Down the rabbit hole

I came across this today and thought it was a perfect illustration for many of us in the live music business.

It’s been really interesting, from a larger cultural perspective, to observe the role of music during our isolation; by all accounts, everyone is listening to much more of it. And when I say listening, it’s not just in the forms that we usually imagine – tracks, albums, videos, live on Instagram – but also in the arenas we don’t usually think about, like in film and series/shows on streaming platforms. Music is everywhere and more important than ever.

At the same time, a majority of performing artists have seen their work disappear. And, yes, Taylor Swift may afford to delay her tour by a year, but the countless smaller artists (which is the vast majority of the industry) who live off of live shows are devastated. Most “recording artists” of any level make a tiny percentage of their income off of recordings – it is live shows that pay the bills.

On the classical side, if you’re lucky enough to be employed by a larger full-time orchestra, you may still be receiving a portion of your salary, and that may include conductors who are music directors of those orchestras. But many have already been furloughed indefinitely. If you’re a freelance studio musician working in the movie/TV soundtrack business, or a soloist or chamber musician, or someone who works primarily as a guest conductor, there is no work, no safety net, no assurance of when employment might resume, and, because you are an independent contractor, no unemployment benefits.

And while as a conductor I fit this last category, I’m not writing about this because I need sympathy or support for myself. In all the practical ways, I’m doing what I can and what I need to do to keep myself afloat, both financially and psychologically. What I hope by writing this is that we can have a greater understanding of the immense comfort, stimulation and connection that art is providing in these tough times, and how paradoxically the artists themselves are in some of the most precarious situations.

The arts are important. Music is important. Both are crucial to our collective mental well-being right now. But what about those who are creating the music?

And then I saw this:

I too am generating content and working on projects for free, because that’s all I can do right now, and so are many of my colleagues. We’re trying to find alternative ways of engaging with our audiences, of coming up with new ways of encountering music. And the rest of the world seems to take it more or less for granted that we’ll keep finding ways to create, to keep them entertained and moved and comforted.

To all of my fellow musicians: as we continue to strive for creativity and content and connection, let’s remember that we’re trying to do so despite our own enormous challenges. So many of you have expressed to me your enormous frustrations with what seems to be expected of you right now. If you’re exhausted it’s ok. If you’re scared it’s ok. We’re all in the same boat, trying to keep ourselves together even as we turn our focus outward, to creating joy and connection in the world, because that’s what we do.

To all consumers of music: think of what the world would be without it. And please remember that those who are behind it – instrumentalists, singers, songwriters, composers, conductors, arrangers – are struggling.

What would your life look like without music?

My task today: ironically (or maybe not, and maybe it’s what got me on this topic tonight), I needed to finish some editing on a complicated virtual project that will be released in a few weeks, and to finish clearing rights for a educational video I’m creating. And yes I’m doing both for free (done!)

5 thoughts on “Down the rabbit hole

  1. Wayne Zelenak says:

    Sarah, One of my favorite composers is Alan Menken who has the ability to bring fantasy to film and to transform the mundane to a melody. To create a film score is a maelstrom of emotions organized and created to resonate with the audience by collaborating with the director, producer, screenwriter, and lyricist. It is that creative energy and innumerable hours of work in rehearsals that make the film a success.

    A friend named Caroline was trained on violin under Shinichi Suzuki, who was a profound Japanese musician, philosopher, and educator. He is quoted “If children hear fine music from the time of their birth and learn to play it, they develop sensitivity, discipline, and endurance and develop a beautiful heart.”

    The question remains, what would my life be without music. I think the answer resonates with all musicians, composers, and those with a passion for music; it would be meaningless and void of emotion and purpose.

    My heart aches for those in the music industry suffering in lockdown globally. Musicians throughout history have experienced hardships, health issues, recovered, and their music echos throughout time.


    1. chefdorch says:

      I completely agree with Suzuki and wish that music is a part of everyone’s education. As we all know, unfortunately, the arts are the first thing that get cut out of curriculums, and arts organizations often try to pick up the slack…


  2. Mark Peterson says:

    One of the biggest regrets that I have is that I decided that playing with my friends was more important then the piano lessons I quite when I was at level 3 of the Thompson series. Sitting at a piano and playing music just never really was something that I was into. Now, many years later, I regret that because I love music and love to watch Sarah on YouTube. I am though going to restart and will have to go back to the beginning and re-learn what I have forgotten. Air drums, and air guitar in the shower just does not cut it. Besides, I may slip and fall. Thank you Sarah for your inspiration, talent and love of music. In these times, it is so comforting.


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