Today began as follows: after turning the alarm off a couple times, I rolled out of bed and made myself a coffee. So far so good, not too different compared to pre-pandemic. But it’s roughly from this point in the day – about 15 minutes in – that things really do begin to look a bit different.
Andrew Blanch. Photo © Bec Lorrimer
For a start, I’m not on tour. At the time of writing, and in a pandemic-less parallel universe, I’d be performing at the Melbourne Recital Centre tonight, and the Sydney Opera House tomorrow night – an exciting album launch tour with my fantastic guitar duo partner Ariel Nurhadi – before flying to Germany the following day for a series of solo recitals in various European countries. Well, of course none of this is actually happening – but that doesn’t stop the calendar notifications popping up on my phone, declaring the imminence of all this activity as if all was well and normal. I find the notifications mildly amusing at this stage, and preferable to the bleak calendar of white nothingness should I go through and manually delete everything.
Instead, my day properly begins with a pleasant coffee from the comfort of my bed accompanied by a solid 30 minutes of obsessive data analysis. How many new infections, how many deaths, how many tests, in which countries? I’m not sure if this is entirely normal behaviour truth be told, but when nothing else in the world is particularly normal I’m cutting myself some slack.
Ariel Nurhadi and Andrew Blanch. Photo © Matt McGuigan
The announcements of early March spelling the end for live events for the foreseeable future hit me hard at first, but I’m glad to say a couple months later I’ve managed to find a groove. I was very fortunate to be in the final stages of a long-term project with the aforementioned Ariel Nurhadi, about to record a new album together for ABC Classic. That our recording was postponed, was a blessing in disguise because it’s become a marvellous distraction to work towards while the shock of this new-normal sets in. We’re both very pleased with how it’s developing and look forward to releasing in the first week of September.
This recording work has generally occupied my afternoons, rehearsing, recording and editing. While my mornings have been spent on personal practice, writing grant applications and other administrative work – all in addition to my newly acquired pastime as an amateur epidemiologist.
I have exciting collaborations in the works for the remainder of the year with dear friends of mine such as the brilliant harpist Emily Granger (with whom I shared a music residency in Banff, Canada in late 2019), powerhouse clarinettist David Rowden (artistic director of the Omega Ensemble), and the inspirational Claire Edwardes and her Ensemble Offspring. In addition to these collaborations, I’m extremely fortunate to be working with stunning Australian Composers Felicity Wilcox, Jessica Wells, Robert Davidson and Daniel Rojas on new commissions for the classical guitar and other instruments, and I will continue to work towards a solo album release of Latin American Guitar Music for 2021 – not to mention recording the remainder my album with The José Carbó Trio when state borders open up. This should certainly keep me busy until concerts can return. But there are still many outstanding questions, including my greatest concern – that an effective vaccine will not be created before 2022 if ever.
Andrew Blanch and Emily Granger. Photo © Gertrud Leopard
As it stands today, musicians cannot perform in public, we cannot earn an income doing what we love to do, and countless hours of work putting the year into motion have come to nothing. This has been extraordinarily difficult, both financially and emotionally, but the idea that it is temporary is a lifeline. Personally, I am desperately clinging to the idea that the ‘normal’ we’ve come to know with respect to life, concerts and everything will inevitably return. That we will soon again all enjoy the magic and the energy of a stunning live performance in the company of others. But what if it doesn’t? The thought of even semi-permanent adjustment to social distancing, travel restrictions, online concert presentations and all the rest of it is to my mind extremely concerning. Unfortunately, I think serious conversations and possible solutions concerning this not unlikely scenario are just about inevitable before this ‘flaming garbage heap of a year’ has concluded – if I may borrow this delightfully apt expression from a colleague.
Personally, life has settled into something quite manageable. My loved ones are safe and healthy, I’m grateful to have qualified for JobKeeper, and I live in one of the few countries in the world that avoided utter catastrophe. Music itself has and always will be totally unaffected by the pandemic, or any other outside event. It’s always there, a constant in its depth and beauty and in the pleasure it brings me in listening to it, playing it or any of the countless other ways of engaging with it. I think just the sheer pleasure music affords us is something truly special and not to be taken for granted. I look forward to sharing Ariel’s and my new album Alchemy with the world very soon, and am pleased to report on a good day I’m as inspired and motivated as I ever have been.
Alchemy by Andrew Blanch and Ariel Nurhadi will be released on September 4 on ABC Classic. The album is available for pre-order and their first single La Vida Breve, is available now on all streaming platforms.