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.