I’m so lonely, that’s okay I shaved my head — I’m not sad”, Nirvana’s lyrics ringing in the hollows of Covid isolation as Kurt Cobain busts out an experience bleeding through his six-string. A cut, a slice through the skin as one restrings the old guitar oneself for the first time, sliding one by one thin resonant metal and bleeding from it; we have this summer solstice, the World Music Day. Did it really take a world pandemic for a musician to learn how to restring their guitar themselves?
This year, we must talk about the rebirth of the old and the new in musicians across the genres as they struggle and cope through this new reality with their fretboards or their keyboards — as reality slides from C major to a bleak F minor. Gigs and shows, performances on stage are prohibited and regulars are having a hard time not being out there shouting their expressions through their chosen medium.
Saachi Mendon is a Blues and Jazz musician who recently debuted with her album ‘Until Next Time’ in December 2019 and plays live around Mumbai in various known venues. Having come technically from a blues background, she’s currently exploring Funk as a genre. “Funk has become so much of an inclination, that I hope I don’t forget my roots after all of this is over,” she tells amused. Quarantine has made this possible, as isolating with an instrument at hand really does give one the mental freedom and the time to explore the uncharted waters of one’s creative prowess. This is a sentiment resonated by several musicians as not only does music provide a soothing outlet for angst — the frustration of isolation and the forbidden fruit of performance is bringing about a rebirth of ideas musically in those who’ve dedicated their lives to their strings and their frets.
Internationally, we have Julia Lerner, a German classical music hall pianist who currently teaches at institutes like Jugendmusikschule, Ludwigsburg, Hear and Now Musikschule, Stuttgart, Germany. She tells us about her delightful quarantine project which took flight from the nests of isolation. As a way of not being able to perform and being cooped up, Julia launched a project to substitute the stage. The Queen song ‘Show Must Go On’, so very much relevant to the fight against these dreadful times, was chosen as musicians from around Germany and the world came together to form a video compilation of this song with Julia leading. This was a success. Moreover , she says, “I grew up as strictly a classical musician and I had always wanted to explore jazz, and now was the time, now were the days, I downloaded some tutorials and I can in no way say I am a good at it, but at least I’ve begun. It’s funny to explore this newer genre. It’s reckless.” This points to a certain trend in the world of music of musicians leaving their old selves if just for a while to touch upon something completely new, even if it is something of an antithesis to their original form. “The next time I walk up the stage, I will not walk, I will run up there,” she says speaking of the reverence she feels for the instrument before a performance. And maybe, if the audience is lucky, the Elegy of Rachmaninoff may have a touch of jazz.
As for the spectrum of amateur-ship, Shagnik Chakravrarty, a student and a self-taught musician tells us, “One of my aims in degree college was to at least attend amateur-ship in any instrument. I had time now and I started doing a course on my old small piano and really loved it. Hence I invested in an actual keyboard now and if not for quarantine I don’t know if my musical journey would’ve fully begun.” The Black Swan state of the world currently maybe doing the music world more good than harm, or so it seems.
What is it that all of these musicians from across a spectrum of genres, from the calm and pell-mell tumble of blues and jazz to the set wonders of classical, have in common? We can see that musicians everywhere have begun to reinvent the old and define the new. This year we have in the air the spirit of reinvention and revolution, nothing is set in stone anymore and music as it is, a collection of beautiful frequencies arranged just so, follows suit.
Is music and are musicians now up for a rebirth, a renaissance 2.0 of sorts, with everything in the world collapsing and rebuilding at the same time? Maybe there is an evolution, maybe there is a revolution, but musically, nothing seems to beat the solid fact that it will always exist to accompany each and every phase that mankind together walks through.
This can be seen from the fact a new genre has emerged in these past couple months of world quarantine called ‘Bardcore’. It is the sort of thing which makes one wonder at the sheer creative prowess of humanity— Bardcore being a medieval revival of older instruments and vocals with Anglo-Saxon translations of modern songs (even Lady Gaga’s, yes). If this is not a reinvention of the old for a newer world that we now face, with the talk of the new normal et cetera, then what indeed is? Music like history will repeat itself and so will musicians like revolutionaries be its revivalists.
Kurt Cobain’s words of madness, Freddie Mercury’s words of hope — “My soul is painted like the wings of butterflies, Fairy Tales of yesterday, grow but never die”, but all in all, Nirvana fans, “I shaved my head” nonetheless, as the drama of Mahler's Symphony drops the curtain — to a newer world outside.