Isolation Drills: Andrew Lipke

Like the majority of you, all of us in the Philadelphia area are staying at home, learning to adapt to our “new normal.” MAGNET is checking in with local musicians to see how and what they’re doing during this unprecedented time. Photos by Chris Sikich.

Lipke: It’s very hard to adequately express in words—or any other way really—how COVID-19 and the subsequent response to it in this country has impacted me as an artist and a human being. I guess the most direct way would be to highlight a few of both the positive and negative effects.

I’ll start with the negative so I can end on a positive note. Artistically, I was in the early stages of an attempt at a major career transition from touring rock musician to symphonic conductor/arranger and touring vocalist. I had just landed four pretty high-profile symphony-conducting gigs, and my schedule of vocal performances was starting to gain momentum—momentum being one of the more elusive aspects of a freelance musician’s career and one of the most challenging to reclaim once lost.

Needless to say, all these opportunities have either disappeared or are floating in the purgatory of rescheduling that so many other events are stuck in. So this was quite a disappointing blow to my hopes of realizing some childhood dreams that seemed to be coming true.

It’s also extremely challenging as an artist to lose the opportunity to consistently connect with an audience. I value my place as a contributing member of the human experience on this planet, and—apart from the work I do as a teaching artist and the creation of art in general—performing is often how I feel I’m being “useful” to society. It’s how I feel I’m doing my part to try and bring joy and emotional and spiritual connection and healing to the greater good. I know it might sound hyperbolic, but it really does feel that way when everything is right and the energy is flowing through the musicians into the audience and then back onstage. It’s magical, cosmic, transcendent.

So losing that is painful. There’s some solace in knowing that it’s not as if the universe is singling me out for retribution, and everyone in my industry is suffering similar setbacks. But in a way that also makes it even more painful, as I genuinely care about my colleagues and wish them happiness and success.

On a positive note, I have created quite a bit more art than I might have had I had the schedule I was set to for the last many months. I’ve also been able to spend a whole lot more time with my family and have bonded with my children more during this relatively short time than I had the opportunity to do over the course of many prior years combined.

And then there are all the positive mental and emotional lessons that come from stoicism—realizing the things you took for granted, being extra grateful for moments that seemed almost disposable during times of plenty. I think the greatest positive impact of this pandemic for me as an artist is the realization that who I am as a person and an artist is not defined by what I’ve done, what I was going to do and didn’t—or even what I have planned.

What defines me as an artist isn’t even my work. It’s how I live each moment as it’s happening and how I work to try and be the best incarnation of my essence in every moment as it’s happening. I fail many more times than I succeed in this.

But when one is wrapped up in the highly active life of trying to make ends meet as a freelance artist, it is easy to lose sight of this aspect of existence—and begin to believe you are defined by professional success or failure. Probably the greatest gift that COVID-19 has given me is time to reflect and work to adjust my perspective on many things.

Also, I learned to bake!