The COVID lockdown of 2020–2022 affected composers and performers in many different ways. Some reported that, at least for the first few months, all of their activity stopped while the world reassessed itself.
Many people found that their future lives would have to be different than they imagined because what they had looked forward to in retirement (and which technically they were doing during lockdown) wasn’t satisfactory. Performers developed ways of using the available technologies, from Zoom to WeTransfer, to work together, to work in sequence, to film themselves performing as soloists, and to keep up their creative and performing spirit.
Composers, on the other hand, require performers. In some cases, composers finally had the time to work out that hard piece, or to take up something they’d set aside, or to simply take a break from the world.
Many of the responses to COVID by composers were about keeping up one’s spirit or being optimistic, but other composers took a different view. American composer Margaret Brouwer (b. 1940) wrote I Cry—Summer 2020, a work for violin and piano that looked at the varying personal costs of the pandemic lockdown: ‘…the gnawing burden of isolation, self-imposed loss of mobility, and a restricted way of life that showed no signs of abating’. This was personal. She also brought into her work the larger concept of the country and its troubles, writing ‘I cried for the people who were hurting, who were dead, who were killed for no reason, who were diminished because they were different in some way, and for those who were narrow and afraid to broaden their vision of life’. This is more than just isolation, this is frustration at the new extremes of American society, both for the victims and their misguided tormentors.
Margaret Brouwer: I Cry – Summer 2020 (Mari Sato, violin; Shuai Wang, piano)
When we emerged from lockdown, we had hoped the world would be changed for the better. The battle for improved conditions of the ‘new normal’, such as the fight against the daily commute, is countered by those who want to go back to the old normal. We were made aware of our mortality and also made aware that parts of the old normal never really worked. The concept of avoiding 2 years of the cold and flu season by reason of mask-wearing and hand-washing was made real!
So, let’s not be brave, let’s not return to the old, and let’s learn from the new normal to make the new world that works for us.
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