Our hearts go out to everyone continuing to deal with the effects of this pandemic both seen and unseen.
Here at Fiddlershop, we've been collecting submissions for our group projects at absolute record numbers.
Now these group collaborations are nothing new to us, in fact the first one started in 2011 as Fiddlerman's Christmas "Carol of the Bells" project (this was actually before Fiddlershop even existed)
Recently, we simply started the Amazing Grace project to give folks stuck at home during this pandemic something to do. But we quickly learned these projects were more helpful than just avoiding boredom.
We received so many encouraging and insightful comments from those who participated. I wanted to organize some of the lessons we've learned from these mini-performances, and maybe we can apply them in other areas of our lives.
1) Deadlines aren't so bad
I bristle at the mention of a deadline too, but turns out, having definition to a project creates a timeline of when things need to happen and in what order. Parkinson's law states that "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion," and what that means for musicians is that we need a deadline like a weekly lesson, a recital date, or an audition to really motivate us to start practicing now. And it's helpful to have a deadline to decide when it's time to be "done" with a piece. "Cramming" for a performance doesn't work like it did for your high school history test-it takes time to train your muscles and mind to perform how you'd like.
2) The more the merrier
Practicing is pretty isolating, but music isn't meant to be kept to yourself. Music brings people together, and to borrow a phrase from Martha Stewart, "that's a good thing!" During this time of intense isolation, it's been encouraging to connect with like minded musicians and to work together to create something much bigger than we could make on our own. Of course this is just a small glimpse of the joy of ensemble playing in real time, but it has inspired some to join a local community orchestra, or start a quartet to play some weddings and other gigs.
3) Content constraints are freeing
Sometimes it's hard to know where to start practicing, what piece to learn, what method book to pick. Hick's Law states that "more options increase the amount of time it takes to make a decision." I'm sure you've experienced this if you've gone to an ice cream shop that has 6 options, compared to one that has 31 flavors to choose from. In both cases, I'm going to be happy to be eating ice cream, (and would probably choose "Cookies and Cream" in both places-'cause it's the best). But the 31 options requires that I pace up and down in front of the coolers, pondering the subtle differences between Moose Tracks, Deer Tracks, and Tiger Tracks, and honestly probably second guessing afterwards if I made the right choice and should have gotten Turtle Tracks (seriously, is naming ice cream flavors really that difficult?).
The point is, sometimes the muse of creativity shows up when one hand is tied behind our back. If you're overwhelmed with options, choosing one and pursuing it without second guessing produces more contentment than being stuck back at square one.
4) Technical challenges build character
Participating in these group projects requires a good bit of technical know-how. There's playing with a click track, video recording, editing, uploading, and emailing involved, just to name a few. Each one of these has the potential to derail your desire to complete it. However, pushing through, and troubleshooting issues can open up a whole world of possibilities.
Apart from the improvement in your playing from recording yourself, listening back, and making changes (I'm convinced that me from two minutes in the past is an idiot), getting better at using technology can even change your life. You might start putting together your own group projects, or start recording remotely professionally. Would you enjoy doing those things? It's impossible to know if you don't start trying.
5) Rewards can go both ways
There's so much that could be said about our intrinsic motivations, but sometimes it really helps when there is a little reward for completing a task. In the case of our upcoming project, being entered into the drawing for either a Fiddlerman Carbon Fiber Bow, A Yellow Sandalwood Bow, or a Holstein Pernambuco Bow adds a nice incentive to get involved.
But while some people respond to positive rewards, others are motivated more by negative rewards. There's a slight difference between punishment and negative reinforcement: with negative reinforcement, you are increasing a behavior, whereas with punishment, you are decreasing a behavior.
6) A final product you can have and eat
One of the really special qualities of a live performance is the uniqueness of the experience. I truly believe that once this pandemic is over and social distancing subsides, people will appreciate the performing arts in a whole new way. In a live performance, each second is a fragile, precious moment that exists only in that moment, and then only in our memories.
While those experiences are invaluable, it's also nice when we have recordings of performances to enjoy for later. Before the ease of recording came around, I often envied painters who could admire their finished canvas, sculptors their statues, and architects their buildings. Why are musicians, actors, and dancers deprived of the chance to enjoy or reflect upon their work after creating it?
I now believe that musicians have the advantage over their artist counterparts, since we now have the ability to create artworks anytime, anywhere without any extra cost in materials or supplies like paint or clay. But we also have the ability to share recordings with everyone on the planet, and to have it preserved until the end of time. We really can have our cake and eat it too!
All that to say, these projects have been a tremendous learning experience and we've been blown away by the response of the 74 people who submitted 174 tracks for the Amazing Grace project, and the 86 participants in the Game of Thrones project!
Be well, and practice well!