Musicians On How To Cultivate Creativity Amid The Pandemic


“I don’t think creativity is something that can be forced, and we need to be gentle on ourselves during this difficult time. These days, I do creative work only when I’m feeling inspired to, and when I’m not, I do something else. Ultimately, I do think that a lot of creative work will come out of this period, but it may be a long time before we can process just what it is and how it’s changed us. In other words, I think dormancy periods are equally valuable, and for me this is a dormancy period.” guitarist Mary Halvorson

“I’ve been finding creativity in the outdoors—spending more time alone in nature has really sparked my creative juices, listening to the sounds of the wind, rattling leaves, early-spring bird sounds, rushing rivers … . I’ve also been taking advantage of the time at home and time in the virtual world to collaborate with other musicians in new ways. Specifically, [bassist] Jorge Roeder and I have been composing in a collectively improvised way, passing recordings back and forth via email, building on each other’s ideas and creating new musical ideas inspired by the other’s.

“I’ve also been taking advantage of the free time at home to start ‘playing with myself,’ as Erica (my wife) likes to call it, overdubbing trombone tracks, synth tracks and vocal tracks to create new music in a different way.” trombonist Ryan Keberle

“One of the ways I’ve been able to stay creative is by making a daily schedule for myself. By making and sticking to this schedule, I’m motivated each day to conquer the tasks I have set before myself. … It’s a fantastic time to focus on the aspects we’ve wanted and needed to examine but time hasn’t permitted. I’ve been working on very targeted goals, such as improving my flute tone through the entire range. I’ve also been focusing on dissecting my baritone sound in an attempt to create a larger tone and broader aural spectrum by various tone exercises I haven’t conquered in many years. It’s also been an excellent time to transcribe my favorite musicians, whether it’s Serge Chaloff or Flying Lotus. … There’s never been a better time for us to take inspiration from the masters of the art form.” multi-reedist Brian Landrus

“Add some different things to your practice regimen, but lean on musicians who played with an uplifting energy—Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Bob Marley, Gioachino Rossini. Then practice playing avant-garde—no restrictions, just mood music. Finally, learn any popular song being played on a current radio station and play the melody (however much there is) with the same energy as the performers. After all of that, play what you love most.” —trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis

“During this time, I’ve found it helpful to focus on learning new skills, pushing familiar ideas to the next level, supporting fellow artists by checking out their projects and seeking out new ways to express myself through technology. I think it’s important to keep up with the politics of this moment, treading that fine line of staying informed and not overloading. While our worlds have shrunk in so many ways, our inquisitive nature can still find ways to connect, imagine and create.” saxophonist Quinsin Nachoff

“This is not a time for thinking outside the box … because there is no box … build your own.” drummer Ralph Peterson

“Keep planning projects and composing for them. Even though concerts are being canceled left and right, and the struggle is intensifying, finding energy to compose every day at the piano/saxophone has been crucial. We must see the value in the fact that one day, we’ll be able to record and perform with our peers again, and I want to have new music to document this unbelievable time we’re experiencing.” saxophonist Noah Preminger

“One of the things that is keeping me engaged: I create recordings of bass parts, upload them on social media and let people play on top of them and post it or send it back to me. It started as a practice tool for other musicians, but now it’s also a creativity and learning tool for me. The same bass line or song form ends up with completely different stuff on top of it. It’s giving me ideas about timbres and sonorities that go well together. It’s making me learn about rhythm as well; even though I know what I played when I recorded it, I sound ahead of the beat or behind the beat depending on who is playing on top. Feels to me like an aural illusion. I’d encourage people to collaborate remotely in that way, either privately with friends or on social media. I don’t think I would have ever tried this if it wasn’t for the pandemic.” bassist Jorge Roeder

“The most important thing is to always have projects that push my creativity as a composer, arranger and performer. Being socially isolated has given me the opportunity to structure my practicing schedule to allow a lot more time for my woodwind doubles. I have also been preparing music for publishing, home recording and mixing a few pieces, both as a member of remote ensembles, and as the sole performer. I am now in the process of editing and mixing a piece I wrote for 10 trombones, which was remotely recorded by a great trombonist and colleague of mine.” saxophonist Felipe Salles

“Being in the epicenter of the pandemic does not provide the best mental space to be creative. I think it’s important to recognize the stress and anxiety this situation creates for musicians. Managing stress and not knowing when we will be able to resume our activities is hard. Between childcare and school, staying healthy, getting food and creating new routines with the whole family in the house, there’s not much time left. I gave up on the pressure of being productive. This is not vacation, it’s a big global crisis with poor leadership. I have been meditating daily, reducing [consumption of ] news and social media, while being kind to myself. Setting up achievable daily goals and time to disconnect; I bought new books and have been watching movies I’ve missed at the theaters at night.” vocalist Sara Serpa

“To stay creative, I’ve granted myself a reprieve from my usual self-enforced deadlines. I don’t know how long this is going to go on for, and if or when I’ll be back to my old routines. So, at present, I’m just following my own curiosity—catching up on listening and viewing, free-associating and scribbling on a legal pad, trying to find solace in being creatively idle. Under the circumstances, I think it’s been going pretty well.” saxophonist Kevin Sun

“Now seems like a good time to let go of the need to sound good. We’re all reminded of why we started playing and writing music in the first place, and we all miss it. The joy of making music with and for others in real-time will not be lost on us again. … What we can do, now that we can’t safely be in a room with others, is to take this time to be creative in other ways by ourselves and, if we’re lucky, the other people we are sheltering-in-place with. It’s the process of improving that drives us to be creative. The process and its simple rewards keep us going long-term. The way I’ve been getting into that space, besides spending more time practicing the fundamentals of my instrument and writing music, is to cook. We can learn many universal truths through the arts we practice; food and cooking can be the most sophisticated of the arts. It’s the only one that uses all of our senses and is powerfully connected to memory and culture, much like music. If you can’t feel what you need from playing music with others, find another art to practice as passionately for a while.” bassist Matt Ulery

“Creativity is an eternal/internal canvas. It comes to us in dreams but never sleeps. It is one of the most beautiful modes of human expression. We need music now more than ever to soothe, replenish and nurture the best in all of us.” —trombonist Wayne Wallace

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