Quintin is a London-based choir director whose music has been taken away from him as Covid-19 enforces social distancing
Quintin Beer is an “angel with a voice” creatively working with music to produce messages to help people to cope with their mental health during this trying period (coincidentally, he happens to be an excellent singer), and Lande Atere highlights how the voice of her househelp, the “angel of her household”, spurred her into action. Every one of us has it in us to join forces to fight this pandemic.
Last week was one of significant loss for me. Loss of connections, loss of work and loss of income. And I am still processing the grief. Potential career promotions put to one side, concerts and art put on hold. And the desperate irony is that there can be no collective expression of that grief because we cannot gather together anymore.
As a conductor and a choir leader, the skills I trade on involve listening and responding to sounds in the moment. I fix things that I hear are wrong. I make suggestions about the quality and type of sounds that are available to us. I feed off the energy that the singers give me, and they feed off me in order to create something entirely new. This creative process is endlessly inspiring. And these are skills that I use to seek employment as well as artistic meaning.
I have very quickly had to come to terms with the fact that I cannot enjoy this process for the foreseeable future. The process cannot just be replaced with an equivalent. I can’t work from home as a conductor. And for all the great developments in the world of ‘virtual choirs’, the technology is just not there. Digital lag is the mortal enemy of ensemble musicians; I am going nowhere near it. My hope is that we will adapt to this virtual way of living, where even the subtleties of body language and non-verbal communication are compromised via video latency.
Many of my colleagues are using this as an opportunity to get creative. They are learning the entire Bach organ works or ingesting whole Wagner scores. For me, such tasks are overwhelming at the best of times. I am not motivated to learn music unless I have a reason or a goal in mind to perform it. But there are opportunities available to me, if I seek them out at my own pace. If I lost purpose last week, then I need to develop new purpose this week. I am going online. I am making a weekly video blog for all my choirs.
This is a new endeavour for me; trying to generate charisma in front of a screen with no one else in the room is odd and unnatural. And yet, I’m hopeful that I’ll settle into these vlogs and exploit the skills I know I do have, even if it means changing how I share them. I will probably sing more and record some songs. I’ll learn new digital skills like multi-tracking and making use of Logic Pro. I am planning on making podcasts for the church where I am employed, mixing words, music and video to share with our faithful congregation. This will also enable me to commit to a moral obligation I have made, which is to employ freelancers out of my music budget at church, even if they cannot sing at our liturgies. As a professional sharer, I am connecting in new unpractised ways. And I’m seeing it as a challenge with huge potential meaning at the end.
Over the last year or so, I have developed a strong self-care routine: daily meditation, weekly therapy and more recently, due to compulsory social distancing, long brisk walks (whilst keeping safe and distant from others). I have started doing daily mental health vlogs on all my social media platforms. This is as much for me to connect with other people as it is for others to connect with me. I hope these videos send out a kind of connection which doesn’t rely on two people having a chat. This communication is more an incidental, casual and indeterminable one, just like the connection which happens during moments of live music-making.
I am resolute, as I remind myself that this is a pause button for art as we know it. And finding a way through financially will be hard. But the creative opportunity is there, as long we don’t put too much pressure on ourselves in finding it. We are all navigating a path through this and the adage ‘we are all in this together’ is reassuring. But ultimately you must make decisions and judgments that work for you as a living, breathing, crying – and praying – human.
For inspiration, you can find Quintin on YouTube channel (Quintin Beer), Twitter (@quintinbeer1) and Instagram (quintinbeer) for video blogs (Vlogs), mental health talks and other perspectives on our world and its music.
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