DSO Conversations: Netanela Mizrahi

 

 

For our second installment of DSO Conversations: Coping with COVID-19, we talked to DSO’s Principal Second Violinist Netanela Mizrahi. Netanela is a woman of many talents; she’s a musician, composer, music therapist, music teacher, and a 2017 Churchill Fellow who has researched the impact of music-based interventions on communities that experience trauma. Given her involvement in a such a broad range of musical endeavours, DSO was interested to learn how COVID-19 has affected her life and work.

 

 

 

As both a music educator and a music therapist, what are the biggest challenges COVID-19 has posed for your work?

Adapting my work to the needs of our community has definitely been a creative process. I’ve seen my clients deal with overwhelming feelings of loneliness, their physical and social needs unmet and their mental health challenges exacerbated. In order to address these issues through music, I’ve found myself working more creatively with tactile and active experiences, finding ways to help people feel their physical strength by engaging with the physical sensations that are receiving less sensory feedback in times of reduced social contact. Drumming and elements of body work, movement, breath and voice work seem to be coming up more than ever. And we’ve found ways to make music together despite physical distancing.

Even before COVID-19, many of my clients felt isolated or disconnected from community because of the barriers our systems create for people with disabilities, mental health challenges, or those facing other access or geographic barriers. In many ways, our response to COVID-19 has increased the accessibility of services and community to people who have been excluded from cultural, social and professional activities for a long time. COVID-19 challenged our exclusion of certain members of our community by prompting us to diversify the way we all work. We used to tell ourselves we had a choice whether to adapt learning environments for students or teachers who were unable to physically attend classes or that we had a choice to create inclusive systems for adults of diverse abilities to engage in the workplace and cultural activities. We framed people with these experiences as consumers rather than creators of services and culture, but COVID-19 is prompting us to seriously critique this. I hope we choose to hold onto these possibilities once the immediate crisis has passed.

I miss playing music with others and I see systemic problems in the ways musicians and educators are valued in our society. But from a creative perspective, I also value these times of increased silence. It focuses my energy towards listening and reflection, and prompts me to question the way I work.

Do you have any recommendations for how parents can keep children engaged in music while they are at home?

A trauma-informed approach to music engagement in isolation reminds us that children’s experience of lockdown, regardless of how much they understand about the global crisis, has changed their everyday world. Music can bring comfort at these times because it can connect us to times of safety, stability and connection. It can engage and integrate our senses, provide tactile experiences and engage our bodies in ways we know promote wellbeing (breath, body, mind, spirit, imagination, creativity). Parents understand the needs of their children and families better than anyone else, and sometimes we also need to grant ourselves permission to just be with our children in the ways we know best. Some families are finding themselves with more time together and less to do, while others are juggling engaging children while also trying to work remotely. Some families are looking for ways to stimulate their children and others are looking for ways to create calm and stillness. In many families, parents are dysregulated and engaging with music might be a way for them to manage their own experience of this trauma. Our parenting needs are as diverse as ever.

Parents looking for guidance might start by moving in little steps. Not everyone needs to master an instrument or livestream a four-part harmony family musical theatre pandemic parody. Younger children mirror the way we engage with music and are most likely to participate if that’s what we’re doing. Engagement can happen through formal activities, like logging into online music playgroups or lessons, learning a song or dance, or the routine of instrument practice. But it can also happen playfully, casually, as part of an everyday routine. In some families, the person cooking dinner chooses the playlist. Some have a special bedtime or bathing song. Perhaps each pet needs a theme song. Many families I’m working with are looking for ways to continue engaging their children without adding to a child’s screen time. Intentional music listening is one focused activity many seem to be enjoying. Turn off the lights or light a candle, some people lie down with feet up the wall or find their most comfortable way to be still, and choose one listening experience to go deep into together.

Libraries offer free access to audiobooks/podcasts with orchestral and other instrumental music, or guided imagery to music recordings. Storytelling also engages children with new music or deepens their engagement with familiar sounds. Children can create improvised soundscapes to favourite stories using found household objects. Family recitals give everyone a chance to share something they’ve been doing with full attention. Many children love the invitation to give their parent a lesson on their instrument. My daughter and I compete to see who can sustain communicating only through operatic recitative (she always wins). “Hypotheticals” is a fun imagination game: “Would you rather master one instrument at the click of your fingers, or be able to play one piece only on 100 different instruments?” “If you were an instrument, which would you be?” “Which one song would you choose to have stuck in your head for the rest of your life?”

How has the pandemic affected your musical practice? Are you able to spend more time at home playing? How do you go about connecting with other musicians?

I’ve been returning to score study and orchestrating DSO’s Miyapunu arrangement. It’s a good time to be writing music quietly on my own! I’m watching some amazing collaborations and new works grow in this time. Artists in our community are generous in receiving works in progress and offering feedback and I’ve loved getting previews of others’ works too.

I should add that the DSO community has provided me with so much support – it’s the meeting point for all my professional networks – musicians, educators, health practitioners. Despite not seeing each other at rehearsals, I’ve felt very connected to other DSO teachers and health practitioners, and the sharing of skills and resources to adapt to the changes caused by COVID-19 has in many ways made me feel more connected to my colleagues than ever.

You are currently in the process of working on an arrangement of ‘Miyapunu’, a collaboration with Galpu Songman, Guwanbal Gurriwiwi. Could you tell us a bit more about this fascinating project – how did it come about and what is the process behind it?

Guwanbal and I started working with this songline in the 2016 Tunnel Number 5 Festival of Underground Music. Miyapunu grew into a chamber/youth choir piece as part of the Arafura Music Collective’s Love and Dreaming commission.  This song draws on the traditional knowledge, language and songlines from the Galpu community of Galiwin’ku/Elcho Island, of which Guwanbal is an elder and teacher. We wrote this song based on the Galpu story about Miyapunu, an ancestral turtle/dolphin being. The mother and baby miyapunu become separated in the water, and their crying out to each other forms a call between Guwanbal and the youth choir in this piece.

Although inspired by a Yolngu creation story, this song has contemporary themes. It’s a song about homeland and belonging, about listening to voices from the past and future. It’s about Reconciliation and a call for a Treaty between the Australian government and Indigenous Australians. We hope that collaborations like ours present a model for working together, listening deeply to each other, and creating new stories together. Guwanbal and I are so honoured to be developing this for the DSO and particularly value bringing children into our performances. Involving a youth choir gives more opportunities for Yolngu (Aboriginal) and Balanda (non-Aboriginal) children to work together, to learn from Indigenous elders and engage with Art Music as a vehicle for social change.

What are you listening to at the moment?

I had planned to be in South Africa in July presenting a conference paper on trauma-informed performance practice. Missing out on watching some amazing choirs was the saddest thing about those plans changing. Today I’m listening to Stellenbosch University Choir and imagining myself there.

 

DSO Conversations: Coping with COVID-19

 

Dr Sarah Lynar

In these unsettling times, it’s important to stay connected and to continue sharing our experiences. To this end, we have started a new interview series called ‘DSO Conversations: Coping with COVID-19’, where we chat to musicians about how they are dealing with the changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

For our first interview we sat down and talked (virtually!) with Dr Sarah Lynar. Most of us know the talented trumpeter and DSO board member for her musical rather than her medical skills, but during the day Sarah is a doctor and a Specialist in Infectious Diseases working hard to care for COVID-19 patients and to coordinate the NT’s response to the virus. Here she talks about her work, how she is coping with #isolife, her recommendations for a #stayhome playlist, and more.

 

Could you tell us a bit about the work you do and your part in the NT’s response to COVID-19?

SL: I’m a doctor, and a Specialist in Infectious Diseases. I work at Royal Darwin Hospital, and moved to Darwin just over 4 years ago because of the interesting variety of tropical infectious diseases up here and the vibrant medical community I had heard about. COVID-19 has been a strange experience for me, in that it is in some ways ‘core business’ for people in my profession, but in other ways completely unprecedented, as people love to say these days. For me it started back in January, at first with an escalating number of meetings regarding the NT’s response, trying to model risk and work out what it might mean for us. Then as the world started to take more notice and things started to ramp up, it began to completely saturate both my home and work life.

Currently, I am the specialist looking after the Top End’s COVID-19 patients (we are on a rotating roster aimed at giving each person some rest), which comes with a unique set of challenges, and coordinating of a newly established ‘COVID-19 ward’. I am clinical lead for Infection Control at the hospital, which means I am involved with decisions regarding personal protective equipment, writing a lot of guidelines, and trying to keep people safe from both COVID-19 and of course other infections at the same time. I am charged with coordinating our department’s outpatient clinics, so a lot of time as gone into restructuring that to include only urgent reviews now mostly done by phone. I am also clinical lead for the Hospital In The Home program at the Lorraine Brennan Centre, where a whole wing has now been converted to manage patients with COVID-19.

My other position is with Menzies School of Health as a Research Fellow. I was meant to be in Timor-Leste over these past few weeks where I’m involved in research looking at antibiotic resistance, and that has had to be put on hold while international travel is restricted. The Masters course and other interstate courses I had been taking have had to be put on hold. And the meetings continue, about everything from our departmental response up to our NT-wide response. Essentially almost nothing is as it was a few months ago.

As a medical professional, you are presumably still going to work. So what’s the biggest change the COVID-19 restrictions have brought about for you personally?

SL: For me the lack of music has definitely made the biggest impact on my life, despite all the huge work changes. I count myself so lucky that my job and income have continued, in contrast to many of my good friends who have been impacted significantly by a lack of employment opportunity and financial stability. I really can’t complain. However, my evenings pre-COVID-19 were invariably filled up with music rehearsals and the occasional gig, and this has, in a way, been my saviour during my time in Darwin. Musicians have become my family, and music has become my creative release and my source of balance. COVID-19 has removed a large portion of that, while significantly adding to work stress, so I’m having to be intentional in looking for ways to balance work with other things that allow for some rejuvenation.

How has COVID-19 affected you as a musician? Are you finding more time to play at home or less? Are you able to connect with other musicians?

SL: I live in an apartment, so I find it difficult to find times in the day where I can easily (and unapologetically) play trumpet at home with our tiled acoustics. I can feel my lip muscles atrophying as we speak. My housemate is musical, so we have had a few jam sessions with me attempting to play some the guitar and violin, but my skills with these do limit me a bit. There are a number of musicians that are reaching out in the virtual space, for which I’m so grateful. I also sent in a vocal submission for a ‘couch choir’ the other day, where they assembled over a thousand individual versions of a three-part song and created a virtual choir. A fun experience with a really heart-warming result. Yet nothing quite fills the void that the lack of live music has left. The weekend before last I was meant to be singing with the Vocalective choir doing Brahms‘ beautiful German Requiem, and playing with the local band The Neo, in two gloriously contrasting concerts. These were the first to be cancelled on my calendar, and of course the DSO cancellations mean that the immediate calendar is looking very empty. I guess we’ll get used to the little pangs of loss over the next few months, as each of these planned dates goes by unacknowledged by communal music.

Do you think music has an important role to play during this time in helping keep the community’s spirits up?

SL: I’ve been so impressed seeing how creative our arts community has been over this time. They are some of the most impacted, yet there is a sense of ‘we can (and must) still do this’ over the virtual music world. I’ve been watching live musicians play from across the world and been able to comment in real-time, and listened to beautiful layered recordings by artists stuck in their houses alone. I love that people are still finding ways to share their passion. I also think listening to, and playing, music in our own space is so important while we can’t go out and share it with other people. It brings clarity, relaxation, comfort, and stimulation all at the same time. There are not many other things that achieve that.

What are your top recommendations for a #stayhome music playlist?

SL: Ooh that’s a tough one! I like a mix of genres, and love to listen to whatever Spotify playlist has been recommended to me. This week with the deaths of Bill Withers and Ellis Marsalis I have been playing a lot of their music, as well as a bit from Ellis’ son, Wynton, who is my all-time trumpet idol. How could anyone go past that Arutiunian Trumpet Concerto?! I otherwise have a fairly eclectic musical taste, and am happy as long as the music makes me both feel something and think something. This week’s high rotation has included Hiatus Kaiyote, Nils Frahm, Zaz, London Grammar, Emily Wurramara, Esperanza Spalding, and Michael Kiwanuka. ‘Meditation’ from Thais by Massenet, ‘Bedouin Song’ by Lior and ‘Us Against the World’ by Coldplay are three of my go-tos when I need to relax. I also enjoy just randomly searching for newly released classical music albums, which introduces me to a whole variety of composers and artists I’ve never known about before. Who knows what next week’s playlist will look like!

Finally, what are your thoughts on how Australia is handling the crisis? Any parting thoughts on how we can all get through this difficult period together?

SL: There have obviously been a lot of opinions and conflicting advice around, which has made it hard for people to know how this pandemic should look for them. A lot of that confusion stems from the fact that both human behaviour and infection dynamics can sometimes be difficult to predict. It has also been hard to work out what applies to us in the NT, where we don’t yet have community transmission like many of the other States. However the message that I’m sure almost everyone has internalised by now is to stay at home where we can, in order to #flattenthecurve and prevent the healthcare system from being overwhelmed by the cases that do come. I think this week has been promising in the drop in numbers both in Australia and in the NT, yet we can’t be complacent. We have a beautifully eclectic community here, and there are some that are far more vulnerable than others, so it’s our responsibility to keep everyone safe. I want to say thanks to everyone in the orchestra and the wider music community – the healthcare community couldn’t do this without you, and the Darwin community couldn’t do this without you either, in more ways than one.

Technology is amazing, and I think the DSO initiatives in trying to keep us all connected and enjoying music in some way are really commendable. We all need each other more than ever. In saying that, I can’t wait to be able to see everyone again and make music together.