Creative Quarantine: Composer/Consultant Michael Blair

Michael Blair | Photo credit: Hasse Linden

1. How are you holding up?

Very well, actually. Even in the middle of this craziness and uncertainty, there is love and light. The Swedish approach of not having a full lockdown is an interesting experiment. It means that people can take walks and go to parks (there are soooooo many open spaces in Stockholm!). Pre- and elementary schools have remained open. Some businesses will survive having a smaller customer base (for now). But we’ll know more by the autumn whether this plan has paid off regarding the general health of the population (and the economy). As other countries open up, the numbers will change around the world.

My partner/wife and I are venturing out very little. Food shopping and walking our dog. That’s pretty much it. Plenty of reading and research. Lena is painting more, watching lots of documentaries, and cooking up a storm. I’ve been diving into the “what is the meaning of life?” stuff. And reaching out to friends, colleagues, and family. We are better than OK.

2. Has Covid-19 had an effect on your work? If so, in what way?

My live gigs, touring, public workshops/events, and recording sessions all disappeared. That hurt. The freelance music eco-system here has been decimated. People are freaking out. There are a few crisis-fund plans initiated by the Swedish government, the unions, employment agencies, and arts/culture organisations. One can apply for certain grants and subsidies. But the conference/festival/event world is on hold, with no indication of what will re-surface in the future.

So, I moved as much of my artist/band coaching and feedback session projects online as I could. I can still follow through with some of the work on Zoom/Facetime/Skype meetings.

3. Is there anything you’ve added to your practice that you’d like to keep after this is over?

I found very quickly that I do well with very little. At first, not traveling was a shock. I was just about out the door to the South by Southwest conference in March when things started to shut down. But letting go of those expectations and challenging my habits has been wonderful, actually. And by keeping my own company, I am re-examining my priorities. There is less stress around me because I released it! Lena is more Zen about things than I am. So, I’m learning a lot from her, even after 32+ years together. It’s sweet.

One of my all-time favorite collaborators and mentors died recently in New York. Music producer and event visionary Hal Willner left us after a week or so of Corona symptoms. A tragedy that gave my need for reflection and renewal and big tough-but-tender push. My being a more compassionate, patient, and grateful human? Yes, please.

As the shutdowns and lockdowns became more commonplace, I dove into listening to people who are extremely interested in how the mind works. How we think, feel, and make decisions. How we create families and start companies. All very fascinating to me. So, my homework the past months has focused on Brené Brown, Seth Godin, Gabor Maté, Bernadette Jiwa, Carolyn McHugh, Marcus Aurelius. And more. I’ve always spent time and energy in this universe. But this practice has had a strong positive impact on my mental health in the middle of this local/national/world crisis.

4. Of the artists you follow, who’s handling this particularly well?

I think most of the successful bands and artists who have canceled and/or postponed tours and concerts for the meantime and have not complained publicly, have shown a very good example.

Disappointment and frustration, absolutely. A very real concern about how and when we’ll be able to safely congregate in large numbers and close proximity? Indeed.

But from a solo artist in a church, to wedding bands, rock/blues/jazz clubs, dance/dj events, and more, all live musicians have been hit hard. To acknowledge that we are all in this together is a strong, positive statement.

Here are some moves in useful directions. Online concerts, MusiCares Relief Fund, and more. This is worth checking out:
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Michael Blair works as a culture consultant, creativity and communication coach, and musician/composer. His list of clients and collaborators includes the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce, Jeunesses Musicales International, Sound Diplomacy, the South by Southwest conference, and artists Tom Waits, Lou Reed, Elvis Costello, poet Allen Ginsberg, actor Hugh Laurie, and more.