The two years of the Lockdown affected me very deeply. I was astonished by how much I missed simply being free, and by how desperately I needed the society of others. Here is a suite of piano movements written throughout the Lockdown that expresses what I have been feeling.
There was a point about nine months into the Lockdown when I had begun to realize that we had turned a corner from "this is bad, but we will get back to normal" to "this is the new normal." This realization shook me, deeply. Surely I couldn't be the only one who felt all these non-medical interventions were just a panic reaction, just safety theater? Was I the only one who could see that if we locked down the entire country, the "cure" would be far, far worse than the disease?
In frustration, I got into my car very early on a Saturday, and drove straight west several hours until the sun came up. I parked outside a Tractor Supply Company store deep in the heart of West Virginia, and watched the local townspeople as they went in and out of the store.
Every single person had a mask on, both going in and coming out.
That's when I knew for certain there was no turning back. These were people who lived on farms, whose nearest neighbors were miles away, who had "Trump 2020" signs in their front yards. And yet even they were wearing masks. The whole country had turned the corner.
I felt a deep sense of isolation and uprootedness at that point. I had no idea where we were going, how long this would take, when people would wake up – if ever. This piano piece reflects those emotions. There are four variations on the same theme, a cycle of repetition that expresses how time comes to a stand-still when you are isolated. Things happen, there is a sequence of events, but all the motion is circular. You end up right back where you started.
Life goes on, even in confinement, but it is a bitter struggle. There is a sense of loss, both of your own freedoms and joys, but also the loss of people themselves. This thing is killing people, killing people you know and love – and there is almost nothing you can do to stop it. You have no choice but to keep going, get up every day, do your chores, take care of people, go to work, make the best of it, survive.
The first statement of this movement is very somber, acknowledging our struggles at the personal level. The theme then repeats, building and adding more voices, representing the fact that everyone is affected, there is no corner left untouched. But in the end, there is nothing we can do except to make our peace with it. The piece thus ends on a major chord, signaling resignation.
The Lockdown was artificially extended far beyond what was needed. Our political leaders turned what was a manageable threat into a full-blown crisis. They then cynically used that crisis to increase their political might.
They kicked us when we were down, and it felt like a betrayal. The nadir was the last, gasping months of the Lockdown, when nearly all restrictions had been lifted, except not for children. It didn't matter that children were never even at risk to begin with. Those in power had one, last constituency over which they still could mandate behavior, and they would not let them go under any circumstances. Like the Pharaohs of old, they were stiff-necked in their refusal to listen.
This movement is a variation on the previous piece. Where before there was resignation, a sense that we must just wait the bad times out, now we know that the misery is being intentionally inflicted upon us. That changes everything. The previous movement undergoes a transformation. It takes on a firmer, more declarative quality.
This final movement was finished on the very day that a judge vacated the CDC's masking mandate for public transportation. Within mere hours, the last vestige of the Lockdown was gone. Spring had finally returned. Our two-year season of Winter was over.
The movement is completely the opposite of all the others in style and intent. It expresses my feelings of finally being released from confinement, the sense that Spring has returned.
Things that grow in nature have a quirkiness to them, the growth isn't mechanical or regular. The growth first appears to go in one direction, then it shifts to another. The growth is ever-present, but you can never completely predict what form it will take next. The right hand in this piece evokes this with half-step intervals that first go in one direction, then leap to a different part of the chord and go in the other. Meanwhile, the left hand keeps a steady rolling rhythm that provides constant forward motion. It feels like Spring.
Release! Freedom, freedom at long last!