The Final Show

It has been exactly one month since that infamous Friday the 13th when the bottom fell out of our collective sense of social, financial and bodily security. In the past four weeks we have already begun to adjust to a different way of living, planning and being. I find myself somewhere in the beginnings of “Stage 2: The Mental Shift,” according to Aisha S. Ahmad’s excellent article about living and working in a lockdown situation.

Within my circle of family and friends are a range of levels of effect of the pandemic, from those whose daily life is nearly unaffected, to some who are overloaded with increased work and family time, to others who have transitioned to actively working, attending school and even performing from home due to a combination of requirements, personality and maybe what state of mind they were in when it all went down. I find myself amongst another sector of the population, needing some time to recover from the whiplash of our carefully-assembled schedules of freelance contracts and self-employed projects smashing head-on into the brick wall of the end of all public gatherings. For performers and many others, that brick wall meant all work came to a stand-still on impact, followed by a tumble of cancellations to navigate in the aftermath.

That Friday March 13th was also my last day in Halifax as SuddenlyLISTEN‘S Artist-in-Residence, including the final show in the evening. That afternoon, while wrapping things up in my work space and preparing to perform the music I had been developing for the previous ten days, I was also watching months of upcoming projects disappear down the drain one by one, and also got a gut-wrenching call with the results of a medical test that would require a biopsy and further testing. It felt like the sky was falling.

In spite of the events of that day, I felt the stability of the previous days of contemplation and exploration acting like a layer of shock protection. While a lot of performing comes with nerves and fear of judgement, in my experience, this music felt different to prepare. I felt centred and steady, if somewhat wind-blown, as though I was standing the eye of a storm. I also had the grounding presence of my partner Ben, who had been teaching at Acadia University in the days before and came to Halifax that last evening to catch my show and fly home together the next day.

The show went ahead that night in spite of a lot of people feeling shaken by the cancellations and changes of the day, as well as that new awareness of health risks and the distancing which has now become nearly routine. SuddenlyLISTEN’s scheduling for the rest of the season was falling apart before their eyes, Symphony Nova Scotia had cancelled their season that day; everyone’s employment and creative work for the near future was dangling by a thread. There were a lot of wide eyes, and the vibe in the room was of subdued shock.

The rest of the Friday night show consisted of college music students participating in improvised music workshops and performing improv for the first time. They played in trios and quartets with each other and their mentors, Norm Adams and Geordie Haley. I played my set, which felt like a calm and consistent extension of what I had been doing all week: exposed, but not in danger. It was a relief to focus on something soothing, and to create a space for the rest of the room to join me there. There was a supportive spirit in a room full of people with nothing to lose, going out on a limb in front of each other, all of us taking a breath and leaping into a new now.

Ben and I flew home the next day on a flight that thankfully wasn’t cancelled, and have been home ever since, of course. I haven’t played a note since that night, which has just felt like the right thing to do for a while. My body has been telling me it needs time and space to heal, and I’ve been listening to that request for rest. I’m lucky to love being at home doing slow, quiet things like reading, walking, meditating, yoga, puzzles and writing, so I haven’t really been lacking in things to do in this in-between time. In fact, it feels important to use this time to go deep, to do internal work, to listen for guidance, to look at the path we’ve been carving up to here and see if we need to adjust the trajectory, to catch our breath while standing still for a while, waiting to see what the next right step will be.

It’s taken a month to want to add anything into the onslaught, but I’m ready to offer this set from March 13 for anyone who’d like to listen: