The realities of our new “normal” are becoming more apparent each day as we end one semester and plan for the way things might look in the fall. Many things have changed and, as the “visionary adapters” that we are, we have taken things in stride and made necessary changes to our teaching, our communication, and our music-making. Those changes have pushed many of us far outside our comfort zones into places that we never thought about or ever wanted to be.
Ideas for teaching online swirl over social media. Virtual choirs continue to demonstrate the ability to sing “together” and somehow fill the need that people have to create music together. Zoom and other communication platforms have shown that instruction can continue. The technology that allows for all of this, though imperfect, is a wonderful gift available even to those of us who are not as technologically savvy as others.
People are also sharing information in new ways. Teachers are helping teachers, and music businesses have come to the aid of programs across the country. In the spirit of achieving a common goal, resources and ideas are being made available to help us continue. All of these adaptations speak to the spirit within our membership’s heart to share, to give, and to reach out through the choral art.
At the same time, these adaptations can never completely fulfill the artistic and educational objectives of the “in person” choral experience for singer, conductor/teacher, and audience. In fact, many might view these current adaptations as limitations.
There is no denying that we have been limited – quarantine has a way of doing that! This invisible foe we face has forced us into the corner for a moment because limiting our “presence” is the best tool we have right now to fight this deadly menace.
However, that will change. A vaccine will be found, and life and human interaction will occur again. I also have no doubt that we will adapt and become safer, more intentional, and more thoughtful in our approach to our work and to each other in the future. In the meantime, we have a choice about how we view these limitations.
In his book Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art, Stephen Nachmanovitch penned a chapter entitled “The Power of Limits” in which he discusses “form” as a type of limitation. “If form is mechanically applied, it may indeed result in work that is conventional, if not pedantic or stupid. But form used well can become the very vehicle of freedom, of discovering the creative surprises that liberate mind-at-play.”
Similarly, poet Wendell Berry writes: “There are, it seems, two Muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate vision and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say, “It is yet more difficult than you thought.” This is the Muse of form. . . . It may be that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work and that when we no longer know which way to go we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”
We all want to sing again – together! And we will! Music created in the moment, in the present, reminds all of us, performers and singers alike, of our connectedness and our humanness. As Brené Brown has stated, “We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering.”
I am reminded of the meme that has recently floated around the internet. Accompanying a picture of empty chairs and music stands in a rehearsal room is the statement “Someday soon choirs, bands, and orchestras will gather together again. The conductor will signal for the first note to sound, and musicians will remember it’s hard to read music with tears in their eyes.”
What a happy day that will be.
Lynne Gackle is national president of American Choral Directors Association. She is the Director of Choral Activities at Baylor University and holds the Mary Jane Gibbs Professor of Music Chair.