“Having a routine that bordered on stagnancy had its benefits.”
—Clive Barker, The Scarlet Gospels
Those of you who are performers know that we typically had no patterns when it came to a daily schedule. Rehearsals and concerts would occur at any time. This variability affected virtually all our regimens, including diet and family. We settled into a life of inconsistencies.
That is how it was for more than fifty years of my existence. Ten months into pandemic life, things are quite different. It is almost impossible to remember the time when I had to set my alarm clock, which very rarely had the same waking time as the previous day. Even though I have had my share of either sleepless nights or trouble entering the Land of Nod, a 7:30 reveille has now become the norm, as has falling asleep well before midnight.
After all these years, my days now have a similar feel to them. The schedule goes like this:
|7:30 a.m.||Wake up, even if my alarm is not set|
|7:30 – 8:00 a.m.||Try unsuccessfully to go back to sleep|
|8:00 a.m.||Have breakfast, usually cereal and juice|
I know breakfast is supposed to be the most important meal of the day, but it has only been in the last ten years or so that I have made this a regular part of my morning.
|8:15 a.m.||Take a shower and make sartorial choices|
|8:30 a.m.||Check the news and emails|
Both of these are usually depressing, but I have learned to live with it.
|8:45 a.m.||Do some writing|
The lockdown enabled me to finish my third book, which is now in the final editing process. I made some attempts at a series of short stories, but I found that my skills in fiction tended to be less successful than my fact-based efforts.
Now I am getting back to writing some music. There were a lot of projects that I began but never completed, both original music and arrangements. I have been thinking about repertoire, knowing that when I return to the podium, I will most likely be leading reduced orchestras. Perhaps I could compose something appropriate for these times. More on this a bit later.
|10:45 a.m.||Take a break|
Sometimes, if I did not get enough sleep the previous night and the body says to get back to bed, I obey. If I am refreshed enough, I keep on writing. It is usually around now that people are looking for answers to their emails. It is not my habit to keep the inbox full. There is enough trash on my desktop.
It also appears that if I am searching for something with my browser, there are dark forces out there that keep tabs on what I am looking for. Apparently, I need to find a job, refinance our home and reconsider my insurance options. I miss the guy in South America who wrote that I had a relative in Bolivia who just passed away and left me a quarter of a million dollars.
|11:45 a.m.||Have lunch|
This is in Cindy’s department. In the old days, this was my first meal of the day. Now it is usually some sort of refurbished food from dinners gone by, quite light in calories but usually lovely in flavor. Lunch is a time for the two of us to catch up and comment on what we have learned so far during our waking hours.
|12:15 p.m.||Work on a jigsaw puzzle|
About two months into the confinement, my brother sent me one that was 500 pieces. It was a facsimile of a Chopin etude in the composer’s hand. Very difficult. But we eventually completed it, and I found that this was a great way to pass the time. I have done almost twenty since then, usually 1,000 pieces. Most have featured montages of movie posters, wine bottles, cereal boxes, book covers, etc. I tried one with flowers, but that seemed more about just finding the pieces that fit as opposed to figuring out which bloom belonged where.
Twice, I placed 999 pieces only to discover that one was missing. This is very frustrating, and I may have to sue the jigsaw puzzle company for undue stress.
|1:00 p.m.||Take a walk|
If it is not freezing, my constitutional consists of going about a mile and a half around the neighborhood. Mask on but still avoiding other folks and their dogs, I enjoy this time of mild contemplation.
Recently, I started listening to music on my phone. It is always on shuffle mode, so I have no idea what is coming up next. One day, the slow movement of the Brahms 3rd Piano Quartet popped in. For years I have thought about orchestrating this jewel, and if there was any better time than now, I could not imagine it. As of this posting, I have 12 bars to go.
Who knows what inspiration will come next? Probably not Jimi Hendrix’s “Machine Gun,” which topped my randomized playlist a couple days ago.
|2:00 p.m.||Afternoon matinee|
When we built our house here in St. Louis, I had only three requests: a studio area, a space for my wine collection, and the ubiquitous “man cave.” This was of little use at first because without my own orchestra, conducting was a road-only job. I have probably spent as much time at home this past year than any combined period previously.
With a substantial video library and the endless supply of streaming content, I could catch up on everything I missed as well as find new stuff. This midday respite is when I view things that Cindy would not particularly enjoy, so sci-fi, procedurals and nerve-jangling fare occupy this period of time. Sometimes there is a movie involved, other times a TV show or series. My tastes in viewing are quite eclectic, and I really don’t know what I will watch until I get near the remote control. My concessions consist of a small bag of low-fat popcorn and a flavored water—not exactly the same as the theater, but they will have to do.
|4:00 p.m.||Somewhat flexible|
When I emerge from video world, it is time to decide what to do about dinner. Over these months, I have honed a few cooking skills. One thing I have learned is that if I can put everything I need on the kitchen counter, then the process of making a dish is much simplified. Other than the refrigerated items, I lay the ingredients out so the evening repast will be ready to be concocted.
But if it is a simple recipe, then I go back and work on music or do some research for the radio programs I present.
“Programs? We thought that there was only the Slatkin Shuffle.”
Well, surprise. I wrote and hosted a second series, but this has not appeared on the air as yet. Entitled “Leonard Slatkin’s American Musical Journey,” this 26-episode anthology is a chronological look at the history of music in the United States. Starting with the Revolutionary War, I attempt to trace the paths of various strands of music to the individual styles that we hear today.
Depending on what it is, I allow for the prep time as well as cooking so that we can sit down and eat at this hour. Right now, I cook four or five of the days in the week and Cindy does the remainder. This creativity has been a blessing during the seclusion. My own book of recipes is growing, and aside from the times when I make a mess in the kitchen, this is always a pleasurable experience.
Over the years, I have accumulated a lot of wine. Many bottles have been gifts, and there was a time when I could not drink fast enough to keep up with the new arrivals. But now there is a small dent in the wine cellar. I am non-discriminant when it comes to choosing a grape for the evening. Taking out six bottles at a time, I just look to see what might go best with whatever we are having.
There is one dietary rule here. Only one glass per meal.
|7:00 p.m.||Return to the puzzle|
|7:05 p.m.||Go back to the cave|
All my recordings, scores, and library materials are housed somewhere in the deep. Depending on what I have a hankering for, I might peruse some music, sort out LPs and CDs, or look over some books during this time. It is also possible to finish watching something that was not completed earlier in the day.
This is also the time I stare intently at the stationary bike. Before I started the afternoon perambulation, this period was spent pedaling to nowhere. Having the TV on did little to relieve the boredom. Now I can use a couple dumbbells to strengthen my arms in preparation for the time when conducting actually may return. Maybe I should put on recordings by other conductors to see if I can figure out what they are doing.
|8:00 p.m.||Family viewing|
Cindy appears at this time. I have carefully chosen selections that I feel she might enjoy. There is often some sort of period drama, a program in French, or a documentary about animals that are not freezing out in the cold. (Why isn’t the camera crew rescuing these dogs?)
Sometimes it is a movie we have not seen. Often, I find older films that I want to share—great ones and even lesser efforts that were intriguing. There might be several evenings featuring a particular actor or director. I am curating my own festival.
The Universal Remote Control often seems to be in another galaxy. “I was trying to get the DVD player to work, but the monitor keeps defaulting to the Disney Channel.” “Is that Eastern or Central time?” “Do I have to pay extra for that, or does it come with the Gold Package?” “How is HBOMax different from the service I already have?”
|10:00 p.m.||Evening rites|
Time to shut off the lights, head upstairs, and turn on the alarm. I quickly check email and messages, trying not to get depressed. We check the late-night news, trying not to get depressed.
“What do you have tomorrow?”
|11:00 p.m.||Lights out|
|7:30 a.m.||Groundhog Day|