As some chew the carpet before climbing the walls during lockdown, others detect a certain philosophical serenity breaking out. Lugging his piano up the next flight of stairs for Scott Flanigan can wait. But he's missing the banter.
‘‘The ‘new normal’ has, in some ways, turned out quite similar to the ‘old normal’. Several days of my week are taken up with teaching, which has gradually all morphed to online lessons. I’m in two minds about this whole technology thing: on one hand, the tech-nerd in me loves being able to conduct all my business via iPads and FaceTime, dialling into a lesson and then immediately being able to hang up again after the duration of the lesson. But on the other hand, that in-person experience of sharing a room and a piano with a student is gone for the time being. Depth of tone, pianistic colour and technical issues are all much easier to address in person. However… a teacher still gotta teach!
‘‘Where my life has changed dramatically is in performance. A gig isn’t just music. A gig is a social event, an economic event, a learning event, a teaching event, a listening event, an interacting event. All of these things have disappeared from the lives of musicians worldwide overnight. Making small talk and telling jokes with musicians, complaining about the pay and sharing a drink at the break all form as much of the gig as the craft itself. These are the bits the audience doesn’t always get to see; the relationships offstage between musicians inform the dynamic on the stage.
‘‘A gig is also a real time event, with musicians making conscious and unconscious decisions about note choice, rhythms and timbre all in a split second, responding to the sound on the stage. Whether it’s in a solo role or an accompanying role, every jazz musician is aware of their role on the stage and the dynamic of the ensemble. Responding to someone’s phrase or joining them to the high point of a solo is what we all live for in this music.
‘‘All of these elements make the gig ‘unreplaceable’ in these times. Virtual collaborations, as much as I like technology, don’t come anywhere near the feeling of being on stage and interacting with other musicians, both on and off the bandstand. I got into this music in the first place because I could enjoy playing with other people. A virtual collaboration is much more like a pop record – you record your bit then I’ll record mine. To the audience member the difference may not be noticeable. But for the musicians, it’s a different, and in my case, less satisfying, musical experience. And until we can get that back, some things will never be normal.
‘‘I’m also enjoying a much slower pace. There is a constant, and somewhat self-imposed, demand for the musician to improve, create output, be present. But why? For the last 15 years I’ve been concentrating on the next performance, and working towards it. Now, there is no performance to aim for. I don’t know when the next gig is. And so, I’m relaxing, enjoying life more. I drive countless miles per year, lugging pianos and organs up flights of stairs, and yes, I mostly enjoy it, but it can be demanding. But I’m enjoying this period of no pressure for the next performance. That’s not to say I’m not at the piano – I am, when I want to be. And it’s not about composing a new album or intense practice. It’s about playing music that I like the sound of, and remembering why I love this music in the first place. As a musician, it’s OK to switch off. You won’t forget what Eb minor is. You won’t forget the bridge to ‘Have You Met Miss Jones’. And you might come back fresher than ever when this all ends. An opportunity like this doesn’t come along often.’’