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Notes From Underground

On March 8 a colleague and I produced the tenth edition of our Concept Lab series in Manhattan.  We had a cello quartet visiting from out of town and we all went out for Korean BBQ after the concert and then out for milkshakes after that.  On the subway ride back uptown we talked of plans for upcoming concerts, travel plans for the summer, and recent things we’d read.

Three days later I was having a panic attack in my kitchen and the day after that I was on a flight to Chicago to work with my ACM team to figure out how we were going to get more than 300 students online in a matter of days and then, when it was unsafe for the teachers to come to our schools, how we were going to ensure they could teach from home.

Those were long days in which we were constantly updating our website and sending out email blasts only to get new information, change course and do it all again. We were also expecting to produce the 15th annual Sound of Silent Film Festival on March 28 and for a delusional week or so there I was convinced we’d be able to do it even if only as a live stream.

But priorities shift with dizzying speed in the face of something this devastating and, as with the cycle of grief, acceptance comes. Four weeks ago canceling a major show like that would have seemed like the end of the world to me.  Now I barely remember what it was like to feel like that.

After that initial flurry of activity, the shelter in place orders came down in New York and then in Illinois.  I realized that we were in for a long haul and so I took an eerie flight back to New York City on March 24 so I could spend quarantine with Maria.  There were exactly twelve of us on the flight and no one said a word.

At LaGuardia the few people who were there were leaving and they looked at us new arrivals like we were nuts.  Who flies into the epicenter? Luckily I made it back to our apartment safely and settled in for the long haul.  Days spent reading, practicing, composing, having Zoom meetings and virtual happy hours stretch into weeks of the same accompanied every day by the steady drumbeat of bad news.

There are some bright spots though. Every night at 7:00 for the last few weeks people have leaned out from their apartment windows and climbed onto fire escapes all over the city and applauded and cheered for health workers and others who have to work in unsafe conditions.

When I first heard it, the sound of cheering was so incongruous with my gloomy mood that my first reaction was annoyance.  Now I live for it.  I can’t tell you how much this simple act has heartened me and, I hope, many others as well.

It’s also been fascinating to see how artists and cultural institutions large and small are responding. I mean Titus Burgess is hosting Live With Carnegie Hall on Instagram for heaven’s sake. That sentence wouldn’t even have made sense a month ago.

And of course new rituals are being formed all across the globe.  Speaking of which, I have a very important lunch date with Mr. Sock.  It would be ever so rude to keep him waiting. He gets so angry.  Please stay safe and sane.  You know, the new sane.

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