A Music Teacher's 2020 Year-End Reflection

December 31, 2020, 11:12 AM · We made it. It’s New Year’s Eve, and in a few short hours, 2020 will be behind us forever. I don't think I'm alone in my desire to slam the door shut on this year and never speak about it again.


But then I thought about it and tried to remember some of what happened this year. 2020 combined unspeakable horror, overwhelming grief, desperate resilience, and brilliant innovation. We’ve had some serious wake-up calls - about the nature of our world, our humanity, American democracy, and the classical music world.

I think it’s worth it to take a little time to reflect on the past year. It's important to begin to process it, even as we put it behind us, so that we can move forward, as the new people we have been forced to become this year. We need to understand (as much as we can) what happened so that we can create a better world in the future.

I put together a little four-step process to help myself reflect on this year, and I invite you to join me. (Note: for the purposes of this blog, I'm just reflecting on the way 2020 affected my musical life, not my personal life).

  1. Honor the loss
  2. Find gratitude
  3. Learn from the hard stuff
  4. Look forward with informed hope

1. Honor the loss

For me, I have trouble thinking about this year without running into the massive wall of grief that surrounds it. We have all lost so much, from our loved ones to our livelihoods to our plans. And while it’s painful, finding a way to honor our losses is an important part of closing a chapter from this year. We are all experiencing loss on a number of levels, from our collective loss of a way of life to the personal ones.

This year we lost the entire way that we share art. We lost the ability to give or attend live performances, to be in a room with other musicians and to make music in-person, in real time. We could not hug our loved ones after a great performance, or feel the electricity in the air during a magical performance. We could not travel and meet new colleagues to make music with. We could not hear our students play in-person, we could only hear them through the internet.

The bulk of my career is teaching, but I didn't realize just how much I rely on my few performances a year to maintain my identity as a violinist. I was particularly looking forward to a faculty concert, where my colleagues and I would perform all of the Mendelssohn Octet. It would have been the first time I would learn and perform this piece. I cried a lot the weekend that concert was supposed to have happened.

2. Find gratitude

If we’ve made it to the end of this year more or less intact, we have something to be grateful for. It’s challenging to find gratitude in the midst of so much loss. In the midst of all the awful of 2020, there were some bright spots, and recognizing those helps paint a more complete picture of the year.

I’m grateful for those who generously shared their technological know-how with the teaching community and for the way we all pulled together to make online lessons work. I’m grateful for the opportunities for access that have been created from everyone teaching and performing online. My students and I connected with and learned from artists all around the world, and had experiences we wouldn’t have had otherwise. I am grateful for my students showing up every lesson willing to try and do their best, for learning to learn online, and for their patience with me as I learned to teach online. I’m also grateful that my experiences brought me more opportunities to write and be involved in the Violinist.com community.

3. Learn from the hard stuff

This is the big one for me - there are lessons to be learned, especially from the hardest things we encountered this year. Allowing ourselves to sit with the discomfort and realize how we’ve grown, and that while some of the new COVID way of life is temporary, we should make an intentional and informed return to in-person activities. I could write a whole blog series on what I’ve learned, but I’ll keep it to a few of the big ones for me:

4. Looking forward with informed hope.

I’m not talking about the nebulous hope we’ve all expressed at one time or another this year of hoping things will go back to normal. We’re not going to wake up tomorrow with the virus magically gone.

Based on my reflection, I’m hopeful that our world is going to value in-person presence and performance more than ever. I’m hopeful that my students will continue learning and growing and creating beautiful art to put into this world. I’m hopeful that our incredible musical community will continue to innovate and create new opportunities and ways to learn and share music. I'm hopeful that the lessons of 2020 will empower us to create a more beautiful, more equal, and more accessible world for everyone.

So, as 2020 finally comes to an end, I invite you to take a moment to pause and reflect before we firmly slam the door on it. What losses are you honoring? What are you grateful for? What have you learned? And what are you hopeful about?

Happy New Year, everyone. I’ll see you on the other side.


December 31, 2020 at 07:52 PM · I agree with all of this. Here some add ons:

You write of loss. There are big losses--daughters and sons lost parents, or even worse: parents lost a son or daughter. My heart goes out to those who suffer in this way and yet my heart doesn't know what to do to help.

And then there are smaller losses: For example loss of the ability to teach or play ensemble music in person. You could use the word sacrifice rather than loss in these cases. We sacrifice for the greater good (more or less voluntarily). It means loss for us for some time but at the same time we help all of us move beyond this pandemic.

About gratitude: The majority of us has not been infected by the virus. That alone is cause for gratitude in my eyes.

December 31, 2020 at 08:29 PM · I can respond only with one word........AMEN

January 1, 2021 at 03:23 PM · Claire, One really nice byproduct of 2020 for me was getting to know you through our time on Zoom calls and your blogs, most notably your reporting on the Violympics. Keep up the great work and best wishes for 2021!

January 2, 2021 at 12:00 AM · Nice reflection, Claire! One thing I'm grateful for is the sense of community that I have found in far away places, aka online and talking to teachers about how to adapt. And I've gotten some unexpected rest. Here's hoping for a more upbeat 2021.

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