2020 has been a rough year. I should probably say that again: 2020 has been a rough year. A very rough year. A whole lot of people have experienced a whole lot of physical suffering and death from COVID-19. Many more are having severe financial difficulties due to complications from the virus. People have no work, no money, maybe no place to live and not enough to eat as we approach the coldest, darkest days of winter.
As tough as times are, I’ve been very lucky and feel extremely grateful that my immediate family and I are healthy, safe and secure, with shelter and plenty to eat. Although several people in our extended family and some friends have had COVID-19, they have had only mild or no symptoms and what appear to be full recoveries.
Here’s hoping that all of you reading this are doing well, coping, and like me, looking forward to the time when 2020 is just a bizarre memory.
I’ve been trying to stay sane by keeping busy and working on multiple projects. The work comes in waves of practicing, singing, writing, and recording. It is hard to get rolling sometimes, but actually working on something makes all the difference in the world to my mood and mental health. I wouldn’t say that I get to a truly blissful state in these crazy times, but it sure beats sitting around watching the news on TV.
I’ll tell you more about my new projects in a future blog, but for a sample you can hear a recording I made recently of “This Little Light of Mine” by clicking the link below. I recorded this for my 20-month old granddaughter Cece and had a wonderful time arranging and recording all the voices in the chorus on the tune. The process took me away and into the world of music in a soothing and rejuvenating way. The lone female harmony voice you’ll hear is that of my musical pal Julie Cline. We collaborated long distance by sending files back and forth.
Missing the Musical Conversations
Musicians have been hit hard by the pandemic. Many were on the edge financially before the virus, and the cancellations of shows and events have just about wiped them out.
I haven’t played a gig or taught an in-person lesson since the first weekend in March 2020. In normal times, playing gigs not only helps to pay the bills, but playing with others at gigs, rehearsals and jams helps to me to be inspired and feel connected, and I miss it! The nature of the music trade is getting together with other musicians and just playing. Sometimes you show up without a clue as to what kind of music you’ll be playing, who the other musicians will be, what instruments they’ll be playing, or what they might sing. You might have charts, you might not. But those individual players come together and make music. Something will happen that wasn’t there before, and that’s magic! It’s all about getting together and conversing musically.
Obviously you can’t have a conversation, musical or otherwise, by yourself. There’s a little worry tucked away in a back corner of my head that I’ll forget how to play with other musicians, forget how to “do” gigs. Logically I know that won’t happen, that it will all come back, just like the gigs themselves and the real life we so miss. Maybe we’ll be a little rusty at first making music, like the strings on my old gig guitar that’s been sitting in the corner all these months, but we’ll get it back!
When we were a couple weeks into the first lockdown I called a friend and joked, “Are you finding a lot of time to practice?” Without missing a beat he answered, “What’s the point?” I was stunned when the reality of his answer sunk in. (He later added that he still practices every day.) Why practice if there are no gigs? The answer has got to be that we love to play and make music for its own sake, regardless of anything else.
As I’ve thought about how to keep playing during these trying times, I remember my younger days playing music in bars or at parties where no one had the slightest interest in what we were playing. At one of those gigs an older musician advised, “You gotta make yourself have a good time.” I took those words to heart and coaxed myself into smiling, laughing, and making up jokes. I found that I could focus on the fun of it and fool myself into having a good time! Sometimes my fellow musicians would be pulled along for the ride, and sometimes the audience had fun as well!
Inspiring myself to keep playing music during the pandemic and lockdowns is kind of like that. I have to make myself forget about all the awful things going on and focus on the physical and spiritual pleasure I get out of playing, singing, writing and recording music. Music for its own sake! Does it always bring me up during these plague times? Nope! Can I always summon the hope and will to get it rolling? Nope again! But any degree of success is success, and it gets me playing and keeps me playing.
The first thing you have to do is regularly play or sing or write or whatever you do musically. You have to make it happen, even when you don’t particularly want to. You may have to work at getting the ball rolling, to prime the pump a few times to get past the “What’s the point” point, but if you do you just might catch a wave once in a while. Keep at it. Maybe day one doesn’t catch, maybe day two is a wash, but there’s always day three! Remember that everyone’s in the same boat, you’re not alone, and that this won’t last forever. There may be some difficult, dark winter days ahead but Spring will come.
In thinking about playing music together or just getting together during the next several weeks I put together a simple arrangement of a song that I think is appropriate to the circumstances. It’s called “We Gather Together” and I hope you’ll give it a listen and a try. It might just provide you with a little inspiration and motivation to pick up that guitar, that mandolin or fiddle, your drum sticks, washtub bass or whatever and have at it.
We sang “We Gather Together” in primary school, usually around the holidays, Thanksgiving especially. But I think it applies to all the holidays and anytime we gather together with friends and family, gigs included, especially this year. Unfortunately we can’t get together this season as we’ve done in the past. The song helps me think of better times in the future, and I hope it brings you some cheer and comfort as well.
You can download guitar and mandolin versions of “We Gather Together” in both .pdf and MP3 formats. The links are below.
Virtual Get Togethers
A lot of us are looking for ways to keep playing music and connecting. If you’re in that category you might be interested in a new online class I’ll be offering soon. I’m teaching a six-week online Bluegrass Jam class through the Freight and Salvage in Berkeley. Since it’s a Zoom class, it’s open to anybody in the universe with an internet connection. (The delay from Jupiter or Saturn might be problematic!) The class meets Monday nights, 7:00 Pacific time, starting January 11, 2021. All we’ll do is go through well-known and relatively easy bluegrass songs and discuss how to present them to a group. Click here to find out more.
If you’re interested in my online private lessons, no matter where you live, email me for details.
By the way, another activity that I’ve been especially enjoying these past few months is shooting photos. I take my camera, and often my tripod, along on hikes around the East Bay hills (about 45 minutes east of San Francisco) just in case I come across something I want to photograph. The photo at the top of this column is one I shot on a late afternoon in late November at Borges Ranch, a city park in Walnut Creek, CA. The moon was rising over a beautiful old oak. Fresh air, a little exercise, and some beautiful scenery. Does a mind and body good! My other photos are scattered throughout the website and on these pages: photos1 and photos2.
Here’s wishing you a happy set of holidays. Keep yourself and everybody else you meet safe.