First published in CutCommon. With thanks to CutCommon and Dr Emma Sullivan
For most freelance musicians, there are few things more important than being busy. A full diary translates to peace of mind. There are few guarantees about work in the long term, so we seize every opportunity (often spreading ourselves a little thin in the process).
The Melbourne Chamber Orchestra, of which I have the privilege of being the principal double bass player, is an orchestra of freelance musicians. We love nothing more than coming together for rehearsals, concerts, tours, and education programs. And when we aren’t working together, our members are out in the wider music community teaching, playing chamber music, and working with other fantastic orchestras in Melbourne and beyond.
When the restrictions for large gatherings were introduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our busy lives changed in an instant.
For me personally, I was cancelled for four work engagements within 10 minutes of the initial announcement. And the cancellations kept coming.
Soon, we were facing the reality that our lives probably would not be busy for quite some time. And while there is nothing more important than the health and wellbeing of our society at large, it has still been a difficult adjustment to make.
But the best way to overcome adversity is to look for the new opportunities it presents – and that is what everyone at Melbourne Chamber Orchestra is trying to do. For me, it has been an opportunity to explore new technology options so I can continue teaching my wonderful double bass students remotely. I am so inspired by their dedication and passion for music during these challenging times.
I now have unlimited time to practice and learn new repertoire, to read, and to watch the full six episodes of Pride and Prejudice. (Normally, I only have time to skip to episode four where Darcy jumps in the lake.) I am even trying to improve my cooking skills – although an entire year in isolation may not be enough to cure that deficiency!
But I also took this time to catch up with some of my MCO colleagues to ask them how they have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and how they are planning to use their newly imposed downtime. From gardening and learning a language, to the obvious practice opportunity, they are all finding positive ways to embrace this time at home – and they might give you some inspiration to do the same!
At home with Natalia Harvey, violin
I am a full-time freelance performer, so the pandemic has affected my livelihood.
All my work for the foreseeable future is cancelled. I had also planned a trip overseas in March/April for professional development. This included lessons with pedagogues across Europe, and my participation in a solo masterclass course called the Prussia Cove International Musicians Seminar in the United Kingdom. Entry into this course was very competitive, so I worked hard for the audition, and was looking forward to being in such an intensive and challenging environment.
The pandemic doesn’t change my ultimate goals as a musician. Mostly, I will be taking this opportunity to work harder than ever and practise in preparation for my main goal, which is to study a Masters degree in Germany.
Musicians are used to spending long periods of time on their own and having to be self-driven and self-disciplined, so for many of us the imposed time at home won’t be too much of a gear change. In fact, now that I have so much time, there is no excuse not to work hard.
I am carefully planning smaller goals for myself, including producing solo recordings to put up on my website and social media, and having lessons with various teachers via Zoom. For me, it’s important to continue to put my playing under as much pressure and scrutiny as possible so that I keep aiming for the highest standard.
I will also be taking time to study scores, read, research, and learn as much as I can about the music I’m playing, and music in general.
These circumstances also reinforce the importance of versatility and adaptability as an artist in this day and age. Teaching is arguably the most important thing musicians do in their professional lives, and all musicians will teach at some stage. Teaching and performing have one important thing in common: to be good at them, you must be a master communicator. If I want to become a better performer, I must also become a teacher. Although I am an early career artist currently focusing my energy on my skills as a performer, I am also using this time to teach and to learn about teaching. I am looking to my former teachers and mentors for information, resources and inspiration. I remember their belief in me, their generosity and all the intangible and invaluable things they gave me too, so I aim to model my teaching on their example.
I have started to give remote video lessons online, mostly to older students who have been looking for ways to occupy their minds. Considering the situation of workers in other industries affected by this crisis such as hospitality, I feel lucky to have this alternative avenue of income available to me. It’s a mutually beneficial deal.
For my students, especially the older ones, it’s not only about learning a new skill; it’s also a way of socialising and connecting. For me, it’s not only a source of income, but I find that students give me inspiration — they are eager, excited, determined to overcome obstacles. Their child-like enthusiasm reminds me of the reasons I decided to become a musician in the first place.
Apart from music, I’m also finding time for things I enjoy. I love moving my body, staying fit and being outdoors, and during this period I’m staying with my family on the New South Wales south coast, so lots of running and ocean swims will be on the agenda, as much as is possible with government restrictions in mind. And if I can’t go outside, I also have indoor exercise plans!
I will try to maintain a good routine, eat well, and stay connected with friends and family. I’m into gardening, so I’m looking forward to watching my plants, herbs, and vegetables grow. I’d like to cook some new recipes (and do some baking… if I can get my hands on some flour!), read new things, play with the dog, and watch Netflix. I am also considering it a time to reflect, and to appreciate the fact that I have support around me.
I know I am fortunate to have the luxury of being able to take this time, and although there are financial and health anxieties, I am thankful for the lucky position I’m in, and I know I shouldn’t take it for granted.