By Eric Jacobsen
I am a touring musician, married to a touring musician, with a two-year-old-daughter. We spend about seven months on the road, apart. We maintain calendars for each of us and for our daughter, with entire days planned months or even years in advance. We both love what we do, and neither of us can imagine doing anything else. And all of that careful planning came to an abrupt end on March 12, 2020. Within a week, my wife, Aoife O’Donovan, and I had lost about six months of upcoming concerts including many with my Brooklyn-based orchestra The Knights. Aoife, a singer/songwriter, was just starting a new tour, and I had a jam-packed spring and summer. Like most of the world, life as we knew it took an intermission.
My brother Colin and his family live a few floors above us, and we have taken this time to play more music together. Colin, a violinist and composer, and I, a conductor but also a cellist by training, have set out to record much of the duo repertoire, as well as creating new works or arrangements with my wife of her music.
Colin, Aoife and I are a natural band, but we haven’t ever really spent the time creating our own repertoire; until now, our musical lives existed in parallel. This moment with them is musically priceless. The desire to continue to push ourselves to create, rather than binge Fleabag again, must have something to do with wanting to seize the moment.
A week or two into the lockdown, we reached out to a friend who is on the cutting edge of recording technology. He sent us a truckload of audio equipment to create our own Brooklyn recording studio. And with his help recording us from 100 miles away, we have ramped up our work load over the last few weeks—so much so that we feel as busy now as we were before the lockdown (but with Legos and obsessive daily re-mountings of Swan Lake, Peter and the Wolf, and Coppelia by our daughter and niece.)
So—for me, life in Covid is a guilt-filled gift. It’s like a glass of wine at lunch. That glass tastes even better than at night, because it’s wrong, and you know it’s a rarity that might not come again. Being in Brooklyn and not traveling for work, eating three meals a day with my daughter, and reading to her before bed every night, feels like the gift that nobody besides yourself could ever bestow, but you would never have dared to take that much time off in fear of getting an addict-level coffee headache due to the adrenaline-filled love of the stage. Over the course of the last three months, we have probably spent as much time in the house as we would have spent during two years of “real life.” I feel so much guilt because of the joy I get from our overnight transformation from traveling musicians to a stay-at-home-parent-team and zoomtologists.
However, I have to face the truth: it’s a horrible and wonderful gift. The heart of my guilt is recognizing the luck that we can survive this way for now, while acknowledging that there are so many people who can’t or won’t be able to soon. This particular burst of busyness is partly a coping mechanism, both helping me to get through this time and (for better or worse) offering me less opportunity to reflect on the state of the world. I worry about the future of live performance, which relies on crowds gathering to share an experience. I feel great despair for the suffering and loss of lives in my city. I fear that the pandemic has only heightened the already too-wide gulf between our country’s haves and its have-nots. In the face of all of this, all I can do—all I must do—is make music.
I can’t conduct right now, as there is yet to be a socially distanced orchestra in America—but it’s coming. In the meantime, I’ve had the luck of being in a house with my wife and kid, and upstairs, my brother and his family. We’ve isolated together, and we have found a way through.
Conductor Eric Jacobson is Co-Artistic Director and conductor of The Knights, and also serves as the Music Director for the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra and the Greater Bridgeport Symphony. Also in demand as a guest conductor, Jacobsen has led the symphony orchestras of Baltimore, Detroit, Virginia, Alabama, the New World, Naples, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra, and the Deutsche Philharmonie Merck. Photo credit: Dario Acosta.