Guest Artist Stories by Pianist Joyce Yang
Joyce Yang debuted with the Madison Symphony Orchestra in November 2019 with a dazzling performance of Prokofiev’s c No. 3 in C major. She recently shared two stories about major life changes experienced since March that eloquently express challenges we know many of our beloved artists are facing as well.
Below the story Joyce composed in July that she has graciously allowed us to share with our audience. At the end, you will find a link to her most recent story, “Giving a Premiere in Quarantine” shared last week on September 8.
View more stories at https://madisonsymphony.org/news-stories/
My Quarantine Life: March – June 2020 by Joyce Yang
I hope this note finds you in good health. My life has taken a 180 since mid-March when all of my concerts were cancelled due to covid-19. I have been fortunate to be safely quarantined in my Alabama home.
The world I knew vanished before me, and I found myself in a totally new life. I never thought my last big chords of the Rachmaninoff’s 3rd piano concerto on March 8th with the Florida Orchestra would mark the beginning of an extended hiatus from the stage. So far, 48 concerts have been cancelled from my calendar and the list grows longer each week as the Coronavirus Pandemic makes it impossible for groups to gather in concert halls. My management and I are working closely with various organizations and presenters to reschedule the cancelled events in the near future and come up with new and innovative ways to present musical content in the meantime.
I feel fortunate to be quarantined in an airy home with a deck and a lush backyard with my husband, Richard, for the past few months. Richard is a double bassist with the Alabama Symphony and we have spent everyday together for the past few months — which is a record for us! The Alabama Symphony, like many other performing arts organizations, was forced to cancel their concerts beginning in early March.
In many ways my time at home has been a gift to me. When the quarantine began and the first few concerts were cancelled, I felt as if I was receiving some much needed time off — a golden opportunity to rest and regroup. I had been touring nonstop for the past 15 years, averaging about 50 cities per year. Suddenly, I didn’t have to pack, wake up at 4am to go to the airport, deal with all the logistics and surprises of travel, and lose sleep worrying about the upcoming performances. What a luxury it was to sleep in my own bed and not be on a “count-down”!
It took many weeks for me to “calm down” from the hectic schedule I had been living for many years. Since I was very young, I dedicated myself to playing the piano, and everything in my life revolved around my upcoming concerts. Without my concerts, my life seemed empty and purposeless. What was I supposed to do with myself and my time? I felt lost.
Looking back at the last few months, I think I went through the classic Five Stages of Grief from the Kübler-Ross Model: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The loss of my job (as a concert pianist) meant the loss of my identity, my livelihood, and my life.
The denial phase lasted almost three months. I acted as if the concerts were still on, pouring over the upcoming repertoire and practicing tirelessly. I got each concerto “performance ready” just in case someone called to say the concert was back on. I also worked frantically learning new pieces. “I will use the time I would have spent on the plane to learn new music!” I thought. I was happy to find new uses for my new-found time. I felt more energized than usual and no need to sleep. I stayed up for long stretches and only slept when it was absolutely necessary. I think I was in denial about my fatigue as well. I managed to learn three new piano concerti and various solo works including one on my bucket list: Beethoven’s Hammerklavier. I also learned Schubert’s Arpeggione, a piece that Richard and I looked forward to performing together in May.
When I wasn’t practicing, I cooked up a storm (my favorite activity away from playing the piano) and tended to our overgrown garden. I pulled so many weeds, I acquired new calluses. In addition I judged an online piano competition, made a few small videos, and binge watched “Better Call Saul” and “Schitt’s Creek.” I tried to stay healthy by exercising alongside Fitness Blender videos.
When June rolled around, I started to get the unfortunate news about summer and fall cancellations. This news was difficult to swallow. Prior to June, I was hopeful that I would be able to play concerts again at the end of the summer. The hiatus from the stage was getting less temporary. Suddenly, this little “vacation” from normal life as a concert pianist seemed to have become my new reality.
June was a tough month all around as I went through the next few stages: anger, bargaining, depression. For many months, I wasn’t really following the news, and while I wasn’t looking, the world had flipped upside down many times over. For the first time in a long time, I read up on all the turmoil in the world. I felt confusion, shock, and anger. It affected my work, my creative process and my life as a pianist seemed insignificant in this new reality.
This pandemic has made me think about what roles artists can play to elevate the current situation. What could I do in the next chapters of my life to make a difference? Why should art matter to this world? As I enter the last stage of the Kübler-Ross model of Acceptance, I am learning to adjust to the new reality and finding ways to contribute to society. I think artists have the power to play an integral role in this tumultuous time by helping divided groups of people come together, illuminate what is beautiful, and celebrate diversity.
I truly miss my audience, the energy of fellow musicians around me, and being able to communicate with the world. I have started to brainstorm ways in which I can bring people together through music. In the upcoming weeks I hope to introduce an online series where important aspects of music and art are discussed.
When the quarantine lifts and we are able to have concerts again, I plan to come back a better musician and dedicated artist. Until then, I’ll continue to practice from my living room in hopes of coming to play for you in person in the near future. Please be safe, and I hope to see you soon.
“Giving a Premiere in Quarantine” is a new story Joyce shared last week on September 8. She describes the process of recording a work from her home for the Seattle Chamber Music Festival — the world premiere of “Un Bacio” – A Kiss. Read this story on her website.
“Un Bacio” – A Kiss (Romance and Transfiguration) on themes by John Corigliano and Mark Adamo.
Composed by Aaron Jay Kernis
World Premiere (Remote) July 22, 2020
Joyce Yang, piano
Seattle Chamber Music Society
Filmed in Hoover, Alabama
Visit pianistjoyceyang.com to discover more.