When Everything Stops We Sing

I’ve been thinking about that Matthew Arnold quote a lot lately.

Wandering between two worlds, one dead
The other powerless to be born,
With nowhere yet to rest my head
Like these, on earth I wait forlorn.

It is as though we got here via a bridge that collapsed behind us and we’re standing on a platform with the way forward obscured by heavy fog.

The support systems you would rely on when you’re going through a rough time are going through a rough time. Lots of great causes to donate to, lots of artist friends to support, lots of businesses you value that are stressed— and no money coming in. You just want to give everyone who is disrupted, anxious, depressed, broke, lonely, a hug.  And you can’t.

If we were oblivious to it before we are not now. We do not exist in isolation. We are interdependent. We need each other. We need a deeper connection than a social media feed. How can we share what it is to be human while keeping a distance?

A couple of weeks ago our ballet master class tour ended, and we faced some challenges getting my partner Valery Lantratov back home to Moscow. When Russia closed its borders to Europe, but not yet to America, I scrambled to find a flight from Detroit to Moscow that was affordable and did not go through Europe. It’s not so easy to find a flight to Moscow from here that does not go through Europe. I found one from Chicago on Azerbijani Airlines that went through Baku, but this was less than ideal, and so we had to drive to New York where we could catch a direct Aeroflot flight. Things were changing quickly at that time, and long story short, we got him back home two days before JFK closed for all international passenger flights.

It was an emotionally draining experience. Being in the airport itself was a bit like being among the last two people in a horror movie who have not yet been taken over by the body snatchers. To send him off and to be left alone there was even more ominous, especially given the uncertainty of when he would be able to come back.

I sought refuge at the home of nearby friends. He is a musician, and his work had dried up a couple of weeks before. Because he makes his living from playing live he was not sure when he would have income again, and of course, he missed playing and being with people.

We came up with a system, using a cell phone, and a tripod, to put on a little live streaming show. We didn’t announce it in advance, not knowing if it would work. We thought a few friends might log in. What happened was quite amazing. About 50 people discovered the feed and logged in, and they posted requests, and thanks, and said it was just what they needed. A half hour later the video had been shared and more than a hundred had seen it. By the next morning it was 1,500.

For the duration of the show people felt connected, music and art have always done that. They share an essential aspect of what it is to be human across distance and time.  To hear a familiar song, to know that others are experiencing it with you, is to remember that our culture connects us, that our humanity connects us, even when things around us seem to be falling apart. We are still us.

That’s why people are singing from their balconies, and dancing in the streets. We are still us. We still sing. We still dance.

The arguments we’ve been making for years for art tend to fall flat. The grant writers and the patrons of the arts ask for and give funding in spite of these arguments, not because of them. They are disingenuous. The people who make art don’t want you to support it because it helps downtown development. They don’t want to have music classes in schools because it improves math scores. They want art to be supported because art matters.

What we have learned this past month is that when the buying and selling stops we need to know that other people have felt what we do, and that it connects us. When everything else stops, we sing.

Here’s a song for the friends you’re thinking of who you can’t be with physically at this moment.





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