Taking Up Space

Lorne Watson Recital Hall at Brandon University School of Music

I’ve been thinking about writing for a while now, both music and a text update here, and I’m finally here at the keyboard (again, both music and text). It took a while, it seems.

This last school year has been less hard than others, but still came with significant challenges. The first half of the year had us still rehearsing our band in the autobody garage at school, still masked, and still spraying everything every rehearsal. I missed three months in the middle of the year because we had our second child and I spent the last half of the year on 5-7 hours of broken sleep per night, but the program was still there when I got back. I was able to rehearse Jazz Band in the Band Room because they were under capacity for our space and I was able to teach my academic music classes without many restrictions. When I type that, it makes me feel like it wasn’t different, but the real challenges were helping kids work within the climate of frustration, fear, and inhibition. There was always something in the way and, if we’re going to take care of kids (which is the primary function of our job), then we needed to carve out space both for us and for others.

Imagine a convoy of vehicles on a highway. The first truck gets the brunt of the wind, but it creates a space for the cars behind it to operate with less resistance.

That’s teaching, pandemic or not: Creating space for others to flourish. There is, however, another important piece of this and that’s a willingness of the person to take up space themselves. There is an entire feminist line of thinking around this that is important and powerful, but I’m going to take a different tack here, I just wanted to acknowledge it.

I’ve really been thinking about this for a while – not just in music, but in life. I think about it in my parenting, in my relationship, in my friend groups, in my social media ecosystems and yes, in my composing.

There’s a poet from Scotland that I follow on Twitter and she said that when she gets in a really dark emotional place, she does something to take up space. She has a conversation with friends, she writes a social media post, or she does something creative. She makes something that wasn’t there before.

I think the last bit is at the heart of the creative endeavour for me – to make something that wasn’t there before. That is a radical act of taking up space in the world. Someone might ask “who made this?” and someone else might reply “that person over there.” It is an acknowledgement of existence. The next step from there to make something that says something, to reveal something new about something present. Who made this… that person over there… wow, I’ve never thought about it like that before.

To make something that says something in today’s world feels like an act of bravery. Maybe it’s always been an act of bravery. It takes courage to take up space in today’s world, to make something that resists something else; to be the first truck in the convoy that takes reduces resistance for those behind it.

Adding to that, it takes energy output to create something in a world that takes so much of oneself just to get by.

I’m married and, if I want my relationship to be strong and resilient, that requires output.

I have two amazing kids and, if I want them to feel loved and confident, that requires output.

I have a job that’s important to me, my students, and my community and, if I want them to feel proficient and artistically nourished, that requires output.

I’m a composer and, if I want to contribute to my field and my community (as well as use my voice to foster artistic development for students), that requires output.

How much do we really have left at the end of this? What can stay? What can go? There may be a “work smarter, not harder” angle on this, but we must never forget about working hard. Hard work works hard, after all. Hard work gets results, no matter how smart.

It is hard work to take up space; for me, anyway. There might be something underneath about value in there, that I am worthy of taking up space and that we all deserve to take up space. If we have some institutional power, we can be the first truck in the convoy to help others take up the space they deserve by removing some of that resistance that might be overwhelming them. I think about that as a teacher, but I’m also thinking about that for me.

So, I’m going to leave this here, to take up space. To make something that wasn’t here before, maybe something that says something, maybe in a way that you hadn’t thought of before. I have to reclaim taking up space and there may be others who feel the same way. We deserve to take up space.

I could write more about this, but I’m going to leave it here. Let’s make some art.

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