What's New?
The PoD Roundtable
moderated by Bill Shoemaker


Shoemaker: Reuben spent three and a half years away from creative music. Jen did not play for a year, recently. Certainly, over the course of 30 years, Jon has taken hiatuses from making music. When is it time to take a break and when is it time to dive in, again?

Radding: When I took my extended break I didn't know what it would teach me, or even whether I would ever return to the music. All I knew was that the fun had gone out of it, and I felt like there were other things in life I wanted to try and was feeling limited by the music life instead of expanded and energized by it. I had been gigging my brains out for 4 years in New York, was rapidly approaching 30 and was totally exhausted. I had been trying to write fiction and found it impossible to concentrate on it without losing attention to the music. I had a lot to learn about self-care, and about who I was, and how I processed difficult emotions like anger, jealousy, fear... I was feeling trapped, totally defined by the music, and wanting the space to be more. Musicians were not very supportive of this plan. Only a few were genuinely supportive. But I can understand that now.

During my hiatus I worked in the field of computer games at a big corporate software company. I felt quite alienated from most of my co-workers, thinking I was such a different kind of person from them. The one day I walked into someone's office as they were getting off the phone in an angry huff. I asked him what was wrong. "Oh, it's my girlfriend." I asked him what the problem was and he said, "I keep telling her, and telling her...I'm a gamer FIRST!" I had to laugh. It was just like my musician friends who would be trying to explain their artistic commitment to their non-artist partners. A light came on in me and I knew that not only would I always be a musician, and not only was it the best thing I could do in the world, but that it didn't make me less like other people, or separate me from them. My co-workers would have been making video games at home for no pay if there weren't lucrative jobs for them, just as we make music in all circumstances and sacrifice whether the big gig is there or not. I realized then that I had to get back to the music, and 6 months later I had left the job and was gigging regularly. 

I can imagine circumstances under which I would take a break again, but I would be doing it with a totally different mindset. Now it would be to reboot, and back then it was important to me to not have a plan to return, to have no road map. Now it would be a sabbatical or experiment. But I have no plans for this. Nowadays I would much prefer to experience regeneration in other ways, and I don't find it such a conflict to want to do other things besides music. Also I'm really grateful nowadays to be involved in an art form like improvisation that constantly requires me to challenge my own beliefs and demands that I grow. I don't think I valued that enough before my break.

Lately I feel as though I have been taking breaks without having to leave the scene behind. For instance I took a long hiatus from composing. The last week I have taken a near-hiatus from the double bass to do a slew of gigs and recordings on electric bass guitar. I'm having such a good time! As long as I don't worry about what I'm NOT doing, what I am doing is fun and expanding. But I'm getting the itch to compose again, and my double bass is in the corner laughing at me. It never goes away.

Raskin: The question of taking a break is an interesting one and I’m choosing that the intent of the question was to ask: why leave a certain course of inquiry or life path either for a period of time or to move on to something else entirely (and that is was addressed to something more than a vacation which is more tied to recharging social relationships and physical well being).  I should state that I have never taken a prolonged break from music and I started playing when I was 10 years old.

My response to the question is tied to a decision I made many years ago to stop looking for a living from music and how it changed the nature of the way that I created music and art in significant ways. Some of the aspects that were impacted were the time available to create, what ideas were pursued and how my interests were integrated into the work at hand.  Another key part of this was Community, artistic and otherwise, which has always been important to me.  Fortunately, in the Bay Area, there has been a strong community for almost the whole time I have lived here.  This meant audience support, small venues to perform in and allow development of work, a large and changing pool of musicians to work with and new artists and ideas constantly being introduced.  That Rova has been an enduring relationship has meant a creative continuity and framework that is quite precious.

This decision created a triangle of creative work, financial work and family that took many years to find a balance and methods to keep each aspect healthy and productive.  It meant leaving behind the total commitment to art music which was more than a full time job to one that was full of “breaks.”  I move between the interests of financial work, music and family and the time spent needs to be real and fulfilling. At first there was a real fear of not being able to create music at a high level, I would stagnate and be a “hobbyist” (which at the time I had a very negative connotation about but my feelings on this have changed).   Added to this trinity is the normal fruitful and fallow periods that are the natural course of life. Fortunately, the nature of these cycles from each of the aspects somewhat even out overtime and help sustain the rough spots. Here’s to no perfect storm in the future.

To focus on music for a bit, taking a break means how to keep doing truthful and creative music and to find coping methods when ideas get used up, energy flags and doubts come up.   Without a certain amount of questioning good art isn’t possible.

I’ve always looked for inspiration outside of music and had 15 years of immersion in music so there was a lot of experience to fall back on when I embarked on this triangle in my mid 30s.  If an idea lived through a period of focusing on work or family than it was pursued as legitimate.  It was what I should be doing whether it was original or not (research time was often the time cut the most).  Over the course of a year there could be several months that music wasn’t the focus of my life. 

All in all everything takes more time, recording, setting up performances, composing, etc.  If they are good projects they get tended to and eventually completed, if not they stay in notebooks or go away.  If it turns out that I ever get a period of being a full time artist there is a backlog of ideas and projects to fill up the time.

Baker: In order to serve the music I'm playing and to be able to adjust the degrees of creativity or conformity that I need to do in order to fit into any given musical environment, I need to be able to separate a certain amount of myself from my ego.  And in order to do that, I find that I need to be clear, fresh, and ready to jump into what the musical moment requires.  When I hear my mind getting too chattery and when I feel myself getting too picky about what I'm listening to, I know it's time for a break.  These breaks can last anywhere from a day to several weeks or months, and in the most extreme case, a little over a year.  I knew I needed a big break from music in the months prior to my year off because I could no longer differentiate my musical opinions from those of the people around me, including fellow students and faculty at Mills College, as well as classical performing colleagues.  I was also the host for an internal battle between new music and classical music, so not only were my opinions within each general kind of music bound in knots, but also was my philosophy of how to negotiate the two seemingly disparate music worlds at odds.  This time also marked the end of 10 nearly uninterrupted years of intensive musical study at high school academy, universities, and conservatories.  My knowledge of music was at an all time high, and my appreciation for that knowledge at an all time low.  I knew I wanted to begin my career as a full-fledged performing artist without the usual school obligations that I had grown accustomed to, but I just didn't have the mental energy to get started-I was totally burned out.  So, I took a look around me and realized that I could do some personal healing and grounding if I travelled a bit and went back to my home town, where my younger brother was finishing his senior year of high school, and where I hadn't lived since he was 6.  In other words, I realized that there were a lot of life skills I could build upon while I rested my musical life. 

Another aspect to this break is that I only took 3 months off from playing my trombone, after which I felt refreshed and excited to be taking up my instrument again with a new perspective.  The subsequent months of practice without listening to other music was enchanting for my creative spirit.  It was the first time I had ever been with only my music, my sound, and I owe my re-inspiration for music to those months spent in my own bubble.

Creative musicians are continuously being influenced by outside musical forces-the people the play with, the concerts they attend, the albums they listen to.  Most of us are affected by what we hear-we respond to what we hear, because we are open to others' ideas.  For some, like me, there comes a point where there is too much input fogging up the screen of internal creativity.  I think we've all experienced this.  It's our own responsibility to check up on our own personal screens and to clear them as often as necessary.  It may not always be silence that clears the screen, but that doesn't matter.  It is a creative person's responsibility to clear the screen, and to discover what works for that person.

So when is it time to take a break?  When you aren't finding joy in producing your own art.  When you're playing music and you don't know why.  When your opinions don't sound like your own opinions.  It takes so much discipline and hard work to become a musician that it can be really tricky to surrender to the reality that taking a break would be more productive than pushing one's self through the motions of music-making.  If someone were expressing these sentiments, I would say that it's time for them to take a break.

When is it time to dive in again?  I think that time will make itself clear for the individual.  For me, I was practically chomping at the bit to dive back in!  The break is over!  It's time to play!  Yay!  I would guess that for most people, their best indication that it is "time" is when they experience joy in the prospect of making their art and exuberant anticipation of what is soon to come when they begin performing again.

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