Dear Reader (including those of you who’d normally only come here for orchestra audition repertoire lists, the rare operatic April Fools’ joke, or military music freebies, and especially anyone who recognizes that I’m apolitically stealing this “Dear Reader” gag from Jonah Goldberg):
In the heady pre-pandemic days of February 2020, I was preparing to chat over lunch with Ben Cadwallader. The Executive Director of the Vermont Symphony since 2015 had just been selected to take over the same role with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and he had kindly agreed to squeeze me onto his schedule amidst various onboarding meetings in the Southland.
On the eve of that meeting, inclement weather in New England forced a delay in his travel to LA, and he’d no longer be available to get together. We would postpone the meal-cum-interview to March, but he sent his regrets in the meantime.
“I was really looking forward to that,” Mr. Cadwallader said, “so this is a big disappointment, but completely out of our hands.”
Little did he know how completely out of our hands the rest of the year would become. Not only would our March plans be scuttled, so would everybody’s plans for the indefinite future. 2020 became a cataclysm wrapped in rollercoaster inside a dumpster fire.
I’d try to cope with the ensuing stay-at-home orders by trying to write more, thinking/hoping that the effort would be a welcome distraction from the relentless and ever-evolving epidemiological, socioeconomic, and geopolitical trials and tribulations of the day; however, as is evident from the sound of virtual crickets emanating from All is Yar since then, I was not successful.
Let me be clear: I’ve survived the last 13+ months relatively unscathed. No one in my family caught Covid-19 (including my 90-year old father and 85-year old mother-in-law, thank God) and our household avoided financial hardship. Frankly, my life has been more than satisfactory, especially when grading on a coronavirus curve. Yet the the pandemic and its penumbra consistently thwarted my attempts at writing.
[Quick editor’s note: I generally loathe the sharing of personal difficulties and/or excuses about my dip in output over the past few years, and have assiduously avoided them on these pages. What follows deviates from that somewhat, but is NOT a confessional intended as an attempt to gain sympathy. The stories serve only as a way to provide context for future articles, as well as a sort of explanation — and perhaps even the beginning of penance — to those with whom I’d engaged only to be left hanging and who’ve subsequently wondered what the hell happened to me.]
First, the isolation and uncertainty of the lockdowns took a psychological toll on me in the most unexpected of ways: I had an adverse reaction listing to — or even thinking about — music.
Incidental music used in movies, TV shows, and commercials had no affect; as long as I didn’t have to focus on it, I was fine. On the other hand, if I played music that was meaningful to me or that I wanted to listen to thoughtfully, I’d usually find myself getting extremely sad. Putting on music that would normally get me pumped up (say, Stravinsky or Coltrane or The New Abnormal from The Strokes) would instead make me weepy. Getting sad about music in and of itself got me even more frustrated and unhappy, and a vicious cycle would ensue: wash, rinse, repeat indefinitely. It’s the first time I ever preferred audio books, random TV shows, or even (gasp!) complete silence instead of tunes to serve as the soundtrack to my life. Not only was this annoying in general, it made writing about music untenable.
In July, a whiff of inspiration combined with a whisper of positivity hit me, and I felt the fog lifting. I optimistically put into place grand plans for a series of interviews with prominent musicians. The first three of these conversations — an email exchange and phone call with tuba player Norman Pearson, plus Zoom conversations with musical librarian, flutist, and educator Kazue McGregor, and Berlin Philharmonic horn superstar Sarah Willis — were wonderful, and I enthusiastically edited them. I could purposefully listen to music again and smile while doing it, which made me smile even more.
Moreover, performing arts organizations launched virtual performances of increasing sophistication. Even though in-person musical performances were still impossible, stuff was going on worth writing about. Things seemed to be looking up. . . .
And that’s when pandemic-related family and professional challenges finally reared their ugly heads. Prospects of pushing forward were daunting, but I prodded myself to try to keep going, to follow up on the commitments I had made. . . .
And that’s when my laptop failed without any recent back-up of my hard drive.
The technical difficulties sucked. The emotional frustrations sucked much harder. I still had raw interview footage, but moving forward with editing and publishing the stories would mean re-doing many hours of hard work, and to do so without the benefit of the positivity that accompanied the efforts the first time around. My intellectual bandwidth was limited, and my capacity to motivate myself even more so. All is Yar would have to wait as other things took priority.
Months passed. The pandemic crisis in Los Angeles reaching its peak as 2020 became 2021. Things looked pretty bleak throughout January before easing up in February and March.
Fast forward to today: the world is still far from normal and parts of the globe continue to suffer biblical-scale tragedy; that said, things are looking up closer to home, on both a national and local scale. There are increasing reasons to be hopeful — cautiously so, but promisingly so too. Things that caused difficulties late last summer are much more manageable now. As steadiness has returned to the other aspects of my life, I’ve been able to return to music. With that, I’ve begun writing again as well.
I’m now happy to say that new content will return to these pages in the coming days and weeks, beginning with the three interviews from 2020. I’ve reconnected with LACO and we’re comparing calendars to get the interview with Mr. Cadwallader rescheduled ASAP. More stuff will be joining all of it too. My apologies to Mr. Pearson, Ms. McGregor, and Ms. Willis for having taken this long. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa . . . et dimitte nobis debita nostra, sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris.
To the rest of you, many thanks for sticking around. Look forward to talking to you again soon.
All my best,
CK Dexter Haven
- Hollywood Bowl to re-open in May 2021; Dudamel/LA Phil, Thundercat & Flying Lotus, and La Santa Cecilia headline free concerts for critical workers
- Comings and goings at the LA Phil (Summer 2020 edition): retirements in the time of Covid-19