By Tim Munro
For Bjorn Ranheim, SLSO cellist, this period of quarantine has been a two-sided coin.
On one side, Bjorn gets to be a full-on dad. He has a four-year-old and a five-year-old, and in the ordinary rush of life, family members can fly past one another. But with the world on pause, there is a deeper connection.
“The girls are at the perfect age,” Bjorn says. “They are so in love with us, they are playing together so beautifully.” He is spending his days with his daughters, as schoolteacher, bicycling coach, piano practice assistant, gardener, chicken farmer.
On the other side of the coin lies doubt. “We are having meaningful family time,” he says, “but we’re concerned about what this is going to mean for the future.” The pandemic has Bjorn thinking of the big picture for our industry.
“What is this going to look like for musicians, for our careers?” he says.“It’s sobering.” This period of time “is going to change the landscape of our industry. There has never been a time in recent generations when everything has just gone away.”
This absence has brought Bjorn to something of an artistic halt. “It's weird,” he says. “I'm feeling aimless and a bit lost in it all, but I feel guilty as well—that I should be creating and thinking and planning and bettering.”
I remind Bjorn that this time of quarantine is not a normal period. Our days have added stress, and we cannot have the same expectations as the past.
“I hope this pandemic spurs people to understand the impact of culture on their lives,” Bjorn says. Online, he has noticed “a starvation of cultural connectedness. People are seeking out all kinds of artforms, and people are putting together beautiful statements on what music means to them.”
Another source of hope is the high quality of the SLSO. “The orchestra is sounding phenomenal,” he says. “Having our Music Director here for more than just a week or two—having that consistency—we’re getting to know Stéphane, he’s getting to know us. We’re trusting him, he’s trusting us.”
Bjorn thinks there will be an electrical charge in the air when the orchestra returns to Powell Hall. “It’s going to be emotionally powerful.” And nobody—not audiences, not musicians—“will be taking anything for granted. Just being able to be in the hall will feel miraculous in itself.”
Thinking back to life before quarantine, Bjorn says that the days always seemed full, that space to breathe was scarce. “Times when we would get together and unwind had become so infrequent.”
Without the daily grind, life is different. Bjorn thinks of a recent example. A man in his neighborhood asked him to join a small group that would come together—socially distanced, of course—to play hymns and songs at a local church.
“At any other time, I would have been like, ‘No, it’s too crazy,’” Bjorn says. But he found himself walking up the street, cello in hand, just an hour later. One of the videos has been released on Facebook, and has thousands of views.
“What do we miss out on,” he asks himself, “by being too busy to take opportunities to experience something meaningful?”
Tim Munro is the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s Creative Partner. A writer, broadcaster, and Grammy-winning flutist, he lives in Chicago with his wife, son, and badly-behaved orange cat.