Growing up in a family of musicians, it wasn’t until I turned ten that I registered that not everyone played an instrument; similarly, it wasn’t until the onset of the pandemic midway through the final year of my Music degree that I realised just how incomparable the experience of live music is to its recorded and filmed counterparts.
For better or for worse, my identity is greatly tied up with being a musician; and my musical identity has always been as an ensemble player, filling in the gaps wherever needed (singing tenor, taking up the double bass). The stretch of time from March to August was the longest period that I can remember going without playing music with others, or even being in a room with other musicians; and so, upon graduating in July, I not only had never felt so disconnected from being a musician but felt unsure as to who I was.
At the end of August, I was lucky enough to fall into an administrative role for NW Live Arts and work with the team on the Music & Body and Music & Renewal concerts. Whilst the concerts themselves were fantastic events, it was the rehearsals that really stood out as special: for after the longest musical drought of my life, being back in a rehearsal room was like rediscovering a language I never realised I spoke. Once again hearing a quartet tune between pieces or a player say ‘let’s go from one bar before figure E’ felt like returning home.
Such quirks are so often hidden from view in streamed events and recordings; yet these remarks and actions are almost better reminders than the music itself of two crucially important facets of music-making. That is, that the sound is being made by people; and that these people have a shared understanding of what it means to be a musician, even if they don’t know each other personally. This shared understanding encompasses common histories, work ethics and passions for art, all of which can unite even perfect strangers. To hide an orchestra behind a paywall until the first note or even to watch a concert through a screen dehumanises the event, especially if an audio-visual recording can be airbrushed or edited pre-release. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the power of recordings and streams too – but not as a substitute for the Real Thing.
Under this philosophy (Music as Social Activity as Best Thing Ever?), sitting in on the rehearsals for Music & Renewal was the highlight of my past six months. I remembered why we do it, why we make music at all, and rediscovered a connection to the outside world that half a year of Zoom and social distancing had chipped away far more than I appreciated. I realise that it could be seen as sad that this connection, and in a sense my own identity, relies so heavily on collaboration with other musicians – but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It may be a cliché, but the experience of live music-making with other people is so much more than the sum of its parts; and to be a small cog in that process is to be on a raised plane of existence.
We still have a long way to go before live music can return to its pre-pandemic scale; but the wait will be worth it.
(Lucy Roberts, NW Live Arts Administrator & Concert Manager)