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Playful Rest

We kicked off this blog by describing music as resilience. At the time, we were experiencing the height of uncertainty of a global pandemic. We were also witnessing a decline in mental health that amounted to an epidemic of its own.

We wrote about music at that time because our community needed to see creativity and collaboration as a source of health. Now, as we define a new normal and our schedules fill up again, it is important to keep in mind that rest and play are key ingredients of good music and absolutely necessary for resilience.

Rest and play cannot be fully separated, because both require letting go of our goals. There is an irony in that relationship – by taking time to let go of what we hope to accomplish, we accomplish much. It’s no secret that rest is important for recovering, maintaining, and preserving our health. Periods of rest and play also help put work in our perspective. Epiphanies seem to come when we are at play, as though putting down our work lets us see the fingerprints of bigger hands on its surface.

Creativity, musical or otherwise, depends on rest and play, because creativity is not goal oriented. It’s very different from work. But…don’t musicians work hard at their craft, at building a career? Don’t creative projects often have goals? They do, but when goals come to define projects or careers, they cease to be creative. It’s the moments of playful rest leading up to our insights that are creative: what we do with our ideas is work.

I think there’s a reason we use the word ‘play’ to describe what musicians do. We may practice scales and we work gigs, but we play music.

Not only does good music emerge from moments of play, the best thing an audience can do for musicians is to listen restfully, without bringing in goals for what they will experience. That playful rest between a musician and an audience is openness – openness to the thoughts and feelings we share with one another.

Let’s not forget to go back to those moments of playful rest from time to time. Our schedules may otherwise fill up completely with the good work that our ideas require. Our time will be requested and demanded by family, friends, employers, fitness routines, religious practices, and the practicalities of life. But as a community we will lose our health and perspective If we do not take time to set aside our goals. And as musicians we will lose our muse if we do not find time to rest and play.

Michael Dickerson is an Anchorage composer, writer, and educator. He is a board member at Northern Culture Exchange and a 2020 Rasmuson Individual Artist Award recipient.

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