our job. It’s our oxygen. Our lifeblood. We didn’t choose it in the way most people choose careers. At some point in our lives, music rose up inside of us and beautifully—but fiercely—demanded it be our service to the world. And so we became its servants, spending our days embodying our hearts’ call to give through our art.
Most of us have taken risks and sacrificed huge pieces of our lives to do what we know we’ve been called to do: to create and feel that otherworldly cycle of energy that can only be shared by performers and their audiences. This level of connection is an irreplaceable experience, and one we never thought we’d live without. That which feeds us is absent, and we’re left with an insatiable hunger that no livestream will ever satisfy.
Many of us didn’t realize just how much we were fed by our audiences until we were without them. Without the validation and encouragement that comes from a crowd that’s cheering, dancing, smiling, and singing, it’s hard not to question our identity. Without performing, what is there? The loss and confusion become grief.
There’s no light at the end of the tunnel yet. A lot of us are looking ahead at eight to nine months of empty space. Some are using this time to be creative and productive and tackle long-awaited projects. But there are times that a cycle of sadness, sleeplessness, exhaustion, apathy, withdrawal, denial, anger, helplessness, and hopelessness kill a player’s creative motivations. Then cue the self-shame for not producing. Can you hear that little voice warning that if you’re not hustling right now, music will trickle out of your life, taking your career and identity with it? I can.
As musicians, we are all sharing this experience, and our relationships with each other are more vital than ever. We must lean on each other. Reach out, connect, and commiserate. Share your feelings publicly and let your fans rise up to support you. They want to connect. They want to help.
Recognize all the signs of support, even if they’re not quite as satisfying as an audience on its feet applauding. Allow yourself to feel the love from fans and venue owners every time they make an effort to stay connected, like or comment on a post, watch your streaming performances, forward newsletters, post pictures, send an email, and give when they can. They’re signaling that you’re still a part of their lives, and that they’ll be there when you can return to the stage.
Communicate openly with your family and friends, or they won’t be able to understand your situation and help you cope with it. Even if you are working hard to handle this barrage of emotions with self-compassion and grace, things can still spiral quickly and deeply affect those around you. Let them know that there is a life-changing grief cycle happening within you that may make you more irritable, quicker to react, lethargic, pessimistic, confused, or any number of other uncharacteristic symptoms. Tell them they’re free to lovingly acknowledge the change and that you rely on them for support.
This will be an unbelievable chapter to look back on, and we will be forever changed by it. Our lives and art will shift in directions we never could have imagined, and so we must ride the wave, be kind to ourselves, and trust that even though it may look different, this particular beauty in our lives will return. We’ll figure this out. And we’ll do it together.