By Lorin Green
In May of 2020, I received my Bachelor’s in Flute Performance without a graduation ceremony. The day that my ceremony would’ve been, I took graduation pictures on a seemingly deserted campus. I posted the pictures on my social media accounts and was flooded with congratulations. While I was grateful for the support from friends and family, I also remember crying that night. I cried for the loss of the part of my senior year that was supposed to be filled with bittersweet “lasts” and celebration. I cried out of fear of the unknown.
Was I just supposed to move to a new city to begin a new degree as a student at a new university during a global pandemic and one of the most politically and socially shaken periods of history? That was the risk that I and many transitioning students were expected to take without knowing what the future held.
This May, two years later, I will graduate with my Master’s in Flute Performance that I will have earned entirely without having one “normal” school day. This situation is a familiar one to most students who have bravely decided to begin or continue their educational journeys since 2020. In one way or another, everyone has suffered some form of loss due to the pandemic. However, I believe this shared struggle is something that has brought people together.
The pandemic has dramatically altered four aspects of my life as a student: moving to attend my new school, the day-to-day life in classes, campus closures, and my relationships with friends and family – old and new.
1.) The Big Move
Moving is already stressful enough without having to think about travel restrictions, mask mandates, and quarantining. My move took me cross-country from Georgia to New Mexico, where I was to start my Master’s degree at the University of New Mexico. I was unable to tour apartments before signing a lease (due to COVID-19), so I was anxious to see if the place I had chosen through photos and virtual 3D tours met my expectations. Thankfully, it did for the most part, but it still felt like there was something missing.
Once I arrived, the two week travel quarantine gave me a great chance to get really familiar with my new home. This was my first time living by myself, and doing so in a new city 1000 miles away from my family brought on lonely moments occasionally. Honestly, at times I just wished things would shut down to the point where I could go back to Georgia and do all my classes online from the comfort of my family home.
However, I saw this new beginning as an opportunity to learn how to be content on my own. I decorated my space in a way that felt as if I was present in every corner of every room. I learned new recipes that I could make for myself and eventually for others when I wanted to host, and enjoyed my solo Netflix, popcorn, and wine nights in the meantime.
After a few weeks, I started to feel like my space was becoming my home. It was a strange feeling, but not an unfamiliar one as moving is necessary in the life of many students. I have always been skeptical of change but during these uncertain times, I have found a new appreciation for it.
Plants grow, babies turn into toddlers who begin to walk, cutting old hair stimulates new growth – while change is scary, it leads to progress. And at that time, having made my biggest move yet and only a few days away from beginning the first semester of my Master’s degree, I came to an understanding and acceptance of change in my life. Good thing, too, because it was about to become typical.
2.) New Kid on the Block: Back to School
When I imagined my first day of my Master’s, I imagined walking into my first ensemble and class wearing a version of what I call the “cool professor” outfit. Dress for the job you want, right? Instead, my first day of classes consisted of me sitting at my dining table for an unnatural amount of time while wearing an outfit that I considered “business on the top/party on the bottom”: the “Zoom” outfit.
Each morning before classes, I got out of bed, took a shower (because God forbid anyone smelled me through my computer screen), made breakfast, and logged onto my first Zoom class of the day in either my living room or dining room. Sometimes if I wanted to feel fancy, I would go out to one of my new favorite coffee shops in town knowing my professor would go “Whoa, Lorin! Where are you today?” At that point it was exciting seeing someone out of their house.
I’m not gonna lie, part of me enjoyed not having to prep to leave the house every day for classes. I enjoyed learning in the comfort of my little home, and it gave me a new appreciation for being alone and the way schools were making-do with online education. However, I knew deep down that I was craving human interaction beyond a computer screen.
So eventually, much to our surprise and delight, my school’s administration started slowly allowing certain classes to meet in-person. Well, at least for a little while.
3.) Closures: Now You See Me, Now You Don’t
Have you ever experienced whiplash? I think all of us students who have been in school during this pandemic have experienced it multiple times at this point.
Imagine getting the long-awaited email that states, “Classes will begin being in-person …” and then not even two days after in-person classes have begun, you get another email saying, “Effective immediately, classes will return to virtual learning until further notice.”
This is the day-to-day reality of what we’ve been experiencing throughout our pandemic education. It feels like we aren’t grounded in any way. Nothing on our schedules has been set in stone, and with just one email, our concerts, recitals, or even graduations were canceled or put online. After a while, the precariousness of not being able to count on anything concrete really starts to take a toll.
As a performance major, I had zero live concerts my first year of my Master’s. As any Maestras with performances degrees can attest to, this is very uncommon and unheard of. I gave one recital and it was virtual. Both organizations I am a co-founder of, Relative Pitch and Elucidate Duo, had virtual concerts during the pandemic too.
The lengthy stretch of time in which we musicians were not able to gather and play together – a significant portion of what we do and offer our communities – has resulted in a loss that was not just felt by the music community, but by everyone who enjoys live performances and the arts as a whole.
At a certain point, I grew tired of the back-and-forth that closures were causing. I just wanted to stop being in school altogether. Honestly, I was scared that I was going to forget or had already forgotten how to perform. They don’t call it “performance practice” for a reason, and I had uprooted my entire life in pursuit of gaining the very thing I was missing out on.
Practicing at home or playing along with a recording will never be the same as being in a high-pressured performance situation. Many of us went at least a year without a live performance and it’s something I never want to experience again. Overall, besides performing, I think the biggest thing most of us felt we were losing by missing these live performances was the relationships that are created and built through performing.
There has never been a point in my life until now where I feel like I have the strongest relationships but also the most fleeting.
One of the positive things that has come out of the pandemic so far is the vast number of resources that are accessible via the internet. People who may never regularly interact with each other were connected more than ever.
I had hometown friends who I could see in-person maybe four times a year due to my school and work schedule. Yet during this time, I’ve had Zoom wine nights with my friends to just chat and catch up with each other. We cook dinner and show it off to each other, then dramatically talk about our choice of wine pairings. We giggle and eat and just enjoy each other’s company – things we didn’t have time to enjoy regularly under normal circumstances.
More than ever, I think we recognize how important and vital in-person interaction is for social, educational, and career development. As the world has been slowly loosening restrictions and gathering in-person again, while there is a layer of worry, there is undoubtedly an even greater general feeling of gratitude.
Loss has been a more familiar feeling for a lot of us during these times, whether we’ve experienced a loss of a job, relationship, experience, or a loved one. The last one more than anything is something that I experienced during my first semester of my Master’s. My grandmother passed away (at the young age of 90) the day after Thanksgiving in 2020. It wasn’t the worst time it could have happened, but it was the worst loss I’ve experienced to date.
My grandmother was the pillar of our family. The love between her and my grandfather, whom I was never able to meet, brought our family into the world. So many of my core memories are with her at her house in South Carolina on our family’s farm. We would bake sweet potato pies together, shell peas, and go into town to get our hair done – she was another mom to me, and she made my mom the amazing woman she is.
Her loss is felt every day and I don’t think I would have been able to survive this loss if I weren’t able to be home with my mother and family at the time. Through this loss, I feel as relationships within my family were strengthened and I was given a chance to reevaluate the relationships I was investing my time and energy into and make positive changes.
The pandemic has allowed for me to prioritize relationships again, which arguably is the most important aspect of every person’s life, but especially students.
What Now: The Bright Side
The year is 2022. The pandemic is still in full swing, but everyone is trying to move forward with their lives.
This past year I have played many in-person concerts with live audiences. I was accepted to present at the Georgia Music Educators Association Conference and the National Flute Association Convention this year. I was invited to my first research conference to present my findings of diversity within the music field. I’ve hiked more than I thought I ever would or could. I have gotten more experimental in the kitchen. I have lost but I have also gained. I have learned how to see the bright side of darker situations.
The past few years have been rough for all of us, as a musical community, nation, and world, and it can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. However, I’ve found that the pain, loss, confusion, and heartache of the pandemic has only made me stronger.
Seeing or feeling this strength isn’t always easy, and we don’t always need to be strong – sometimes, we need to sit in our feelings and not feel rushed to be okay. It’s okay to not be okay.
Mental health has been a very prominent and significant conversation topic within every field and every aspect of society. Organizations like Maestra are making it clear that mental health for our members is a priority, and you can see this through tangible efforts such as listing available Mental Health Resources. I’ve found myself having more conversations surrounding mental health as the pandemic has made a lot of artists, but especially artists of color, question their belonging within their fields.
It also made me reconsider what my role was and what it should be within my field. I am no longer satisfied with playing the same pieces that have always been played. I no longer want to be told that music I don’t identify with is necessary for me to have a successful and relevant career in the arts.
I have recentered my purpose and existence within the music and arts to be an advocate for equity in every aspect, from performance to education to administration. I no longer want to feel like an impostor, and I no longer want to feel like I don’t belong. I want to thrive. I want to impact everyone in my path through whatever means I can and to whatever extent I can which is why I am excited to begin my role as a Co-Chair for the Maestra BIPOC Affinity Group. This is another way that Maestra is promoting the need for places and spaces of belonging even within our organization.
The situation you are in may seem grim, but you are capable of doing everything you dream of. Don’t let the past tell you what you can’t do, and don’t tell yourself you aren’t capable of doing things just because you don’t see someone who looks like you doing it already. Be your own inspiration, be your own mentor, be your own ally. And stand up for the things that are important to you, because if you can’t advocate for yourself and what you believe in, who will? Keep going. If a pandemic can’t stop you, nothing can.