The task of “emerging” artists is to slowly grow into their industry. To create their community, one conversation at a time.
This process relies upon human hugs, handshakes, and the, “Oh! I’ve heard so much about you and how amazing that we’ve just run into each other at the same tuba and microtonal keyboard concert!” But during quarantine, this spontaneous growth of our root networks has slacked for some and completely stalled for others.
Throughout 10 weeks of quarantine, I’ve felt the urge to isolate myself completely, definitely more than “being safe” necessitates. Some of it comes from fear, or from lack of confidence.
By shutting out my friends and connections, I put off the psychological work of believing in myself, promoting myself, and sometimes even writing music.
I am isolated in Los Angeles, where I daily write morning pages, grow tomatoes, and sprout lettuce from a severed romaine stem. The tomato plants are stalling at about 3 inches high, and the romaine has shot up 8 or 9 inches, almost defiantly.
I started therapy. I exuberantly shaved half of my head.
I cook complicated as well as simple dishes, and voraciously type into a document called “Ak’s growing cookbook.” I first opened it in 2016 when I began my masters in composition and started trying to remember the dishes I would create.
I still write music, but quarantine gave me the motivation to hit the gas on my side job. I’m seizing my new path with passion. After months of silence, I’m listening to music again (at hilariously low volumes) while I organize my to-do lists.
It’s a relief to be a beginner again. I am energized by the fact that I can develop new skills over the course of a few weeks. We (all of us), truly, no longer have to be disheartened, thinking that every worthwhile skill must be taken up at age 3 or 5.
I sometimes doubt if I can call myself a composer when I’m spending more than 50% of my time on my side-hustle as a freelance writer / virtual assistant. But as more emerging artists turn to other forms of employment, we will challenge our own notions about what artists are supposed to do. We will redefine how we spend our time and intellectual resources.
And having a double-barreled profession title doesn’t make us any less creative. We will still call ourselves what we know we are.
In fact, bridging professional worlds may force us to confront the shortcomings of existing arts institutions. We may actually gather wisdom from people working outside the arts.
As I learn more about the small businesses who are my clients, I fantasize about bringing what I’ve learned back to the arts. Someday, I tell myself, the skills I’m gathering will coalesce into purpose and benefit the artistic community.
In the meantime, they are helping me survive.
While grieving human-to-human music-making, don’t lose touch with those who inspire you.
We are grieving together. Performers are grieving lost performances, composers are grieving lost premieres and commissions. And although the next concert series won’t be able to hire us, we can still send a friendly note checking in on staff members and performers.
In the end, we need to remember that we create community. Your “new music” community might just be a handful of friends. They might not even listen to new music. They’re probably the people who make you feel safe and supported. We shouldn’t wait for a group of (possibly intimidating) people to find and accept us. Right now we just need people, not “important” people.
When you have energy to spare, offer it up to your friends.
Most of them will say, “Oh, thank you for reaching out!” with a genuine sigh of relief. The relief is gratitude for that one thing you did: you gathered the materials — which you can both use, now, to build bridges between each other. When you return to that pit of loneliness, craving people, or just craving — your friends will walk back towards you along the bridge.
Maybe performers, composers, and commissioners can pick up the emotional pieces from projects that have fallen through. Maybe we can focus on getting to know one another. Maybe we actually can still make something together, even if it’s two different batches of odd, dry-looking bread. If we can spare the time for each other, our relationships will be that much deeper. Our community will thrive.
In our subsection of Los Angeles, we are making a return to the hyper-local. We are bartering homemade lemon cake for toilet-paper, a haircut for homemade pierogies, or a Zoom weight-training session for original “relaxation” music. The personality of it all feels delicious. Money never left me feeling this way.
Our hyper-local sound-making leaves me with a newfound curiosity about the lives of the people living in my neighborhood.
At exactly 8:00 pm every night, a steam vent opens and my neighborhood explodes with shouting, bells, and the banging of pots and pans. It’s cathartic. (A Ph.D. student could write about the importance of our exuberant yowls: a post-verbal communication style.)
Even without a (musical) performance, here is an audience.
Yes, we’re buffered by a bit more space. But sound forms a transient bridge between us.
“Thank you, health-care workers!” my neighbor shouts at the top of her lungs. Sometimes her toddler shouts the phrase after her, a tiny yet powerful voice breaking through the dusk.
This is the kind of sound-making I want to be a part of.
It requires us only to be where we are.
Support for the writing of this article was provided by the ASCAP Foundation Irving Caesar Fund.