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"The Great Pause" ~ Thoughts During a Pandemic

The Great Pause

I’ve been thinking a lot about breath & breathing lately. And rest notation in music. Like pretty much everyone else who is breathing, the past year I’ve maneuvered my way through a series of phases: Shock – disorientation – adjusting to an unthinkable new reality – learning coping skills and figuring out how to cover the basics. I’ve been lucky since my previous lifestyle was impacted far less than that of others. Compassion often brought tears.

At first, the novelty was…..well, novel. Time was opened up to a large degree and as the initial shock wore off somewhat, ideas and opportunities would occur to me on walks or in quiet moments. I watched a ton of news (an attempt to ward off panic) and lost myself in superb films & TV series (an attempt to distract my thoughts….and ward off panic). I invested in a few pieces of gear with an eye to livestreaming, took a class on ‘How to YouTube,’ enjoyed some Zoom Song Hangs or Happy Hours with friends.

Over time, however, the relentlessness of isolation and the stress of world news began to take a toll. I didn’t follow through with many of the ideas I’d had initially. I didn’t finish my in-process album, write a bunch of songs, learn to livestream, etc. What, in the end, felt most comforting and reassuring was surprising: I began an exhaustive reorganization of my music library: 100s of CDs, cassettes and LPs. I went through old binders of lyrics, organized stacks of disorganized paper, found photos I’d completely forgotten….you get the picture! This was soothing in a strange way and a great antidote to the unbidden fears and angst by soothing my frustration and anxiety.

Since my habit is to seek silver linings and be thoughtful in my language even to myself, I resisted calling the Pandemic many of the terms I kept hearing: Lockdown, Isolation, Government Intervention and so on. Eventually, as I took breath after breath, I would listen and hear…..simple quiet, wind in the evergreen trees, birdsong, my own thoughts and ideas. This took on an intense quality of calm serenity and equanimity. As long as I kept breathing….and listening, I was reasonably calm.

Eventually, to myself, I began referring to the Pandemic as “The Great Pause” and I found hidden secret jewels in the openness and breadth of such an unusual pause in activity. A ‘rest’ if you will. I played alto clarinet in my high school band. My dad was the Band Director. I loved playing alto clarinet because the composer often allocated a counter-melody to the alto clarinet section. Often they were so beautiful – an alternate melody. Oh, and many RESTS ! I got used to open spaces in the score and was transfixed by the varied symbols notating how we should count up the time until our next entrance. That is how this time feels. Counting the beats until the music calls for the next entrance. Preparing….imagining the notes coming up….embouchure forming….positioning my instrument.

We are nearing time for the end of “The Great Pause.” Take a breath……