As the entire world fights hard against Coronavirus through the physical ways of medicinal relief, many people have found another way to fight the pandemic, a way that has proved efficient in times past, as far back as 2700 years ago, and which is already working miracles many years after.
It’s no new thing to see news flash of Italians on their balcony creating a full-on harmonica and singing hits and classics like Nessun Dorma, or Brazilians in the popular capital Rio singing “Because He lives” in Portuguese by their windows in a remarkable and breathtaking performance. Neither is it new that many popular artists from Justin Bieber to other celebrities have taken to singing and performing online.
This whole practice of singing to forget sorrows, using music as a means of revitalizing the body and soul and as an instrument of hope isn’t a new phenomenon, this isn’t the first pandemic that has the world uniting its voices together to sing its sorrows, pains and losses away—for the fact are that music for a very long time has been fighting pandemics, tough and painful times as far back as 2700 years back and even farther.
With windows opened, doors unlocked and balconies perched on thousands of men and women were seen singing from their residences in Milan, in the summer of 1576, when the plague of Saint Charles had devastated much of the Italian north. A commentator then said, “It was a sight to see, when all the inhabitants of this populous city, numbering little short of 300,000 souls … [sent] up together a harmonious voice.” It was such a sight, he wrote, that Milan appeared as “the heavenly Jerusalem” itself.
People all over the world have found solace in sounds of all kinds to fight the anxiety and apprehension that the pandemic has caused. From coordinated sounds of singing and instrument playing in Italy, Spain and other regions, to the claps rendered every night to the NHS personnel in the UK and even to chants of the “Wuhan jiayou!” – or ‘Stay strong, Wuhan!” that erupted in Wuhan community China, as at the beginning of the year when the pandemic began. All are forms of music which have helped ease the minds of many in such dark times.
The history and proof of music serving as an elixir for the soul and mind during a pandemic or critical times can be found in so many places, for instance in Egypt, Greece, and Babylon, music was amidst the tools used for spiritual healing and social bonding amid diseases for so many years, in the 7th Century BC when there was a plague in Sparta, city leaders petitioned the poet Thaletus to sing hymns, and Terpander, another noted ancient Greek poet, was called up during a plague in Lesbos. Medieval Italy wasn’t out of the trend too as there were “plague processions” where entire towns marched, sang and prayed under icons of local saints, with call-and-response litanies designed to encourage participation.
Remi Chou, a musicologist at Loyola University says that music has a powerful ability to overcome individual egos, she adds that “When you’re making music, you’re submitting yourself – your mind, your body – to its regulation. And when you’re making music communally, or even dancing or doing the Macarena with your neighbours, you’re simultaneously contributing and submitting yourself to the larger goal of the group.”
Unlike religion, music is a stronger social tool for establishing bonds as it does not diversify based on an aspect but unites irrespective of backgrounds. The music spans beyond any form of barrier and creates a bond more lasting which is complemented with creating and establishing a positive state of mind for all who hear or sing. Medically it is believed that a positive state of mind collaborated immensely when treating physical ailments, for instance, during the Renaissance, patients were encouraged to compose and study art, joke and laugh with their friends, and also to play music, because the resulting energy would flow favourably to their “humours”: ethereal substances believed to form the building blocks of our constitutions.
And just as it is an antidote and elixir for a positive state of mind, it also pushes fear away as Chiu says, “Music is proving to be a true antidote to fear, just as Renaissance doctors claimed.” It has become the non-prescribed medication of many who though not directly affected by the pandemic find themselves within the turmoil it has caused and uses music to alleviate their sorrows, anxiety, depression and so on.
This isn’t the first time music has come to the rescue of humanity and through its miraculous works, it has shown that during a pandemic and extremely tough times in the history of man, music is not a luxury but a necessity.