A World of Hope: Music Versus COVID-19
9 April 2020 • Sarah Medcraf
It’s difficult to put into words just how much everyone’s lives have changed in the last few days, weeks and months. I know I’m not alone in saying that simple things I normally take for granted have been impacted, as we all do our bit to help try and stop the spread of COVID-19.
Visiting friends and family, greeting them with a hug or handshake. Gone. Travel plans from the mundane daily commute to the anticipation of your next weekend away or holiday abroad. Not today. There is even a growing frustration from the armchair enthusiasts among us, with the cancellation of TV sporting staples like Wimbledon and the Olympics – events that we can usually set our watches by. Heck, even regular trips to Coronation Street and Emmerdale are being curtailed!
But there is one thing that we can still turn to in these strangest of times. One thing everyone can rely on to stop the international walls of isolation closing in on us, to break down the barriers between you, me, our loved ones and complete strangers. That one thing? Music.
Music is universal. In fact, music is a superpower. Music can turn us from furious to placid after only a few beats or bars. Like nothing else on Earth, music even has the ability to take us back to a time and place that feels like a lifetime ago. Given these unprecedented times, many of our favourite memories do, indeed, seem even more distant!
I am very lucky to work as a fundraiser for Alzheimer Scotland. If you hadn’t already guessed, I am also a proud, lifelong lover of music. My passion for music has never really left me since my formative years, growing up surrounded by the 90s soundtrack - Britpop. Working for Scotland’s national dementia charity has only amplified (pun intended) my enthusiasm for music. Activities and groups like our Musical Memories, Pop Up Parties and Dementia Choirs are just some examples of how we use music to improve the wellbeing of people living with dementia throughout the country. There is growing evidence to suggest that music therapy can help improve symptoms of dementia, such as depression and agitation.
These quotes are from visitors to our regular music sessions at the charity’s Aberdeen Dementia Resource Centre. They provide a wonderful summary that we can all relate to on how music is the easiest, most accessible and best form of escapism.
What the world is experiencing right now only reinforces how fundamental music is to each and every one of us. Right here on my doorstep, musicians from around the North East of Scotland have joined creative forces to host Lockdown Live Aberdeenshire. The virtual festival Facebook page has gained over 24,000 followers in less than a fortnight. The closure of local pubs and venues has done little to dampen the spirits of local artists that still have the same hunger to share their music as the fans that want to hear it. The same fans that are now using their kitchen as a dancefloor!
Revellers disappointed to be missing their annual pilgrimage to festivals like Glastonbury can take solace in more and more clubs and artists diversifying how they deliver their product to homes around the world. Last weekend, over 100,000 followers, including no less than the Obamas and Oprah Winfrey, streamed a 9 hour club mix from American DJ D-Nice on Instagram Live. Musical institutions as diverse as the Montreux Jazz Festival and Metallica have also made their legendary performances free to view on their website. You could do a lot worse than watching Marvin Gaye’s seminal 1980 show at Montreux Casino while we’re all on lockdown!
If any country embodies how music is empowering the lives of its people right now, look no further than Italy. COVID-19 has had a devastating effect, claiming over 13,000 lives, more than any other nation, despite Italy having one of the finest health care systems on the planet. A national quarantine has been enforced by the government since 9th March. Italians, however, remain defiant.
Nightly flash mobs witness citizens from up and down the country forming makeshift music communities on their balconies. If you can’t tinkle the ivories of a classical piano, or don't have the voice of a tenor, your pots, pans and wooden spoons are just as welcome! As one local guitarist explains, the tradition of community is far more important than having a good ear for a melody:
“I will always remember that night there, on the balcony, because it gave me all the life I needed to be able to go on.”
We are only just facing up and becoming familiar with this long period of uncertainty. Have faith, though, that the infinite hope and joy that music brings will long outlive this global pandemic. As will creativity, a sense of community and the human spirit.
So, from Aphex Twin to ZZ Top, always take time to step back, take a breath and make your own kind of music!