Returning to live performance: one player’s perspective

One of the things I’ve learned through lockdown (albeit painfully) is how many good things I take for granted in normal life – being able to share a meal with friends, travelling to see family, running up to a friend and giving them a good old bear hug. And high up on that list for me is playing music with others. To go for nearly six months with only myself to practise with was, well, hard. Technology that allows us to multi-track is amazing, but the glamour of feeling like I’d become a session musician lasted approximately one week. It just doesn’t compare!

Pianist Susan Tomes summarised my heart-ache perfectly in her blog post ‘Zoom music-making and chamber music’: ‘for me the great pleasure and interest of chamber music is the way we influence one another in real time as we play.’

And so to have the opportunity to play with other members of Eboracum Baroque earlier this month was glorious. Simply having the concert in the diary (praying that restrictions wouldn’t change again!) gave me fresh motivation to practise and a joyful anticipation. But as we got to the rehearsal and I was able to play a Handel sonata with Seb (harpsichord) and Miri (cello), the joy exploded. This was what I’d missed. This is why I decided to try and become a musician in the first place – the sparks of electric current that you sense flowing between you in the ensemble as you influence each other’s playing in the moment. It felt immensely freeing as I heard myself playing much better than I had in months, grateful for the way that the others inspired and pushed me to give the music a vitality that sprung from the vitality of us being physically present together.

I could have gone home after the rehearsal and felt utterly content I think. But to be able to share our music-making with a live audience in the evening was another layer that made the whole experience more valuable. One of the reasons I love playing with small ensembles is that not only are you able to connect with each member of the ensemble, you also have more space to enable a personal connection with the audience. I suppose the best things in life are the things you can share and give away. And music is like that. I’ve had that feeling in concerts before, but it was especially clear that evening that here was an audience who shared our excitement in being part of live music again.

No technology in sight! People were physically present together. Voices and instruments made physical vibrations that spread through the air of the picturesque Grantchester Orchard. Birdsong and a rosy sunset added a finishing touch.

As we stood to take our bows at the end, it struck me that I had no idea when the next time would be – might it be another six months? And yet, thankfully I was able to enjoy the moment, grateful for what it was, determined to enjoy the gift of that present reality, without obscuring it by worries over an unknown future. Long may I remember that lesson of relishing these present moments, whether big or small. And short may the time be before live music becomes again an everyday reality!

Katie Lewis, September 2020.