Coping Through Crisis

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Alison Reese is editor of Harp Column. She is a freelance performer and teacher in West Michigan. Email her at areese@harpcolumn.com.

Hope for the creative class in the midst of a global pandemic

A lot has happened since the last issue of Harp Column came out the first week of March. A lot also hasn’t happened in the last two months.

Concerts have been cut.
School years have ended early.
Lessons have been moved online.
Tours have been called off.
Festivals have been postponed.
Summer camps have been canceled.
Spring recitals are on hold.

No one knows when normalcy will return. No one knows when we will get back to the stage or the lesson studio or the hospice room or the restaurant or the wedding venue where we spent so much of our time making music for others.

To be honest, with so many people hurting and so much uncertainty, it’s difficult to be optimistic. I’m generally a “glass-half-full” kind of person, and my first instinct is always to look on the sunny side of things. I want to be optimistic about our future. I want to believe that we’ll be playing to packed concert halls and full restaurants again before we know it. I want to believe that I’ll be reunited with my students face-to-face before they lose interest in our online lessons and drift away from the harp. I want to believe that musicians’ way of life in the U.S. and around the world won’t be completely upended by the global coronavirus pandemic.

But in addition to being an optimist, I’m also a realist, probably due in part to graduating from college straight into an abysmal post-9/11 economy. It’s not enough to hope for the best. We also have to plan for the worst. Job security has never been a perk that most harpists enjoy. Music budgets tend to be considered discretionary spending by most, making our services the first to be cut when the economic belt is tightened. Even tenured orchestral harpists have to learn to live with the always looming possibility of a labor dispute or strike.

Perhaps this cloud of financial uncertainty that most musicians are used to living under, even during the best of times, will end up being our saving grace during this pandemic. Not knowing for sure what next month’s income will look like is a reality most musicians deal with all the time. Weathering downturns in the local, regional, and national economies is something most musicians have been through. Finding creative ways to not just survive, but thrive when the going gets tough is what we do.

But we’ve never seen anything as tough as the current coronavirus crisis. The Great Recession, 9/11, Black Monday—you could go back through every economic disaster of the last century, and still nothing really compares to what we are facing today. But what if we widen our lens a little bit? Through centuries of wars, natural disasters, social upheavals, and economic crashes, music has endured. It has survived because of the artists who continued to breathe life into it, reinvent it, and make it relevant. That is our job as musicians in this global crisis—to carry on, to adapt, to continue to make our art meaningful in society. When the immediate health crisis finally subsides, people will want to gather again—to grieve what we’ve lost, to celebrate what we’ve accomplished, and to find real connections once again. This is where musicians and artists will be ready and waiting—to give expression and meaning to the human experience.

So keep on creating. Keep on practicing. Keep on innovating. When the world needs us, we’ll be ready.

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About Author

Editor of Harp Column, freelance harpist, private teacher, hot yoga lover, and grammar geek.

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