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REMOTE | Darren Hicks ‘Be Radical In Your Niceness'

By Michael Zarathus-Cook on August 4, 2020

Darren Hicks interview
Darren Hicks (Photos courtesy of the artist)

The TSO’s Associate Principal Bassoonist, Darren Hicks, is a very interesting man. Interesting in the ways that he’s been dealing with the pandemic and, more importantly, in the lessons that he’s gleaned from his experience; (the importance of ‘weaponizing empathy’, for example). I’ll let his words speak for themselves, but his is definitely one of the more candid and insightful contributions to this series so far. Simply put, I wish everyone in classical music could be this woke — I think the industry would be the better for it.

How have you been coping with the pandemic?

Honestly I am not at my best. My mental health took a huge nosedive once the energy of my initial anxiety dissipated. Isolation has proven harder than I anticipated; I am naturally an introverted homebody so I thought I was well-prepared for self-isolation and quarantining but OH BOY was I wrong. I am thanking the goddesses that I am privileged enough to afford regular therapy and counselling. Without professional help and the flexibility of my mental healthcare team I would not be able to pull myself out of the mired mess my brain is currently.

With that said I’m doing much better than a lot of other people. I recognize the privilege I have in being able to weather the pandemic relatively stressor-free. I know not everyone moves through society with the same ease I am afforded based on my gender identity and ethnicity. Re-educating myself about systemic racism and sexism in all aspects of society (especially healthcare while we’re in this global pandemic) is a constant lesson in privilege and empathy. I have always been an empathetic person, often to a fault, but this current moment in history is teaching me to recognize the life I have been afforded and how to weaponize my empathy to be better and be active in my ally-ship.

What are the ways you are keeping busy?

Is there ever really free time when your life is music? I tend to spend every spare second I can learning and listening. My practice schedule has basically continued uninterrupted but the focus has shifted dramatically. Instead of working at breakneck speed to learn the repertoire for each week I am able to take space in my day to have extended, slow-paced, exploratory warm-up sessions where I can really dig into the fundamentals of good bassoon playing and excellent musicianship. I have habits built into my playing that I want to shift so my approach is to question everything and try to optimize my artistry.

Outside of the specifics of the bassoon I’ve been exploring the works of musicians and artists (musical or otherwise) that are new to me and re-exploring and deepening my connection to works that are very familiar to me. I think this idea of exploration and adding depth to my understanding have been major themes that I had forgotten to do in my life pre-pandemic. Or maybe I told myself I just didn’t have the time. I don’t have that excuse now!

With some slack built into my daily life I have also been keen to reinvigorate my childhood hobbies and interests. I have been building LEGO sets and am ordering some model cars to put together. Building and constructing models have been interests of mine for a long time. I feel like it uses a different part of my brain that is under-utilized in my day-to-day life and career. It also brings me so much glee!

What are you missing the most right now?

I live alone in a shoebox in the sky so right now I really miss my friends and family. I miss hearing laughter bounce off walls and feeling the energy of people smiling. I miss sitting at the bar and chatting with a cool bartender while sipping something delightful. I miss having a close conversation. I miss the spontaneity that living in a big city affords you on a night out or weekend afternoon. I miss sitting at a restaurant with a group of friends and sharing and enjoying a great meal. I miss being able to hug people and give high-fives and pats on the back. Being deprived of basic human connection through touch is a challenge. I know I will cherish all of these things even more when I’m able to experience them again.

Books, films, or TV on the go?

Too many! I’m the type of reader who reads multiple novels at the same time. Bad, I know! I am re-reading The Lord of the Rings again. I’m super excited to start diving into N. K. Jemisin’s works as well. I’ve also been exploring horror films for the first time in my life. For some reason this genre has been piquing my interest as of late. I get scared very easily and the paranormal stuff sticks in my brain. Not too good for sleeping but at least I’m still able to feel something! Oh and my PS4 is getting a good workout.

Any words of wisdom to get through this?

Much of my wisdom is coming from my therapist these days. Compassion is key. Self-compassion allows you to forgive and not judge yourself. Compassion for others allows you to see everyone as a complex and complicated human being, people fighting to survive and thrive. Compassion for the globe and for the cosmos puts everything into perspective.

So be nice. Be radical in your niceness. It’s worth everything.

Also, drink water and stretch!

For more chats with artists in social isolation, read on HERE.


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Michael Zarathus-Cook
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