With Auckland facing another week of Lockdown, express talks to queer community members about how they keep a level head in these trying times. Today, concert pianist Flavio Villani.

Tell us about your Level 4 Lockdown – where are you? Whos in your bubble? And what are you doing to keep your mental health in check?

I am in the Kingsland hood of Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland) with both my flatmates, Brough and Jo. We are good friends, and we support each other despite our low days. To keep us entertained/distracted we have played some board games and also zoom games with our extended whānau (I am a geek at heart and there are lots of online options to allow distancing friends and family to connect over a game).


In our home we all have a love of good food – it makes me the happiest to have a meal around the table, which might be a consequence of my Italian heritage. 

When it’s not pouring down like most recently, it helps to explore around on foot: it’s surprising how many things you start noticing about the world around you when given the opportunity to slow down. I have been trying to get back into running and head out most days.

It would be a lie to say that my mind is fully in balance these days, but music has always helped me at my worst and in front of the piano is where I spend most of my time, either practising for concerts or teaching students via Zoom. Seeing my students online has actually helped me greatly: seeing their care, receiving their videos during the week, sent to ask for feedback and solve issues before meeting me again in their next lesson, seeing their commitment and response to the challenges of learning music – that really has given me strength most days. 

What are your top tips for express readers who are struggling with self-isolation?

Everyone is struggling in different ways and for different reasons. It is important to learn not to compare. Some days I feel I am barely swimming but I also realise how privileged I have been so far in NZ, while some parts of the world had to cope with similar measures throughout last year we managed to continue with minimal effects on daily life. 

I could sum up suggestions that have helped me and that I think can be useful regardless of the motives for the struggle.

  1. Reach out. Even at your lowest, connect with your people, your friends, your whānau. This might also help you realise you’re not alone in your struggle. And you might make the day for someone else in the process. Even if we know already the answer to a simple question like “how was your day?” (I was in lockdown, duh?!), it is the care from that question that is important. And you might surprise yourself by finding things to share about your day, your feelings, your thoughts that might otherwise be kept in, or pushed to the back of your mind – it’s important to talk about this stuff.
  1. Delight. This came as a suggestion from my flatmate Brough following a podcast she had been listening to. Look for something that sparks joy in your day, it doesn’t have to be big, something you’re grateful for. It helps shift focus, it can bring a smile and change your perception of your day. Then at the end of every day take note of three positive things you can re-read when you feel down.
  1. Take the time just to be with yourself. Learning to take time alone, focus on breathing, being in the moment, it’s the best gift we can give to ourselves in an ever-spinning world. I think we are all a bit dizzy from coming to a sudden halt after such an extended period of freedom. This could be perhaps an invitation to be within for a moment. I do this with the piano regularly: I guess I am lucky because that’s part of my work, I do it when I improvise when I manage to let go of judgment and just try to be in the moment. To let go of judgment and be in the stillness of your mind is the best gift we can give to our minds. Doing some Feldenkrais (awareness methodology through movement) online offered by a close friend has also been invaluable. But for you this could be, yoga, a walk, a moment for stillness and meditation, or however you can find a way to be with your own body – embrace it fully these days, take a breath and relax. It can be nice to slow down.
  1. Don’t beat yourself up. It’s OK to not be OK. It’s OK to struggle, you are no less because of it, and you are not alone. Try to remember that you are not “working from home”, I have noticed this time around that the pressures of work have not eased in this lockdown for some people, you are “trying to work from home in the midst of a global pandemic”, this is not normal and you do not have to do everything – sometimes you will just need to turn off, you need to allow yourself to do that.

What is the most positive aspect of self-isolation youve experienced so far?

I think it is the opportunity to sit still for a moment and ask myself, “where are you going? what are you really doing?”. 

It happened last year, I got myself so caught up in a quest to demonstrate myself as a pianist that I had filled my year with so many overseas performances that I think I wouldn’t have had a home life at all. I was shifting too much of my focus on trying to prove something rather than just being, and worry not of other people’s judgment or impression of my worth. Then it all stopped, puff!, instead of going overseas for most of the year I stayed in NZ. I reviewed the motives of my choices, focusing on what made me happy rather than what I thought I need to do to impress others. That standstill also prompted me to go to Queenstown (shout out to #WinterPride) where I met my partner David, and I am very grateful for that. 

Similarly this time, even though again performances are at a halt, and the prospect of stricter Levels look a bit gloomy over the career of a live performing artist, I am taking this time to ask myself what I want from the music I do and the time I am spending with it, what I have to offer – and so work hard for it.

What plans do you have between now and the end of lockdown?

Not much is planned apart from the preparation for the concerts. I was supposed to do a performance in the Town Hall in September in Auckland and Wellington – now moved to November, crossing fingers for it to still go ahead. Link here. And I am also preparing for the performance of another programme at the Nelson Arts Festival end of October. Link here. Finally, I am using this time to continue writing down my Doctorate.

What are you missing most about normal life?

Being able to travel, to see my partner and my friends in person, to see live events and art. 

What will be the first thing that you cant wait to do when regular life resumes?

Hug my boyfriend. He lives in Wellington at the moment and I can’t wait to see him again. 

Moving forward is there anything you think you will change about your life following self-isolation?

Practice more self-kindness. Close friends keep telling me I should do that. This probably comes from many years of self-flagellation growing with very little self-love coming to terms with my sexuality in Italy and the consequences of that over the years. I still do things that jeopardise my mental health now and then, so I am aiming at keeping closer attention and control over that. 

We all go through it, it makes me happy to see a new generation that does not have the same judgment cast upon them, that have grown up in a society of more acceptance. We have a lot of work to do, especially globally but New Zealand is a special place that has allowed me to grow and evolve into a better version of myself and I need to continue – we could all probably do with a bit more self-kindness.

Is there a closing message you would like to share with our gorgeous LGBTI+ community?

You’re doing great… We have seen the rest of the country return to lower restrictions, and we will too as long as we stay vigilant – you don’t know what could be going on in someone’s day, be kind they may have it a lot worse than you. Stay safe. Love each other. Oh, and wear a mask!