How Music Helps My Family Thrive Through Lockdowns

 

This era of the global pandemics is not easy for anyone. Still, if there is one common pleasure, or an activity, that can make it more bearable without any ‘side-effects’, it is music.
For my family, music plays a very important role. I dare to say, that music allows all four of us to thrive, given these challenging times.

My hope is that in the following lines you will find some inspiration and motivation to include music into your daily routine. The current winter atmosphere (in our part of the world) and wide-spread lockdowns have made even more suitable time for that.

1. Set the tone of the day

Music is a very strong medium. And if you allow it to yourself, if you open your mind, it has the power to set a desired tone, or mood, for the rest of your day. 

Therefore I start our day as a ‘morning djay’. Most of the mornings I select a particular music as wake-up sounds for the rest of the family. I have been doing this irregularly for years. Irregularly, because some mornings are magical in pure silence. Especially now I am very cautious about what mood I try my loved ones to get exposed to right from the moment they wake up. I must admit, that not every time I have been successful. Some occasional complains help me to better understand music preferences of my family. Other fact is, that I constantly challenge those preferences (I am the musicologist in the house after all!). Although the morning time, admittedly, is not the best time for challenges.

If you ask, how I do this technologically, my situation is quite easy. Our house came with in-wall speakers installed, and although the system is almost four decades old, the sound is still great and we use it a lot. But a bluetooth speaker in front of a room would do the same trick.

The very first song is the most important. Although I play usually a whole album, I don’t always start from the beginning, but with the most desired piece suitable for the moment. I have the album on repeat. So after some fifty minutes, when the ‘wake-up’ tune starts playing once again, we all know that it is time to finish morning routines and get ready for work or school.

A few examples from our morning music menu:

The Sound Of Music (Rodgers & Hammerstein) I start with My Favorite Things. If my selection was right for the day, the following song Do-Re-Mi I can hear our kids singing along from the bathroom already.

–  True (Avicii) What better to start than with the song Wake Me Up! Its energy is contagious, so the following Hey Brother can our boy hear from his sister, if he doesn’t move fast.

The Four Seasons (A. Vivaldi) Any part is great to start with, especially if it corresponds to the actual season of a year. But the Winter is and absolute energy booster in a freezing snowy morning.  

2. Everyone plays

Thanks to the understanding of my lovely wife, both our children play a music instrument (or two). An understanding from both parents is very important. Especially during the beginning years, when not everything what gets produced could be an ear-pleasing music. (The violin practice could be a real torture sometimes …). Fortunately we are almost past those times. Now we don’t need much and our house fills up with music played on violin, piano, guitar, or flute. We have a handful of known pieces (English, Spanish and Slovak) that we can play together: our daughter on the violin, her brother on the piano and me on the guitar, with my wife singing solo or together with us.  

These are special moments and it is hard to force them to happen. I am the one guilty trying to get everyone involved whenever consider appropriate. But it doesn’t work like that. We are not an orchestra but a family! 

So when some unique ‘spark’ touches at least two of us, so that we feel the urge to touch an instrument and start playing, the others cannot resist and must join the musicking. It is hard to describe those rare and rather short moments, but they are fantastic and worth all the effort. 

3. Dancing anytime

The dance domain is completely in the hands of my wife. As a true example of the Latin-American culture, dance is in her veins. Just a few fiery rhythmic tones get her moving immediately. Our kids have inherited this love to dance, so when we feel the rhythm, we dance. It could be a few minutes during the lunch break, when a merengue, wals, or tango gets us moving and helps to recharge for the rest of the day. 

On other occasions, we dedicate more time and preparation to our ‘dance parties’. After the school and work are done, we dress up, make enough space, prepare music – and dance. Especially our eight-years old son loves to put on a white shirt and a tie, so that like a grown up man, he can invite his mother to dance. 

These are fabulous moments, that don’t last too long – sometimes only 10 minutes, rarely more that half an hour. But there is something very special, when we have a musical reason to touch each other and be as close to each other as a dance requires. Often your bad mood or an anger to your partner or a child dissipates faster, that you can count to the second turn in a tango. 

4. Practice deliberately

If we want to play music together, we have to practice. Children practice to learn, we adults – not to forget. It took us years to make our daughter practice on her violin every day. It was an instrument of her choice, but as much as she loved to play, even more she didn’t like practicing. Now, after almost nine years playing (she started as 3-and-a-half years old), practicing is her refuge. Sometimes, if a day was not as expected, she goes to her room and practices. The more frustrating a day she had, the more deliberately she practices – repeating that one part again and again. And often that negative energy or frustration gets used for a positive result of better expressed and played melody by Vivaldi or Bach.

With our son the struggle to practice has been almost non-existent. Probably he had enough listening us talking to his sister? So, surprisingly, he doesn’t have a problem to stand up after his breakfast, turn on the electic piano and play for a few minutes. And sometimes he does the same thing a few times over a day. That way, there is no possibility me forcing him to practice in the evening – there is no argument. 

If the mood and the weather is right for my wife (that means a warm summer, like in her native South America), she likes to take out her cuatro. It is a Venezuelan instrument similar to ukulele, but used more energetic also for a rhythm part. This doesn’t happen too often as Canadian summers are  rather short. But seeing their mother musicking is a great inspiration for our children.

For me the activity of practice in these days means dusting old piano pieces and remembering almost forgotten songs. So that if we like some, we can play them the whole family together. I can tell you, listening my wife singing Slovak songs is unforgettable and a lot of fun. Mind you, she doesn’t speak Slovak! Even better is to mix in a proper Hungarian song, for example Az a szep

Deliberate practice, or better to say a mindful practice, doesn’t have to be for strictly music reasons. Studying a new music piece, or exercising your fingering, or a new chords progression, could absorb your mental and also physical energy. Even better if it is that negative energy that otherwise could spoil an evening and the time with a family. 

5. Improvise freely

Literally yesterday our little son completely surprised me. I don’t know whether he practiced that before. But suddenly he changed the sound on his piano to an electric Fender piano preset and started to improvise over a simple but meaningful two-chord progression. I was blown away!

Again – nothing long. Only some 3 or 4 minutes playing with – how the right hand can use and develop over what the left hand offers. A little play with the melody, then exploring different sound qualities by varying the velocity of hitting keys … and that’s it. Improvisation. Freedom to be musical.

For our daughter – improvising on an instrument like violin is not that easy. First, it is because unlike piano, you cannot produce accompaniment at the same time. And soloing all the time is tiring and after a while also boring. But second, and more importantly, the current classical music education doesn’t offer much preparation for improvisation, unfortunately. So sometimes we try a little jam session, where I play a known song or tune on a piano and then the violin gets some space to try new things and improvise. Both my daughter and I can feel and hear, that it is not easy – it is even scary. Scary, after eight years of practicing an instrument, to go free and improvise. 

In my case, improvisation is more about trying new music instruments or new sound libraries on the computer. There is something magical in discovering unknown sounds. Doesn’t happen often. Sometimes I just click on a new sound bank and with the first few tones, the inspiration kicks in. I get carried away, and improvise for long time. I am ‘in a zone’. For a couple times I may regret not recording those moments. But when I tried recording it, the feeling was not the same and I didn’t enjoy the freedom to play whatever I wanted. 

If those improvisations bring strong musical ideas or melodies, I record them to further develop them later. But that becomes a work and this post is about enjoying music freely.

6. Share with family

You, as a musician and a creator, may not necessarily need an exposure or an acknowledgment from others to feel satisfaction with and from your musical creativity. But others may need it and may benefit from your creativity. Namely – other members of your family, or your friends. In the lockdown there are restriction that don’t allow concerts, so the live music has moved online. 

And we have done the same. About once a month it happens, that when we call some from our family members overseas, we are ready with the kids to play an impromptu small concert. Doesn’t matter whether it is one song or three, by a one player or more, that mutual joy is always almost palpable. Also it is not about perfection. This is about love. And about being together despite the distance – at least through a mutually hummed melody. Music has that power!

7. Enjoy

I am happy if I have been able to make you read all the way down here. Hopefully you have found some inspiration for you, your loved ones and your musical discoveries. Those don’t need to be complicated or challenging, and definitely not frustrating. Leave that frustration to professional musicians! 

Approach music and musicking as one of the better ways for active relaxation. Whether adults or children, we are all under an immense stress and the media only amplify that. In these challenging times try to avoid extreme exposure to the news, moderate your TV bindge watching and computer gaming. Use music as a suitable stress relief, an energy booster, mood enhancer, even an antidepressant. Doesn’t matter whether you are in a quarantine, if you live alone, or with a family, music can help you. Try it! 

* Photo by Paige Cody on Unsplash

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