I have an idea that I think can contribute to societal wellbeing, as we look to combat the negative health effects that will come from loneliness and social isolation in the coming months.
Building on the impressive outpouring of musicians sharing their music widely through social media during this pandemic, there is a next step that I want to advocate for experimenting with: one-to-one human interactions, through music, and especially for the most vulnerable segment of society, older adults.
This is about prioritizing empathy. It's one thing to perform Bach into the camera for an audience of many. It's quite a different experience to perform Bach into the camera for a specific person. That person receives a very significant benefit of individualized empathic connection... but so does everyone else who views it, even though their participation is vicarious. We feel both the music and the human connection that we are witnessing. (There's more detail to add, and Sherry Turkle and Nina Simon can support this way of thinking.)
I'm asking if you would kindly share this email with Yo-Yo because of the incredible platform that he has to influence musicians, from students of all levels to professionals. If he leads the way by experimenting with this format of performing/presenting online, hopefully others will begin to do so as well. I would love to see thousands of individual musicians (think of all the music students out there stuck at home) doing their piece to contribute during this crisis in the coming months.
I've been thinking about this all day and I think its worth a discussion about the kinds of relationships that one-on-one programs works best for. There is definitely an element of friendship and an element of professionalism needed to make this work. What's the magic ratio and how do you translate that through a video or digital program?
I've got a few personal examples that I've been thinking through recently:
1) Even given all of my work, thinking about doing a concert like this for my own grandmother, who's still alive, makes me uncomfortable. I wonder why?
2) I had no desire to play for my Mom while she was in her final months. It felt more important to just sit and talk with her. Again, why didn't that feel right?
3) I also think about you playing for Varda. That seems to be the perfect kind of relationship. A mixture of close friendship and professional respect.
I think this will come up with a project like this, where you're asking people to think about their own networks. I also think it raises a larger question that the field (and general society) about cultivating long-term relationships with older adults outside of our families.
A secondary question will be access to content. How will older adults get these concerts, especially the ones living alone? Should musicians go and play on their front lawns? Or is there a digital way to make this work?
Thank you for being supportive and interested. In a sense, as you wrote in your email, we are all "friends in need" now, especially those who are the most isolated and vulnerable.
I'm sure you know the research that former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has often quoted about the public health concern posed by loneliness. A study showed that the mortality impact of loneliness is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Looking ahead, sadly, a mental health pandemic is expected to closely follow this viral pandemic...
What I'm asking you to consider doing is modeling (publicly) what so many other musicians can do (privately). I think that, if you experiment with these ideas using your social media platform, it will normalize them and make them possible for others to consider.
It's basically a musical "care package" with something chosen to warm the recipient's heart. I feel strongly that anyone else who witnesses it online gets to vicariously experience that heart-to-heart connection. This is potentially much more powerful than a heart-to-"everyone out there on the internet" connection.
Two brief examples:
1. On Sunday evening, my daughter held up her iPad and recorded me playing the G Major prelude in her bedroom. Nothing fancy. I emailed it to the rector of Emmanuel Church. I wrote to her:
Dear Pam, I've been safely at home for a month while you and many others are bravely carrying out your roles, taking care of so many people who are vulnerable and at risk. You've been on my mind, and I wanted to simply offer three minutes of Bach that I recorded for you this evening. Three minutes of Bach, hopefully to be enjoyed in three minutes of peace. Sending my best wishes to you and your family.
2. I had a conversation with a young resident musician in Providence who is feeling like practicing has no meaning anymore. She's feeling hopeless about her future as a musician. While she's right to feel scared about her professional prospects, she's not at all in touch with just how valuable she is as a musician--right now.
Through our chat, I found out that she and her husband had recently befriended an older couple in Providence through their church. Now they deliver groceries to them. The upshot is that she hadn't thought about this before, but now she's considering how she might play a short online concert for them every Sunday evening. Also, importantly, this idea is renewing her sense of purpose, motivating her to practice and feel agency as a musician during this pandemic.
So what am I specifically asking of you?
As you continue to offer the same #SongsOfComfort repertoire that's easy enough to share and appreciate through social media, please consider experimenting with personalizing at least some of them.
This has to be based on real relationships to be meaningful (duh). Providing an anecdote that helps explain WHY you are playing music for someone brings it home emotionally. I recognize that this is not the same when you have thousands of social media followers, but for the sake of modeling, I think you can make a personal message while still preserving someone's privacy.
Speaking directly into the camera to deliver your message would be the most vulnerable way to do it, but if that feels uncomfortable, posting/tweeting the personalized message along with the video also works.
"Hi Manny, I miss seeing you and being able to play sonatas. I wish we could be together, reading the Brahms e minor and sharing a meal. I'm sending you the opening theme because it reminds me of you."
"Hi Judy, I miss seeing you. Remember when I played that beautiful Borodin quartet melody at your son's wedding? Well, I'd love to share that with you again now."
"Heath, I remember how poorly you played the C Major allemande for me so many years ago. Let me take this opportunity to remind you of how it's supposed to sound." (just kidding, don't use this one.)
I'm thinking of all the conservatory students at home these days (and their teachers), the freelancers, the teaching artists, the Broadway pit players, the orchestral musicians. Everyone knows at least a few people who are vulnerable and isolated. It would be so meaningful if many, many musicians felt empowered to reach out, using their musicianship, and make this pandemic into an opportunity to create empathy and combat social isolation.
Sharing project documentation and examples of student thinking, and my own.