Bach, Beauty, and Bird Baths

By Sarah Meagher

Blog ·

Bach, Beauty, and Bird Baths

Associate Principal Oboe Sarah Meagher reflects on life in the slow lane.

Last week as I drove my daughter to her first violin lesson since March, I had a chance to reflect on these past two months. Whilst I was glad for her to have the personal contact that is missing from Zoom lessons, I felt a little sad about losing my newfound contentment with our uncomplicated life at home during isolation.

It’s been a convoluted roller coaster journey to get to the place I find myself in now. Like many of us I’m sure, I’ve only ever dreamt about having time available on a scale such as I’ve been afforded during this period. There are perhaps only two other times I can think of in my life that can compare – the holidays between finishing year twelve and my first year of Uni, and the period between finishing Uni and joining the adult world work force. Both times I remember tainted with a mixture of uncertainty and exhilaration. The sheer scale of information and news needs some management of time and emotion to deal with. 

I had a phone conversation the other day with a sales telemarketer and they asked how I was coping with the boredom of enforced quarantine. I was somewhat taken aback, as nothing could be further from the truth! Instead my challenge has been narrowing down how to spend my time productively. When this all started, I began by writing an overwhelming ‘to do’ list. I then went into a flurry of activity that had me disappointed and frustrated at the end of each day. A wise oboe colleague posted a timely snippet of advice on Facebook about how to cultivate motivation and find a state of ‘flow’ during these stressful times.This article had me reassessing what it meant to create a positive and productive environment during home isolation. I narrowed and focused my expectations, and soon settled into a productive rhythm of activity. 

I have enjoyed having the freedom to practice without the ever present concert deadline and the hurried note learning that is part and parcel of my normal orchestral life. In line with my renewed motivational knowledge, I decided to exercise my memory muscles and learn some Bach by heart. String players do this from a young age but wind players don’t seem to have the same expectations.The first attempt was painfully slow but I am now on my second piece and it’s noticeably easier. I’m reminded of something I learnt while working in a school for the blind, that when one sense is taken out of the equation, the other senses are super powered. When playing from memory the brain is freed from reading, and so I noticed I was experiencing with greater clarity how my body was producing the sound and the internal machinations were suddenly heightened.

Drawing and painting is much like learning an instrument – it is not a talent as such but something that is diligently practiced. It requires curiosity and tenacity in the face of failures. This is the other activity that has been consuming a good part of my day. I have set up a table in my lounge room that has a north facing window which is important for consistent natural light, and where for the first time I have dabbled in watercolour. Annie Buchanan (fellow QSO musician) and I have buoyed each other with encouragement over our drawing progress with endless conversations about which YouTube tutorials to watch, and thorough analysis of the merits of different mediums. Along these lines I’ve also learnt how to mosaic, completing a bird bath. These activities I have found to be very cathartic. 

I think the thing I will most remember about this time, is how lovely it was to have some regularity and routine, for our lives as musicians change week to week. This will surely be some of the last times I have all three of my children living under the same roof, so shared family meals and having the time to experiment with more complex and time intense recipes has been wonderful. 

Though I crave the opportunity to make music with my colleagues and perform for our audiences, I hope that whenever ‘normal life’ resumes, I will retain my newfound appreciation for simpler and slower living. 

Sarah and Mark Combe support Sarah through the Music Chair program.  

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