Raise your hand if you don’t like music.

Good. Not one person raised their hand.

It’s amazing that 100% of us can agree on one single thing these days (even staying away from each other, as these darkly funny appeals from Italian mayors attest).

Few art-lovers claim art is the universal language. Or dance-lovers, dance. Or literature, books. Or drama, plays, though those art forms have caught and held our breaths for centuries. That’s because the one universal language is music.

And if ever there was a time to enlist the power of music to anchor our memories and steel us for the days ahead, it’s the language shared by all 9 billion of us.

For you, it may be Kenny Rogers, or fifes and drums, or Belgian lutenists.

Whatever makes your heart thrum.

In fact, now may be the time to explore music you never had time for, or want to give a second chance. For me, that’s Blues and Philip Glass.

It’s certainly time to go deep with the music you already love, the tunes that grew into anthems as you grew up. I remember when my father was dying, we played Beethoven’s 7th Symphony beside his hospital bed. Those were the last sounds he heard. When I hear it today, half a century later, I tear up. Impossible not to.

The greatest gift my dad passed on to me was his love of classical music. He thrust flute lessons at me when I could barely lift a flute. He forced me to go to concerts by the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. Yech!

But that early training opened a world to me that grows larger as I grow older.

So it’s no surprise that I’m clicking eagerly on the many sites of soloists and choirs and orchestras all trying to do virtually what their profession has taught them to perform live.

Some of them are more earnest than expert. They  remind me of Winston Churchill’s review of  a performance by a dancing bear: “It’s not that he does it well; it’s that he does it at all.”

On the other hand, there are some stellar new ways individual musicians are using technology to appear en masse.

Here’s Italy’s International Opera Choir singing “Va Pensiero” from Giuseppi Verdi’s Nabucco. Yes, you do know this tune.

Now, here are members of the Rotterdam Philharmonic playing the Ode to Joy, the final movement from Beethoven’s 9th – from their bedrooms.  You know this one too.

The best example is closest to home. This week, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra came together to perform Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring in a way the world has never seen. Yes, yes, yes.

But the final word on what music means in times of crisis belongs to the conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra who doubles as the Director of the Metropolitan Opera.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin was interviewed on NPR by Terry Gross last week after they performed Beethoven’s 5th and 6th to an empty concert hall.

He was at home with his family in Montreal where he is still the music director of the Orchestre Métropolitain. His interview starts at 31:56, and in it he said this: “Musicians are communicators, that’s why we do this. Some of us are very lonely when we practice our instruments. But all of this is to share.”

“The opportunity to connect with our audience in such a moment of shock, with the music of Beethoven, and his 5th Symphony, is the representation of humankind overcoming its own destiny.”

Amen to that.

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48 thoughts on “The Plague-Ground – THERE AIN’T NO MUSIC UNLESS THE WORDS SING.”

  1. I love these daily thoughts, Bob, and of course you know I share with you the conviction that music is the most powerful consolation right now. It is an emotional language – everything right now has to make emotional sense, and music does, and your words also I am pleased to say. there is nothing of course that takes the place of the live, in-concert experience, but we will have to live on our memories right now and be grateful for the innovative ways musicians are reaching out to continue communicating this inestimable gift of the art.

    1. Eric — Indeed, we WILL have to live on our memories for now, and it’s astonishing how many of us are already marshalling our second language of music to do that. Thanks for checking in. Cheers. Bob

  2. Thanks Bob, we are very much enjoying your Writes……..please keep them coming, …..yes, the Internet , music, books, family , friends, communicating + food & the grape etc…..are our life blood , during this pandemic ……Stay well, ❤️ Terry Dingle

  3. Amen to that! I listened to the entire Woodstock album while making dinner. My kids never hear me sing! They do now . Thanks for this beautiful reminder and for the links. Can’t wait to explore. Here’s to the Quarantine Quartet.

  4. Love this. My family looks at me funny while I’m singing but, hey, the heart of a singer must be set free . Here’s to new voices in the kitchen.

  5. How great that your dad forced you to attend classical music concerts! The more we learn, the more we understand and find a deeper joy and connection with others. Marilyn Field, MSM

    1. Indeed, Marilyn, lots of us were ‘forced’ into classical music by our parents. Thank Heavens we were, is all I can say.

  6. If music be the food for love, play on.
    Bob, you hit the nail on the head: yesterday I listened to all of Beethovan’s symphonies and then 5 recordings of Miles Davis. When I read about the TSO and Appalachian Spring I wept- with the idea of it! What could be more uplifting at a time like this, than the likes of Joni Mitchell, Puccini (Danuke does La Boheme on CBC Gem), Bernstein, Keith Jarrett and his Cologne Concerts, Ravi Shankar and the LSO – name your favorites.
    I appreciate you drawing music to our centre during this dark time.

    1. Louise: It’s a salvation that ALL of us have a library of music in our memories we can use technology to call on these days.
      Let mne see if I can call up Beethoven’s symphonies the way you did. Cheers. Bob

  7. Wonderful read, fantastic Churchill quote.
    I’m signing into work now, will look forward to listening to the music later today.
    Thank you!

  8. Bob – once again you have made my day!! Thank you for such great links to great music.
    Your story about your dad reminded me of my BFF who was dying of AIDS in 1991 at The Toronto General Hospital. As he lay there – incapable of talking or even moving- I played the music of the classical performers we had seen together at Roy Thomson Hall — our mutual favourite was Kathleen Battle. We shared a mutual love of DIVAS!
    I hadn’t thought of that time for a long while until I read your piece. Thank you for resurrecting a memory that had long been buried.

    1. Gary — Thanks for checking in. You’re now back in Toronto, or elsewhere in Stratford?
      Best to you both.

  9. John R McIsaac

    Lest we not forget Procol Harum’s orchestral version of “Whiter Shade of Pale” with the ESO back sometime in the 60s.

    1. Indeed, John, I think I still have that album buried deep in a trunk somewhere….it made the ESO world-famous — for a bit!

  10. Bob, I am thoroughly enjoying all your posts. Particularly loved this morning’s one- music is such a wonderful way to connect and express feelings, it warms my heart to see all these musicians playing for us! I wish more people appreciated classical music! Thank you for brightening my day!

  11. Really enjoying these heartfelt daily thoughts, Bob, and you are capturing the zeitgeist as well or better than anyone else I have read. Today’s blog really spoke to me, as I have been using music to calm my soul and ease my anxiety as we traverse this new, stark reality that for some speaks of the many travails yet to come. Amazing how many of my friends speak of this as some kind of spiritual reminder of how fast the world was going and our need as a species to slow down and actually think about where we are headed and why, the future world we are leaving to our children and grandchildren. When put in that context, COVID-19 is related to climate change, political extremism, gun violence and fundamentalism. One of my favorite authors (and I believe yours as well), Yuval Noah Hariri, would get these connections. Coming back to music, it is for me one of the wonderful attributes of our species, and brings out the very best of us. Thanks for your daily thoughts…I am really enjoying them immensely!

    1. Thanks so much, Gordon, and my apologies for the tardy reply. My sense is we are the lucky ones, certainly compared to our friends in New York.
      Yikes! I’m glad you like the blogs; they keep me occupied! Cheers and thanks. Bob

  12. Madeline Thompson

    What a lovely idea, this music post. Some of the pieces wouldn’t click on, but some did – Appalachian Spring for one, wonderful to hear again – and love Nezet-Seguin’s thoughts. And that your father exited this world on the wings of Beethoven’s 7th, may we all be so fortunate! Really enjoy these posts. Chiang Mai is now in shutdown but not yet lockdown. Hopefully that won’t happen. We shall see – every day is an adventure!

  13. May I recommend the Tom Lehrer concert that was taped in Copenhagen in 1967. It ran on PBS a few days ago but is available in its entirety on YouTube. Lehrer, a mathematician and satirist, is the composer of such clever and unforgettable classics as “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park;” “So Long, Mom, I’m Off to Drop the Bomb (A Song for World War III);” “Wernher von Braun;” and “The Vatican Rag.”

    1. Judith — My apologies for the tardy reply; I just saw this now…..We are vaguely around the corner from up. We came up north a month ago.
      Anyone who sings Poisoning Pigeons in the Park is someone I want to follow! I trust you two are high and dry. Cheers. Bob

  14. hi Bob

    love your daily posts! your music suggestions [send more of your favourites ],your thoughts and ideas for magazine article to read.. We may be inside but we still can be thinking, become more knowledgeable about many issues and enjoy phone and email contact with friends and family. I think of it as unexpected leisure time but with a dark cloud hanging just outside of our quarantined spaces. Keep your ideas and suggestions coming.they brighten and enlighten my day.
    Stay well
    Elaine Solway

    1. Thanks so much, Elaine, and my apologies for the tardy reply. You’re right, inside are all kinds of opportunities to learn in new ways.
      Outside, not so much ! Cheers Bob

  15. Bob, I wish I could reply to your wonderful post with words worthy of Bach, but for some reason Neil Diamond jumped in: “You are the words, I am the tune / Play me.”

    1. Thanks, Tim. Just seeing your comment now. It is indeed the strangest of times. Trust you are high and dry in all this. Cheers. Bob

  16. Lovely piece, Bob. I’ve started to play the piano again. I sound awful, but with practice, who knows? Just the discipline of practicing and playing helps to calm and distract from all around me. Keep the posts coming!

  17. Love the music – all recorded in isolation. Passed the links along to family and friends and got heartening, happy feedback.
    Thanks, Bob … and more of it when you find these wonderful goodies.

  18. Dear Bob:

    So wonderful … and VIVA L’ITALIA et all of us EVERYWHERE.

    Thanks for these moments of joy …



  19. Sarah P Hastie

    Thanks Bob; you say what I feel so much better than I could! When the nurses association asked us all to make a noise from our window, balcony, deck, or porch at 7:30 every evening, I immediately thought of music and took out my Bluetooth speaker on full blast. I am sharing different tunes every night as a shout out to the entire healthcare community as well as other first responders and essential workers. You’re right, music is universal. Keep well Bob and Jean.

  20. Bob – Yes, yes, yes. Music enriches the soul and we need this right now. Here’s our 11 year old Connor playing and singing his raw & uncut ‘in my room’ series – which he’s built to sustain himself and others through this surreal time… (week 2 confinement) and (week 1 confinement). Kids are so amazingly resilient and flexible. We can learn so much from them.

  21. Bob, Truly enjoying your daily posts! Ode to Joy such a wonderful piece and their performance is one I’ll never forget. Looking forward to tomorrow’s post :).

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