By Tim Munro
It happened so suddenly. One moment, shops were open, schools were bustling, musicians were performing. The next moment, life looked different.
“Some people jumped right in,” says SLSO Flutist Jennifer Nitchman. Many friends, fellow musicians, and community leaders were able to analyze the situation, make a detailed plan, and act on it. While this gave a sense of direction, time for processing was in short supply.
And Jennifer, like a lot of us, needed time. “Time to find my footing.”
In normal times, the SLSO gives structure. “We have goals: every week we have a lot of music to learn, perform, and share. That screeched to a halt. It has been a little bit shocking.” Instead, Jennifer wants to be curious about where she finds meaning.
“Exercise has been important,” she says. “I’ve been trying to get outside on days when the weather permits. And trying to find fun when I can, with my pets, chatting with friends online.”
She stays in touch with those who are vulnerable. “I’ve been reaching out to loved ones who live alone,” she says, “to maintain a lot of contact with them—to be part of their support network.”
Teaching keeps her grounded. “It’s a great way to continue serving other people through music, to provide that structure and normalcy for my young students.”
And she is playing the flute. Jennifer will likely spend time on foundational work, “something I don’t have time to do when we’re learning so much music each week. I want to have a routine of exercises and scales and etudes.”
But there will still be an absence: her colleagues. Orchestras have a curious work culture, constantly surrounded by fellow musicians. “It’s not like in an office, where you might chat for a minute. We do these intense periods of socialization.”
Seeing these people is an important part of her life. “We always talk about it being a family, but it really is. I try to explain it to my non-musician friends: ‘We even take breaks together!’” she laughs.
And Jennifer is acutely aware of the sense of community the SLSO provides for its patrons. “They sit next to the same people each week,” she says, and know each other well, give support to each other.”
The orchestra “provides a shared emotional experience,” one “that will be missed by a lot of people in such difficult times. The catharsis of experiencing art live would be really nice to have now.”
What gives Jennifer solace at this moment? She and her husband have been watching Pixar movies, “which I find to be the perfect combination of uplifting and meaningful, but you get a good laugh out of them.”
And then there are her beloved cats, Henry, Stevie, and Simon. (Stevie has his own Instagram account, @steviepeeperscat.) “I could not get through this forced at-home-ness if I didn’t have pets.” Her cats don’t understand what is happening in the world, she says, “but, bonus: We’re home all the time!” she laughs.
“Pets are the only ones who are winning.”
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.