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Julie Becker: Comfort of the arts

My sister called from the East Coast at the end of a miserable week. Deaths from the coronavirus in the U.S. had just surpassed 100,000, and George Floyd had recently been murdered — news that compounded the collective shock in our society, already reeling from the dire state of our health system, a tanking economy, ongoing environmental degradation and political unrest.

Caught up in the whirl of global angst, we both admitted to feeling immobilized, with little or no idea how to patch even a small crack in our splintering world.

Having prefaced our conversation with gloomy remarks, Susan’s voice shifted, almost as if she’d settled into a favorite easy chair. “I’ve taken up knitting again,” she told me, and despite the turmoil we’d reviewed, it didn’t seem to be an odd remark.

Susan has always had an artistic eye. Before retiring, she worked in the field of interior design, surrounded by color and fabric. So now, during these tumultuous times, she found it soothing to sit quietly. To feel soft yarn sifting through her fingers as her clicking needles slowly wove a new sweater.

After Susan spoke of knitting, I told her about a pair of local recitals staged by young musicians — virtual productions hosted by InConcert Sierra in late May. Eager students, ranging in age from 7 to 18, filmed favorite pieces at home to be aired via Facebook Live. Viewers were treated to Mendelssohn, Chopin and Kabalevsky on the piano; Richard Strauss on French horn; and Bach, Saint-Saëns and several other composers on violin, cello and trumpet.

As part of the program, the musicians spoke about their musical life, and how they felt about sheltering in place. I found their personal expressions to be insightful, enchanting, and at times, even heroic. They were the wise ones, our future, letting their elders know they would persevere — that life would go on and they would adapt and find their way.

In listening to music or creating a piece of clothing, Susan and I agreed we were looking for comfort — relief from the bombardment of upsetting news. While we were safe in our homes free of the immediate hardships affecting so many, we weren’t sealed off from the distress outside our doors. So we sought comfort.

A few days later, I shared our thoughts with my friend Jeanne, and she immediately picked up the thread. Her son and his partner are dancers, yet with theatres, concert halls and other venues darkened all over, they, like legions of musicians, actors and dancers worldwide, are unable to perform before live audiences. So instead, the two of them accepted a series of choreography challenges, put forth by Spotlight Ballroom in Sacramento.

Similar to the young musicians of InConcert Sierra, the dancers learned steps to various dances and recorded their efforts at home, resulting in a Virtual Spring Showcase aired over the internet, giving Jeanne the pleasure of seeing her son handily dancing segments of a rhumba, a foxtrot, and the Lindy Hop, as well as some rock and jazz.

Under normal circumstances, Nevada County, rich in the arts, brings money into the community. Not only through ticket sales, but spillover into restaurants and hotel stays. Yet so much of the value of the arts is intrinsic and cannot be easily measured. Music, dance, visual arts, drama and poetry all touch our emotions, giving us empathy, connections, beauty and understanding.

Due to these values, once we get through the long COVID-19 tunnel, many believe there will be a resurgence of the arts — a grand revival. But before this occurs, it will still be dicey in the arts community for months to come. So to help tide everyone over, the Nevada County Arts Council, along with a coalition of local arts organizations, recently launched an Artist Relief Fund, designed to offer micro-grants to artists and groups in need. To donate to the fund, simply go to: http://www.nevadacountyarts.org/artist-relief-fund.

In the meantime, despite the lockdown, we have the option to seek comfort through the arts on our own, whether through enjoying recitals, concerts and dance performances online, or engaging in artistic projects at home — painting, writing or creating with fabric or yarn.

In doing so, by giving ourselves pause and peacefulness, we’re better prepared to open our hearts; more likely to have the means to offer consolation to a troubled society.

Julie Becker lives in Nevada City.


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