It’s been over a year and a half since I attended an honest-to-gods concert. That last show I wrote about–Caroline Shaw with Third Angle in March 2020–is still the most recent concert I attended. The only live music of any kind that I’ve experienced since everything shut down and then kinda sorta started reopening (ish) was an intimate restaurant gig my jazz guitarist brother and one of his trumpeter buddies played this summer in Carmel, California, where Clint Eastwood is Mayor For Life.
And I have a confession to make, dear reader: I don’t miss it. At all. Many of you have been aching to get back to live music, as performers and audients, and no doubt you’re all celebrating the return to some kind of normal as the choirs and orchestras and operas and touring bands and hip-hop nights come back online. That’s great. I’m happy for you.
But there are plenty of us introverts and neuroatypicals for whom live music was always a strain. The sweet acoustics and vibrant “liveness” of in-person shows are great, of course–no home sound system can come close to replicating the richness of sound you get from an orchestra at The Schnitz (especially with The New Upgrades) or in any decent church or even in some small club with one mic and two shitty speakers dangling over the tiny stage in the corner by the bathrooms and slot machines.
But the stress of jostling elbows with other patrons, socializing in the lobby or at the bar or out on the smoking patio, asking the bartender if she’ll put on another pot of coffee, and sweating under a mask (I don’t mean the covid-mandated kind) while pretending to be normal–yeah, it wears you out.
And it’s worse if you’re a music student or a journalist, or both, because you’re also at work, and the work never stops. I know one local music writer who used to bounce around to several concerts a night; I’d see him at the symphony, rushing in from some earlier show, rushing out immediately afterward to catch yet another act at a bar across town. That was me, too, more often than not: an afternoon choir concert followed by a bus ride over to a different church for a different choir concert, then another bus ride over to Holocene or up to Mississippi Studios, then a long walk home in the dark, reviewing my notes and trying to let my ears rest before getting up and dragging into choral arranging class the next morning.
So being forcibly cooped up inside for a year and a half was something of a relief. Plenty of time now to listen to my Third Angle CDs and my old movie soundtrack tapes and Duke Ellington records, or scour Bandcamp, or follow the hip-hop scene on Twitter, or watch these recent Makrokosmos Project The Elements movies, or maybe even record some music of my own. And somewhere in that year and a half I left Portland altogether, decamped for a cabin in the woods away from everything.
Can I still stumble into town and check out a live show? Of course–I’m close to a few smallish cities that have theaters and bars and live music, and Portland is only a couple hours away by bus or car. Will I still go to those shows and report on them for you, the ArtsWatch readership? Sure, probably, sometimes.
But I’d rather be true to my tribe. Because I’m not the only one who welcomed all this isolation. I’m not the only one who was already tired of all the hustle and bustle of concerts and venues and above all “the fucking bar scene.” I’m not the only one who’d rather be at home with a record player and a Youtube subscription and a good set of speakers, getting cozy in slippers and sweatpants with a nice cup of locally-roasted coffee, enjoying Chamber Music Northwest and In Mulieribus and 45th Parallel Universe from the comfort of the worn-in couch in my hermitage’s living room.
For some of us, this isn’t even a decision. Many musicophiles have difficulties with mobility, or struggle with agoraphobia, or live with compromised immune systems. Or maybe you’re just introverted, shy, asocial, not interested in immersing yourself in the busy flow of modern social life. Perhaps you have, like me, retreated to one hermitage or another, your own private cabin in the woods–whether it’s a literal cabin in the literal woods or an urban apartment you’d rather not leave more than you have to.
So this is for you, dear introverted readers. It’s okay to stay inside. It’s okay to experience music from a distance. It’s okay to check out, to drop out of the modern world with its endless barrage of traffic fatalities and wildfires and rioters and streets filled with the desperate and displaced. It’s okay to not be okay, to go into hiding, to batten down the hatches when The Storm gets to be too much.
Because it doesn’t mean divorcing yourself from the World of Music altogether; far from it. Even before the digital age you could access the World of Music through recordings, via the radio or the local music shop or even the Columbia House Record Club. And now that you have Youtube and Bandcamp and Discogs and all the rest, you truly don’t ever need to leave the house–or hermitage–in order to support the artists you love.
Streaming the long haul
Is any major performing organization not doing livestreams–or offering some kind of “video on demand” or “online premiere” or whatever–for their concerts this season? Oregon Symphony is, CMNW is, and Portland Baroque Orchestra and Portland Opera and Opera Theater Oregon and Cappella Romana and Oregon Repertory Singers and on and on and on.
Earlier this year FearNoMusic released both of the latest Young Composers Project concerts, lively compositional showcases for which you used to have to descend to the PSU basement–and if you’re reading this after 7 p.m. on November 8th, you can watch the “virtual concert” of FNM’s 30th anniversary season opener ReTurn, featuring Bonnie Miksch’s complete Somewhere I Have Never Travelled (commissioned by FNM in 2016–and yes, I have a physical copy of that CD too) alongside music by Cynthia Gerdes, Greg Youtz, and Shaun Naidoo.
And that’s all without even leaving the classical scene; it’s never been a problem to stay home and take in the “local” rock, jazz, and hip-hop shindigs.
We’ll talk more next time about how you can effectively support your favorite musicians. For now I leave you with some words of wisdom from the Portland-based author and mage T. Thorn Coyle, who recently wrote about “The long haul”:
Slow down. Take a deep breath in. Pause a moment. Then exhale, slowly.
If the world we live in now is indeed the new normal, how can you adjust?
How will you adjust?
What personal choices and plans must you reassess?
What community efforts are possible?
Where do you fit in?
We all have a beautiful life to live, right now.
We all have plans, goals, and things to offer. We all need rest, and beauty, and time.
What is one way you can offer yourself more space?
What is one way you can lower your stress levels, and allow body, heart, mind, and soul to breathe a bit more easily?
What can you gift yourself, today, that will support your longevity and resilience? Did you drink some water? Take your meds? Talk with a friend? Get some sleep? Exercise? Escape into a book, movie, or music for a bit? Experience nature?T. Thorn Coyle, The long haul
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I’m 100% with you on this. I have vertigo issues that prove challenging when I’m going out to an event. A hectic atmosphere makes me feel wobbly and unstable, so lobbies are hell – and the wrong kind of seat can trigger problems throughout a show as well. It’s been such a blessed relief to not have to manage all that anxiety over the past year and a half, so I’ll have to figure out how I continue to be an avid supporter of arts organizations even as they transition to mainly in-person events again.
Count me as one extreme introvert who LOVES the spontaneity and electricity of live performance. To be sure, I have hundreds of video performances and thousands of recorded performances, but each time I watch and listen I know exactly what to expect. I’m old enough to remember the unpredictability and excitement of a Charles Munch performance with the Boston Symphony. Nothing on vinyl or CD could match the sound of Solti’s Mahler with the Chicago Symphony in Orchestra Hall. And sitting feet away from Pierre-Laurent Aimard playing Liszt or Beethoven will never be repeated in my living room. And I’ve heard the Takacs Quartet live so many times I will only pull out one of their CDs when I’m on a long road journey.
The one area I semi-agree with you is with the Metropolitan Opera video casts. Still in movie theaters with people, but not at the big house with the golden curtain. But with camera angles and close-ups you’d never see from a $500 seat. And with digital sound and images! Hearing a performance live at the Met is still on my bucket list, but I love this format.
No, give me the spontaneity and excitement that a live, one-time-in-history, performance affords.
Wonderful article, Matt. You capture my sentiments exactly. All best wishes and Right On!