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Creativity during Covid-19

How lockdown changed the way I compose music

Stefano Vivaldini

11th January 2021

Here I am in an empty airport waiting for a flight to Bergamo, a city that has become the sad symbol of when it all began. I had the idea for this article this summer when life seemed to have returned to normal, but I find myself writing it today, in the middle of the "second wave" when a new total lockdown seems only a matter of a few days. And so the meaning of this article changes, from the story of an experience it becomes a reminder, a reminder for myself to try to face the new lockdown in a different (impossible to say better) way.

A bit of history (skip it if you want)

My first lockdown was pretty extreme, I was stuck in Belgium completely alone for three months, catastrophic news was coming from Italy and I immediately refused the idea of leaving home. From March to June I left home 3 times. Food was arriving in packages that I was anxiously waiting for and I couldn't find enough commitments that could break my routine. I made a lot of resolutions, I kept almost none of them. At first I thought: "finally I'll be able to write a lot of music without distractions" only to find out that the reality is quite different. Oh and I started a YouTube channel where I told a bit of music history, that weekly commitment kept me busy enough to not fall into despair. So I tried somehow to turn that strange period into a positive experience, and here's what I learned:

Understanding the creative process

A musician, an artist, is someone whose main resource is creativity, the ability to have many ideas, to choose them, to try them, to discard them is a necessary prerogative. But how can we know our creativity? How can we stimulate it? Or perhaps it would be better to ask: can we really stimulate it, or are ideas simply the random fruit of a mind that is always busy imagining and looking for solutions? I think the Lockdown helped me to answer these questions.

Answer No. 1: All the time in the world

It has happened to me at least a million times to think: “If I had more time who knows how much more music I could write” Now I finally had the chance to have an answer: much less, if I dedicated all my time to writing music I would write much less. This surely won't sound less strange to you if you think about how hard it is to have a good idea when you are trying to find one. Ideas like to be waited on, to stand in a corner and come out to make you change your ways, but if you look around all the corners of the city, you can be sure they won't let you find them. There is a destiny for every intuition, an obligatory path without shortcuts, and every idea is nothing more than a step on which to reach the next one, so that a long chain is created whereby when we are asked: "but how long did it take you to do that thing?" the answer should be one and only one: "All the time in the world”.

Following this logic, I am consoled by the fact that every good idea that has come to me is also thanks to procrastination, not doing what I don't want to do, not always being sincere, sometimes being a detestable person, all of which serves to write a piece that in a couple of hours I copy on paper with a pencil.

Answer No. 2: More than an inventor, an egocentric postman

So far I have talked about the creative process, about ideas, but what do we create? Creating just means putting together pieces of things that already exist, that's why I love composition so much, the word I mean, a word that doesn't hide behind hypocrisy but makes it clear from the start that you can't do anything else but assemble things, and the more abstruse and complicated the assembly, the more brilliant we feel. All those little bits and pieces we pick up here and there while walking, meeting people, living life, in short, only that some bizarre human being likes to diligently pack up all those experiences to send them to as many people as possible, so the creative person is nothing more than a good carrier of other people's messages, in other words, a (slightly self-centred) postman.

"the creative person is therefore nothing more than a good carrier of other people's messages, in other words, a (somewhat self-centred) postman"

It is easy to see that it was easy to confirm this idea when I found myself with no messages to collect and send since my only experience of life was going to the kitchen, eating, phoning, playing, going to bed, cooking, eating, phone, bed, cooking, food, bed, cooking...

Answer No. 3: The mind is great, silence is everything and all is not lost

So I was alone, isolated with my instruments food rations that I would call sufficient, and enough music paper to write ten works, but as I said, no external stimuli so no music, the end.

But no, I wrote anyway, even if less than I would have expected, of course the way of writing was completely different, much less like looking for your favourite chocolate in a chocolate shop and much more like preparing dinner when you haven't gone shopping for a fortnight: at the beginning you think you're starving, then you realise that the thing you had put in the bottom of the pantry never to be eaten doesn't taste so bad and you can invent some new recipes and discover new flavours.

Coming out of the metaphor, composing music had become a meditative path of inner research, digging into memories, past sensations, ideas put aside and in this having the silence of solitude was the key. Think about how bright the red light on the television seems when the light is off, in the same way the small idea of a sound becomes extremely clear in silence. Maybe I don't need to say it again, but if you are a musician, you desire, seek and adore silence, it is the best space to put your art.

Finally, nothing is lost, revolutionary ideas arise from every situation, even from isolation.

(I would like to thank the idea behind this article who waited patiently for me at this airport for a long time).


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