Guglielmo Mangiapane / Reuters

The pandemic has sent the world into turmoil and there’s no clear sign of when (or if) life will go back to “normal.” The current challenges have no borders and every country worldwide is faced with them. Thankfully there’s one universal language—music—that’s providing calm to help with the anxiety, fear, anger and sadness. And the virus hasn’t stopped it!

Though we can’t connect through music with the usual concerts, parties and choir practice, like with everything in this pandemic, there are new ways to experience music together.

Narinder Nanu / AFP / Getty

In many countries across the globe, people have taken to their windows and rooftops to sing to one another, play music, and lift spirits. Neighbors all across Italy played impromptu music together from their balconies to create a sense of much-needed connection. People joined in with whatever “instrument” they could get their hands on, including saucepans and spoons. 

Germans have joined the movement of singing from their rooftops. In Lithuania, two quarantined saxophonists play together from distant balconies to the delight of their neighbors.

Credit…Alessandro Grassani for The New York Times

Virtual videos and mini concerts—in all shapes and sizes

Those without balconies went a different route, creating uplifting, hope-inspiring videos to bring people together during this difficult time, all over the world, and spread some hope. They are extraordinary performances, not because of their perfect pitch or production, but exactly  the opposite—it is the rawness and realness that makes these performances so moving. We are more connected to the emotions and words right now, giving them more meaning and ability to touch our souls. 

My favorites include a profound performance of “Imagine” in a deserted subway station in London by Stephen Ridley. Also, a performance of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ by the brave medical workers from NHS in honor of the Llandudno’s Venue Cymru, which has been turned into a temporary coronavirus hospital. 

Some have resorted to humor in their creative song writing, to keep us laughing during this difficult time, such as My Corona, Coronavirus Rhapsody, Stayin’ Inside and a hilarious rendition of Les Miserables relating to lockdown.

Missing their fans, many celebrities, like John Legend, have been putting on casual mini-concerts from their homes.  It’s very personalized, seeing them in their homes, and makes me feel far more connected with them than a crowded concert. They are not polished, dressed up or on stage, but in their living rooms simply talking to you. 

It’s been much harder for orchestras to adjust to the new reality and find a way to perform together virtually. Rotterdam’s Philharmonic Orchestra was among the first in Europe to create a virtual orchestra through smartphones and video editing from their living rooms to play Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. This is a much more personal performance.

Virtual virtuosos … musicians from the Orchestre National de France play Ravel’s Boléro. Photograph: AP

Video conferencing options like Zoom and Google Hangouts have a combination of latency and quality issues, so this virtual process is very labor intensive. 

First, one person records the conducting or main drums and sends that track to everyone. Then they combine each person’s individual video after it’s been edited to synchronize the start and finish, sized appropriately and checked for sound compatibility and resolution. Finally, the pieces are visually placed together on the screen at the right time as they are highlighted. It is a true labor of love. 

They haven’t yet figured out a way to create music collaboratively on the internet where the advantages outweigh the disadvantages—but that hasn’t stopped the musicians from coming together.

I was surprised to learn that, according to Chorus America, one in six Americans, or 54 million people, sing in choral groups, including community, school, religious and professional ensembles. But since stay-at-home orders were issued, live choral music here and around the world has completely stopped. It turns out singing is a perfect way to spread coronavirus. But that hasn’t stopped choirs—singers have joined together to create beautiful virtual music for all of us to hear, and now see.

Sharing some online musical favorites of mine . . . 

As a gospel singer myself, we had to stop our weekly practice and all performances. Right now, I’m inspired by the music I’m finding online. One of my favorites is “It Is Well With My Soul,” sung by 31 Nashville singers. 

TenTwoSix Music Group | YouTube

Another favorite is the original cast of Hamilton (hosted by Jimmy Fallon) who perform a social distancing version of Hamilton’s “Helpless” with instruments found at home while in quarantine. Then there’s  We are the World, produced by YouTube Artists that were all stuck at home and O-o-h Child, sung by singers across continents trying to bring a brighter day to those needing hope.  

One breathtaking piece is a rendition of ‘Amazing Grace sung by representatives of 50 countries affected by the pandemic. This piece takes the listener on a world tour, visiting different continents and hearing the harmony of multiple languages

Youtube, Life Church 

Music has immense power to touch our spirit and core, in a very deeply meaningful way. It comforts us, lifts us up, opens our hearts and connects total strangers. Music is a natural and beautiful way to express, feel and calm our pain and anxiety. 

Like all the most wonderful things in life, no one can fully explain it, but everyone can feel it. As Plato stated, “Music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul.”

Listening to moving music causes the brain to release dopamine, a feel-good chemical. People love music for much the same reason they’re drawn to sex, drugs, gambling and delicious food, according to new research says Valorie Salimpoor, a neuroscientist at McGill University in Montreal. 

Highlight of The Week: The largest virtual choir in the world

Virtual Choir 6: Sing Gently, Namm.org

The most amazing musical feat was created recently by Eric Whitacre who brought together 17,572 singers from 129 countries to sing his original composition “Sing Gently.”  

As you will see, it is as much a breathtaking piece of visual art as it is a melody that touches your soul. “When I look at the numbers and, more so when I look at the faces of the people from around the world, I’m just stunned” comments Whitacre.

Challenge of The Week: Help musicians during this crisis

While streaming still gives artists a way to connect with their fans, so many other sources of their revenue are on hold with this crisis. Thousands of music creators and professionals are struggling and face an uncertain future. 

To play our part, consider donating to a growing list of organizations offering financial relief to creators around the world. Here are ways you can helpPlease help keep the music community alive and thriving, giving it as much as it gives us.

And now there are virtual choirs you can join—I just signed up for one so maybe I’ll “see” you there!

—Kendall Webb, Executive Director

P.S. Feel free to share your favorite virtual music performances with me and I’ll feature them in a future blog.

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