Self-Compassion and Practice Habits During COVID-19

By Grace Gallur

I wanted to write an article about how it has been helpful for me to lead from a more compassionate place with my relationship to music. I hope this is helpful for you as well – I’d love to start a conversation and hear about the ways you are adapting also!

Settling into a new rhythm

Allow yourself to grieve the postponements, cancellations, and changes to schedule

Like many of my peers, I had an intensely busy April coming up – amongst many things, I was looking forward to singing with Divisi ensemble, rehearsing Path of Miracles, singing in two St. John Passions, prepping a third year recital, working on material for opera auditions and masterclasses, studying a script, looking for work, etc etc… it’s fair to say that I felt comfortably busy and very intellectually stimulated! Naturally when everything began to be cancelled, my schedule and the schedule of my peers evaporated over the space of a few days. This was a disorientating week for everyone.

At first I didn’t let myself properly grieve the projects that were either put on hold or cancelled, nor did I allow myself to feel sad for all of the rehearsals I would have enjoyed. My conducting teacher gave me the advice that the best thing I could do was let myself be upset, rather than immediately launching into new things to study. Sometimes, the only way out is through – and the sadness needs to be allowed to run its course. So I took my calendar off of the wall and decided to scale everything back to – simply – one day at a time.

Grace in rehearsal for Candlelight VOX’s ‘Pause’ concert, November 2019.

Acceptance, and letting go of the impulse to be “productive” all of the time

Given that I’m a person who thrives when they are busy (and that the highlights of my social life centre around rehearsal banter), I found suddenly having so little human contact, and much time, astonishingly depressing. I’ve learned that the kindest way to deal with these feelings is to practice acceptance.

Given that the situation is unlikely to change for a while, there is not a lot we can do about the fact that it is going to affect us. And we are going to feel sad about it from time to time. And rather than judging that, or feeling guilty about it, or trying to be combative with it in any way, I find it’s kinder to acknowledge when I’m feeling low and not deny myself these feelings. I know that the feelings will come and go if I don’t hold onto them too tightly.

While I was processing everything in this way, I needed to stop practicing: acting like nothing had changed and that I could steamroll through wasn’t helping anything. Sometimes it’s healthy to take some time away from your instrument, and and come back to all the other parts of you. Other times, it’s good to start practicing even if you don’t feel like it – but only you (the individual!) can learn to know the difference here. The love for your instrument and motivation to practice will come back – you just have to let it fly away and circle back to you. Give yourself some time.

In rehearsal for Candlelight VOX’s ‘Pause’ concert, November 2019.

Check in with your habits, and make a new routine – but be kind

Routines, by definition, are something you create with time.  So be kind if it’s taking you a little while to get into a new one. I often find that my practicing is less productive if I’m feeling off-kilter with my routines. You likely know all of this already, but just a gentle reminder – eat some food, get some fresh air if you can, do some exercise, take some time to read a book or do a jigsaw, and sleep at regular times. Check the energy you’re sending to yourself and to your friends, and bring some more self-awareness to your movement if necessary. If it’s a little unbalanced, come gently back to kindness and joy.

Look after yourself like you are a friend that you love dearly. Just start with one habit at a time. I always try to start with sleep. Also, get out of your pyjamas. Honestly, it helps.

Practicing with kindness

Lead with kindness and reconnect with joy – particularly if you’re struggling to “show up to the page”

I’ve had to come back to some habits I built when I was going through a period of uncertainty with my voice. If I’m really struggling to get started, I put my heat-pack in the microwave and flick the kettle on for some tea – and just by doing a couple of nice things I begin to associate the start of singing with kindness.

I used to also have the sound of the rain playing faintly during practice so that I could stop and focus on that if I started to get stuck in a loop of being mean to myself. For particularly foggy days, I keep a straw on my bedside table: if I can’t summon the energy to get out of bed, there’s no rule that says I can’t start warming up in bed. Sometimes the passion and the motivation won’t be around until you get started, and some days it won’t be there at all and it’s just another day in the proverbial office – and that’s okay too.

A glimpse into Grace’s personal practice space

I often start practice by lying in semi-supine and bringing my attention to my breath. This can be quite intimidating if I’m holding onto a lot of frantic energy because it means I have to address it head on. However – breathing through it gets it out of the way, so I can practice with calmness and clarity instead. Rather than letting negative thoughts become a barrier to practice, I just changed the way I practiced to anticipate them. The mind affects the body affects the voice, and so on.

It can also be good to give your joy a kickstart! What’s the rep that made you fall in love with your instrument? What music makes you go wow, I want to be able to do that!At the moment, I’ve got Britten’s Cabaret Songs and Andre Previn’s Honey and Rue on repeat. I also adore Vivaldi- that effervescent, champagne, slightly erratic feeling – and as always, anything by Wolf is just delicious to me. Pärt, Monteverdi, and Machaut also never fail to take my breath away.

Like every young, hopeful soprano, sometimes I just need to imagine what it would feel like to sing Sempre Libera or Je Veux Vivre… it really does pay to occasionally drift out of the immediate future, and daydream. It’s just as valuable to reconnect with whatever music made you fall in love with music – it doesn’t have to be classical – I loved Enya as a tiny kid and Adele as a teenager – and I still do.

Remind yourself of what normally helps your practice routine

This is like point 3, but for music practice. For me, I prefer to set my practice goals for the following day at the end of the previous day’s session – that way I still have clarity on both my ongoing goals and what small details still need work at the end of a session, and it’s easier to start with clarity the next day.

I also like to know when I’m working in the land of “building” or “playing” my instrument because each tend to engage two different patterns of thinking. I also find, both for vocal and mental fatigue – it’s more efficient to practice in twenty to thirty minute chunks, walk away, work on something else or do some silent practice, then come back and do another chunk.

Grace participating in More Than Opera’s Summer Conducting Course, January 2020.

You’ll know what works for you – and if you’re still discovering that, there’s plenty of resources around to help you build a a routine! If anything, now is a good time to refine and experiment.

When you have the energy, engaging with other areas of practice that you might not usually have the time for

The heading pretty much sums it up. Rather than flying into a whole series of new things in one go, once your practice habits find some new equilibrium, ifit would bring you joy – find another part of your craft to tinker away at. I’ve started working on my Italian again, and am laughing at the total brain freeze that comes with beginner-level piano.

I also highly recommend using this time to read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I’m re-reading it at the moment with two of my close friends and it is a gift of astute observation and astonishing clarity.

Fever Pitch Magazine enquiries can be sent to Stella Joseph-Jarecki through stellamusicwriter.wordpress.com

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