There's no disconnect between your body and the strings

I play with musicians from all across the state, I particularly play with a lot of musicians from the Twin Cities [of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota] area. And so, our jazz community has really been affected by COVID, because our capabilities of performing in public, just are almost zilch. You can do outdoor performances, but I've made the decision that until there's a vaccine and good therapeutics, I'm just not performing. I'm a nervous personality, just to begin, I'm extremely cautious, I'm risk averse. I made the decision that I'm not doing any public gigs, even if they are outdoors.

Part of it is, I don't wanna get sick, I hate getting sick, period. And beyond that, I have two parents, one is 65 and one is... No, over 65, and one is 70, and with co-morbidities, with heart attack and stroke stuff, and I made the point of, "I wanna be able to see them on a regular basis, and if they need help, I wanna be capable of providing help." So there are my little bubble of people that I see, and that even being the case, when I go out there, we don't go inside the house, we're always at a distance, we wear masks when need be.

I just made the decision that I'm not performing, and that's had a huge effect on our artistic community because people are making their livings this way, and it's basically just evaporated overnight. All the gigs are cancelled, no one can perform. I know some people are doing some outdoor stuff, but it's not enough to make a living from.

We just can't operate in the capacity that we did before COVID, so it's had a profound effect on people's incomes, people's livelihood. And then just your self-identity of who you are and what you do is so fundamentally changed. 

That being said, I'm still finding ways to be creative, I practice every day, I put on... Once a month I do an online concert, I'll be doing one tonight for an hour. I do a weekly video that I put on Patreon, and I've done some recording as well. 

By and large, honestly, the primary response has been, "Your music when you put it out is like a respite from the insanity and it's so calming, and it brings me a lot of peace and joy and you're helping me get through this pandemic." I've heard that over and over and over again. 

The way I feel like playing, my approach, is a much softer and gentler approach to the music, because what's the point of plugging in a guitar right now? I'm just playing... I'm primarily playing acoustic guitar, and I'm playing nylon strings, and I'm playing a lot of ballads. And it just feels like that's the tone of life and that's how I feel. There's this sense of melancholy and I just don't feel like making any hard sounds, I feel like making soft sounds, kind of velvety feels man, you know? I just don't feel like playing fast, and I think... I mean, that's what jazz is. That's what improvisational expression is, right?

[Jazz is] expressing the emotion of the moment, of here and now. And that's where I'm kinda at with it. I'm playing with my fingers more on my right hand, instead of using a pick. And it's a much more soft sound to it, and to me it's a really organic approach, because it's like a piece of wood and your hands on it. There's no disconnect between your body and the strings. Nothing in between you and the strings, it's just your body and the strings and the wood, and there's no cord that delivers an electrical signal, it's just... It's a direct thing, it's a feeling, and you can feel those vibrations in your body from the instrument, from an acoustic instrument. And it feels really organic and whole and healing to me to play that way. 

Sam Miltich




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Stories of Wisdom from Bodies in Separation (SWaBS): Archiving the Coronavirus Pandemic Through the Lens of Humanities has been made possible by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this project, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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