I usually celebrate the end of a busy, spring semester by listening to musicians’ recordings of my works and reliving the precious memories of the process again. But now I sit alone and stare at my manuscripts, wondering when and whether they will ever be performed.
A month ago, I came across a funny meme about a composer before and after social distancing—nothing’s changed in the comparison photos. We are still isolated creatures and thankfully most of us can work anywhere as long as we are comfortable. The cancellation of rehearsals and concerts of our music is the greatest blow, now that a semester’s worth of creations is left stranded, unheard, without the possibility of hearing them live anytime soon. Our only chance to interact physically with others is now up in the air. All the fun experimentations and the sweetness of our labor have to wait.
I am still grateful that the pandemic is powerless to halt education. Lessons and classes can still continue regularly on Zoom. For academic classes, being able to see the frontal view of everyone is quite reassuring and somehow adds a more intimate dimension to the classroom experience. It is now much easier to speak up anytime without feeling awkward or disruptive now that everyone else can hear each other’s voices immediately. I do appreciate this inclusive atmosphere, though the value of real in-person learning is irreplaceable. Having traveled back home to Singapore in late March, the biggest obstacle in grappling with this virtual, remote sphere of communication is the gradual decline of my attention span, since most of my classes happen late at night with the time zone difference. One of my classes is on Monday, 1-2:45am (GMT+8). Despite the option of being absent and obtaining a recording afterward, I feel more immersed if I participate at the same time as everyone else. Unfortunately, in consideration of my own health, I have to miss my composition forum, which would take place a few hours later at 6am.
Compromises like this can be quite considerable on our part, since our ability to be productive through independent management of effort, time, and the environment around is truly tested. Our teachers are really commendable for being so quick in readjusting plans amid the blurred divisions of family and work life. Assignments and exams are now more catered toward individual research. To relieve the issue of having limited resources available, lots of help has been provided by the teachers themselves, who do their very best to support our quest for information. However, with the increased flexibility of time offline for this work, some of this coursework has been adapted to become even more comprehensive and challenging in nature, ensuring that students find ways to develop beneficial strategies and thoroughly challenge themselves.
Weirdly, this has actually been the most active semester of my compositional output. The support from my peers has pushed me on and online platforms are incredible in facilitating even my first contact with various musicians who are so kind to demonstrate the pieces I’ve written and provide feedback. Bonds with my mentors and friends are stronger than ever since being on the same boat has brought us all closer together. So what if there are almost no recordings for my composition jury this year? Mutual expression and purposeful connections still prevail with the belief that we can tide things through eventually. Let’s revel in the power of this present moment and continue to explore fearless, unbounded creativity. That is the real freedom in adversity.