Updated: Jul 5, 2021
Concerts getting cancelled or postponed, flights rescheduled, hotel bookings refunded (or not).. I guess this is the life of a musician in COVID times. You would think that after the third or fourth cancellation one would start getting used to it. But no.. the blow is just as devastating, if not more, every single time! How crushing it is to prepare a program painstakingly, with all the commitment and focus and energy and mental rehearsal it requires, only for the concert to get cancelled at the very last minute due to reasons beyond one’s control. And it’s not just the process of learning and internalising the music that proves futile; it’s also the excitement that comes with the possibility of collaborating with new colleagues, seeing friends in different cities, reuniting with loved ones, meeting new audiences. Sigh.
“But it’s all about the process, no?” I hear you say. “You’re learning all this new repertoire..surely that will all pay off in the long run even if you don’t get to perform it right now…”
Maybe so. I can’t disagree with that.
But it still—for lack of a better word—sucks.
Every time an event is cancelled it requires us to shift our focus onto the next goal, to re-energise our mind, to mentally reset. But this is not as simple as it sounds. For me, at least, “re-setting” requires me to stop completely. To take a step back. Even to take a day or two (or five) off from practicing. If I don’t do this, the constant re-setting brings with it an inevitable lag in energy and adrenaline, a kind of accumulated fatigue, which then ultimately leads to a loss in motivation and purpose.
And that is exactly what is happening right now, as I sit here attached to my couch, barely having moved in the last several hours, mentally and physically depleted…
Truth be told, I caught myself in a practice slump these last few days. I noticed I was just going through motions, not really identifying with what I was playing.. just learning notes here and there.. letting ugly sounds go by without much thought. Gosh, it was pathetic. But if there ever is a telltale sign that one needs a break, that’s definitely it. Good thing I finally woke up from this zombie-like trance and put a stop to it.
Jeez Richard, I thought to myself, Your cello deserves better than that!!
And so I packed up and decided to take a couple of days off.
In one of my older posts on motivation I wrote about how we all go through slumps from time to time..about how it’s only human:
“There is just no way that anyone can maintain the same kind of high intensity without burning out or at least needing a break after a while…The thing is, you can be totally committed to your craft, but at the same time still live a balanced life that allows you to keep a fresh perspective on those things that are most important…When I’m feeling unmotivated, I believe that it has something to do with the fact that I have nothing new to share. It is because I have no fresh insights or perspectives that I feel compelled to communicate to people. So the answer often involves living life away from the cello and drawing inspiration that way. Going to the movies, reading books, cooking, hiking, meeting people, and so on. After all, what is the point of performing if we don’t feel a strong, deep-rooted desire to express something to people?
While it’s certainly a little sad that I’m drawing from wisdom written by my younger self, I do find some comfort in knowing that I have weathered these slumps before and that I will likely come out of this with more drive and more determination for what is to come.
And that brings me back to my initial point about all these cancellations and postponements and the toll this can take on us artists. If you find that this constant re-jigging of plans is draining the life out of your motivation, then rest assured you are not alone. If you need a break, take a break. On the other hand, if it doesn’t bother you, fantastic, hats off to you. But I think we can all agree that while this certainly does… suck? We will get through this. I really look forward to this all being over soon, when we can get on with life as per normal again, where rather than complaining about concert cancellations due to COVID, I’m complaining about the guy that fell asleep in the fourth row, or the flight attendant who gave me grief about my extra cello seat, or the hotel room being too hot or cold.