But all visions of serenity evaporated the Thursday afternoon my 8-year-old stepped off the school bus, announced school had been closed due to the coronavirus outbreak and asked with excitement what he, his dad and I would be doing together all day tomorrow.
Tonight as I wiped down the counters after dinner, my husband was practicing piano in the living room, my son was composing a theme song on violin for his latest superhero story and my 4-year-old was marching around the house banging on a hand drum.
The little one came into the kitchen part way through his music-making session, complaining his hand was tired, and asked me to hold his drum while he played. I rolled my eyes and went back to the cleanup, so he wedged the drum between two kitchen drawer handles and resumed playing.
Sometimes I use the household pandemonium to my advantage. Those moments when my boys are occupied afford me the perfect opportunity to unpack my instrument from its case and play a little violin. Much like being “in the zone” as a runner or getting lost in a good book, practicing centers me in the present moment. It’s as if everything around me vanishes.
I’ve been playing violin since I was 2 years old. My violin is my oldest friend. (Literally. My instrument was built in 1760.) Occasionally we fight about how something should sound, but in the current climate, my violin has brought me nothing but calm and joy. I appreciate the escape my music offers me from the outside (and inside) worlds.
Years ago, when I traveled frequently with my sisters as a string trio, we’d share hotel rooms and practice our respective instruments from opposite sides of the beds. I don’t know what the neighbors heard through the walls but this sort of musical cacophony was normal for us. Little did I know that these individual-together practice sessions would prepare me for the individual-togetherness of quarantine with two energetic boys and their routine Frozen singalongs, summoned with a shout of “OK, Google.”
Music is not only exploding from every corner of my house right now but also the internet. We have at our fingertips performances from great orchestras and artists around the world. We can tune into internet ensembles of every genre. Feel-good posts of musicians and DJs entertaining neighbors from their balconies abound. I’ve witnessed the moments of peace a shared movement of Bach brings to a Facebook community of moms. My mom and 8-year-old practice violin together daily, sharing giggles across miles and a screen. The truth is, we need music now more than ever. Music’s transcendent language has always brought people together and it continues to do so in new and unusual ways.
Even as musicians are helping connect the world, I can’t help but feel a lack of togetherness. I will not return to the Opera pit this May and an upcoming Albers Trio concert with my sisters has been cancelled. Making music with others requires an intimacy that isn’t achievable through Zoom meetings. Whereas my husband works from any available space in our home, so I’m familiar with his colleagues’ kitchens, kids and pets, I can’t attend an orchestra rehearsal over Zoom. My colleagues are like an extension of my family, yet I’ve seen them only a handful of times since our quarantine began.
I miss making live music with my colleagues and I feel out of sorts not knowing when I might have the opportunity to do so again. However, I’ve found a musical togetherness in my household. My husband and I met playing music at a cafe. Though music has always been a driving force in our relationship, we’d stopped finding time to play together. Now, when we’re not thoroughly exhausted, we trade evening TV for reading chamber music. Today, as I played duets with my older son, it occurred to me that he is a musician, not just a kid playing violin. Improvisation is a favorite pastime around here and even my 4-year-old creatively contributes to our jam sessions.
For me, living in the present moment of today’s world means embracing the chaos and re-discovering the music that boisterously fills my home!
Laura Albers is the associate concertmaster of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and a violinist for the Albers Trio, a musical group she founded with her sisters. A Juilliard-trained musician, she hails from Longmont, Colorado.