When the Stage Goes Dark
Editor’s note: Diana Ladio is a member of the duo The Moxie Strings. While now based in Nashville, the Moxie Strings have a strong connection to Central New York, having performed at the Great American Irish Festival in Frankfort, the Syracuse Irish Festival and conducting several clinics at area schools over the years.
Ladio offers a musician’s outlook on what life in a Covid-19 world has become.
Performing musicians across the globe are suffering greatly amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Live shows may not look the same for a very long time.
While the rest of the world begins to slowly re-open, musicians’ very art form and profession are in question with no certainty in sight. What began several months ago as worry about show cancellations has now become a deep and punishing sadness. We are confronting the absence of a large piece of our identity and way of life that we still can’t quite fathom, much less know how to handle. I hope this article will both name the feelings we’re experiencing, offer comfort, and allow our fans and support systems to better understand the depth of our current experience.
Performing isn’t just our job.
It’s our oxygen.
Our life blood.
We didn’t choose this art form. At some point in our lives, music rose up inside us and beautifully but fiercely demanded it be our service to the world. And so we became servants, and spent our days embodying our hearts’ call to give through our art. Most of us have taken risks and sacrificed huge pieces of our lives to do what we know we’ve been called to do: to create and feel that other-worldly cycle of energy that can only be shared by performers and their audience. This level of connection is a completely unmatched experience in our lives, and one we never thought we’d live without. That which feeds us is absent, and we’re left with an insatiable hunger that no live stream will ever satisfy.
Many of us didn’t even realize just how much we were fed by our audiences until we were without you. Now we are confined to homes we’ve never seen this much of, confusedly picking up musical instruments that we are forming brand new relationships with. (I swear I can feel the change in my fiddle as well). Without the validation and encouragement that comes from you all cheering, dancing, smiling, singing… it’s impossible not to call our identity into question.
Our calling was always so obvious and deeply rooted that we never thought to or needed to ask the question. Without performing, what is there? This loss and confusion is our grief.
Looking ahead and having little to no idea when the next show will be or when the next cancellation email will arrive is adding an arduous anxiety to the mix. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel yet. A lot of us are looking ahead to 8-9 months of empty space even as other businesses open up. Theoretically we could use this time to be creative, productive, tackle long-awaited projects, etc… and, at times, many of us are. Other times the cycle of sadness, sleeplessness, exhaustion, apathy, withdrawal, denial, anger, helplessness, and hopelessness are, to say the least, creativity-killers. Then cue shame for not producing.
There’s a little voice that visits us daily and warns that if we’re not hustling right now, our music will trickle out of your lives and our careers and identities will go with it.
Musicians, we are all sharing this experience and our relationships with each other are more vital than ever. We must lean on each other. We can give life to the sentiment that devastating emotions really are more tolerable when you’re in the company of others going through the same thing. There’s a global music community bound together in the same boat. Let us connect and commiserate. Reach out to each other. Reach out to your fans. To me. Share this article as a virtual “shoulder squeeze.” Share it with your family. Share your feelings publicly and let your followers rise up to support you. They’re as desperate to connect with and help you during this time as you are to be in front of them.
Fans, audience-goers, and venue-owners, we know you feel it too. That beautiful cycle of band-to-audience energy feeds us all, and our hearts are breaking for you also. We’re trying to be creative and doing what we can to stay close to you all, so please stay connected. Keep commenting. ‘Like’ posts. Keep watching streams. Forward newsletters. Give when you can. Post pictures. Send an email. Let us know that we’re still a part of your lives and that you’ll be there when we return.
Family and friends, you may not see us express these feelings outwardly. Remember that performing is what we do best. We are working hard to handle this barrage of emotions with the self-compassion and grace, but things can still spiral quickly and then deeply affect those around us. We’re aware of it. Please remember that there is a life-changing grief cycle happening within us that may make us more irritable, quicker to react, lethargic, pessimistic, confused, and any number of other uncharacteristic symptoms. Have patience and know that we’re doing what we can to manage all these new emotions and hopefully not at your expense. Feel free to lovingly acknowledge the change often and allow us to share.
This will be an unbelievable chapter to look back on, and I think it’s safe to say we and our careers will be forever changed by it. Our lives and art will shift in directions they never would have otherwise, and it’s up to us to ride the wave, be kind to ourselves, and trust that even though it may look different, this particular beauty in our lives will return. We’ll figure this out. And we’ll do it together. Our lives depend on it.
Holding you all.
(A note: I wrote this blog post before the rise of the movement against racial injustice, and I feel compelled to acknowledge and mention my full support of all that needs to change in our country at the moment. Please speak up in any way you can.)