New reality: A violinist, a dancer and a writer tell us how life has changed

Mindee Arnett is a young adult author, lives on a farm in Germantown with her husband, two kids, and assorted animals. CONTRIBUTED
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Mindee Arnett is a young adult author, lives on a farm in Germantown with her husband, two kids, and assorted animals. CONTRIBUTED

We look at how dancers, musicians and authors in the Miami Valley are coping during the coronavirus outbreak

Last week we checked in with visual artists in the Miami Valley to see how they were adjusting to our new reality. Today, we’re asking others in the arts community to share thoughts.

The Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra’s concertmaster Jessica Hung practices the violin at home with an appreciative audience. PROVIDED
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The Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra’s concertmaster Jessica Hung practices the violin at home with an appreciative audience. PROVIDED

Violinist Jessica Hung has been concertmaster of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra since 2008.

Q. How has your work changed since the COVID-19 pandemic?

A: The arts community has been hit hard by the repercussions of the pandemic. In this new era of social distancing and social isolation, we are unable to continue performing for a live audience and to experience that energy and vitality that only comes from sharing the same space at the same time.

But our staff and artists have been working tirelessly to find new avenues for sharing our musical gifts with the community, even from a distance. Our musicians have shared solo performances on Facebook, and Dayton Philharmonic Artistic Director Neal Gittleman recently released a video featuring our virtual rendition of the Ohio State anthem, “Hang On, Sloopy.” Discover Classical and the DPO are also offering a radio broadcast every Saturday night — “Concert Night with the Dayton Philharmonic.”

>> RELATED: ‘Hang on, Ohio!’: Dayton Philharmonic releases virtual performance

Q. Where do you rehearse? 

A: Typically, we practice our parts individually at home, then get together at our main venue, the Schuster Performing Arts Center, to rehearse as an ensemble. Unfortunately, since we are now unable to gather together in large groups due to the assembly ban, our rehearsals and performances have been rescheduled or canceled through the end of April.

Q. What are the challenges of working from home?

A: One convenient factor is that I already work from home much of the time, due to needing many hours alone to practice my own part. This is true for large-scale pieces like symphonies, operas, and ballets; for small-ensemble chamber music like string quartets; and for solo violin music.

So while that has not changed, the ability to still come together with my other talented colleagues and create a complete piece of art now requires a lot of out-of-the-box thinking. It’s the perfect time for us and many arts organizations around the world to fully explore what we can do with technology.

>> RELATED: You can listen to the Dayton Philharmonic every Saturday in your home

Q. What advice do you have for other musicians?

A: Amidst all the stressful adjustments and creative pivots we are facing to seek other income streams whenever possible — such as teaching music lessons online — I would encourage musicians and artists to take a little time to play through or work on something personally meaningful and rejuvenating to them. For me, it might be the beautiful slow movement of a beloved Romantic violin concerto. I would also encourage everyone to find strength in solidarity at this time, especially through our professional trade unions and other arts advocacy organizations, and to make our collective needs for economic relief and stimulus packages known to our elected representatives. Your voice may make the difference in holding the vital arts and cultural sector of the economy together until a future time when we are all able to work again.

MARGOT AKNIN

Dayton Ballet dancer Margot Aknin practicing at home. PROVIDED
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Dayton Ballet dancer Margot Aknin practicing at home. PROVIDED

Dayton Ballet's Margot Aknin joined the company in 2016 and has performed roles including Daisy in Ron Cunningham's "The Great Gatsby" and Odette in Septime Webre's "Swan Lake."

Q. How has your work changed?

A: Since our work as dancers is based entirely on rehearsing upcoming performances, we were immediately out of work. We went from a strict 9-5 schedule to staying at home within a few hours. Without the studio or gym, dancers get pretty restless. Since we really have no idea when we are returning to work this time, this quarantine period has felt much different for me than a typical break. I have tried to find ways to move every day, without putting too much pressure on myself to be "ready" to go back to work soon.

>> RELATED: Dayton ballet dancers getting creative during pandemic

Q. What kinds of new ways have you found to continue dancing or working out?

A: I am very big into yoga, and luckily my yoga studio — Speakeasy Yoga — is offering live-stream classes. There are also live-stream and pre-recorded classes now from companies and teachers all over the world who are also stuck at home. I am trying to take a ballet barre from a different teacher every couple of days, and have loved having these new and different perspectives on what we already practice every day at work. It's an extra challenge taking a ballet class in my living room!

Q. What do you miss most?

A: I miss the structure and daily challenge of work. Coming home at the end of the day feeling like you worked very hard for those hours is a rewarding feeling, and is hard to replicate while stuck at home. I also miss my friends and co-workers!

Q. What advice/tips do you have for other musicians and artists ?

A: Stay positive. Use this time as an opportunity, to explore a craft you don't normally get the time to work on, to spend more time with family, to call friends you never talk to, or to find a way to work on yourself. Something I have learned from injuries and the "quarantine" period that comes with that: there is always good that can come from unfortunate situations!

MINDEE ARNETT

Mindee Arnett is a young adult author, lives on a farm in Germantown with her husband, two kids, and assorted animals. PROVIDED
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Mindee Arnett is a young adult author, lives on a farm in Germantown with her husband, two kids, and assorted animals. PROVIDED

Mindee Arnett is a young-adult author best known for the YA high fantasy series "Onyx & Ivory", the sci-fi thriller "Avalon," and the contemporary fantasy series "Arkwell Academy." She lives on a farm in Germantown and has always worked from home.

Q. What’s a typical day for you? 

A: Despite being a creative person, my days are fairly regimented and task-oriented. I'm a firm believer in the philosophy of tackling the hard stuff first. This means that I usually start my day off with a rigorous Cross Fit style workout. Then after a quick shower, I settle down to write. I start off with a warm-up (both literally and figuratively) of reading and a cup a coffee. I like to spend at least 20 minutes reading whatever novel I'm currently engrossed in. While I do read nonfiction, this time is always devoted to fiction. I find that immersing myself in someone else's fictional world helps prepare me to enter my own.

>> RELATED: Stuck at home? Check out these e-books by Dayton-area authors

Once the reading is done, I’m ready to write. When I’m working on the initial draft of a novel, I have a daily writing goal of 1,000 new words. However, I always start off by revising the new sections I added the day before. On an ideal day, this reviewing and adding process takes around four hours. Often I write more than 1,000 words, but I give myself permission to stop working once I’ve hit that threshold. With the writing done, I’m now free to tackle any remaining chores and can look forward to a relaxing night of either watching some TV or even doing a little gaming.

Q. How has the virus changed your daily life?

Of course, like a lot of people, my days are not often ideal. They’re full of distractions like random phone calls and texts, emails that pretend to be urgent, or my children needing my help with a homework problem or asking for a snack. These days there are also a lot of added emotional distractions like worries over the coronavirus, tuning into the governor’s addresses, and other forms of existential crisis.

Tips for working from home from young adult author Mindee Arnett

• Plan your tasks, not your schedule. There's nothing more frustrating to me than to have set a specific schedule and then be unable to adhere to it because of unanticipated interruptions. All that does is create needless stress. Instead I like to have a specific plan for each task already in place so that when my schedule does allow me to get to the task, I'm ready to go.

For my workouts I rely on a subscription-based program. For my writing, I try to always know where I’m going with the next scene or chapter before I sit down to write it. I also know that if I haven’t figured out where I’m going next when I end a scene or chapter, that I will be spending the next day’s writing time figuring it out. Either way though, the plan is always the way forward.

• Use the Pomodoro Technique. This one has been a game changer for me. The Pomodoro Technique is a time management technique that helps you focus on a task. The typical approach is 25 minutes of deep, focused work followed by 5 minutes of rest, repeated until the task is done. For me, the crucial part of this approach is that during those 25-minute working sprints, I set my phone to do-not-disturb and I commit to not checking it until the time goes off. This helps me shut out a big part of the world's noise, especially right now when there are global updates on the virus happening almost every minute. During the five minute break, I can read as many newsfeeds and emails as I want, but the moment the timer goes off again, it's back to work with no distractions.

• Push hard but be kind. As a creator, it's important that I regularly push myself to do better in all of my tasks. To do this, I set myself "stretch" goals, such as trying to get 10,000 new words written in a novel weekly. That can be a tough order when my daily goal allows me to finish at only 1,000 words a day. But having these stretch goals gives me a target to strive for. The key, though, is that I'm not allowed to be disappointed in myself if I fail to meet the stretch goals. Being too hard on myself can easily lead to burnout. The goal is to regularly get two steps forward and avoid having that inevitable one step back that comes from pushing too hard.

Find Arnett on the web at mindeearnett.com