Musicking In The Time Of Pandemic


I am sitting at home, locked down with my family, like hundreds millions people all over the world. Raging pandemic is destroying lives and inflicting serious injuries on the most of the world’s societies and economies. In this situation one of the best tools helping suffering people to cope with the growing hardship is music. 

My initial idea for this post was to write about the ‘balcony musicking’ – how brave Italians turned the serenading up-side-down when playing and singing to their neighbours and friends from balconies, terraces and open windows, and thus boosting communities and the mood of everyone. This greatly positive phenomenon had been spreading over the world similar to the virus that forced it. For example, the title photo (a screengrab) of this post depicts the well known Canadian mezzo-soprano singer and radio host Julie Nesrallah, singing from her balcony in the Toronto downtown. (Video is here.)

Unfortunately, with the growing death toll, those brave Italians went silent. Overwhelmed by the everyday’s news, there seems to be no space left for a musical expression. For many centuries, music used to accompany people to the very end, when paying their last respect to those who left. But now, due to the security and the logistical reasons, there are not even funerals permitted. 

Technology helps

Still, music helps a great way to deal with stress, fear and anxiety. Our modern cities are no conducive to a community musicking like those ancient Italian towns with narrow streets and close proximity to neighbours. Therefore many people have turned to the new technology for a similar outcome – to play music, to sing … and to cope.

Wherever you go, whether to YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Twitch, Soundcloud … you can find tonnes of videos and recordings, made by people stuck at home. These are not only musicians who try to mitigate the financial damage caused by cancelled shows. Though some of the most successful seem to completely lost their touch with reality, like Madonna with her bubblebath rant. Or Drake presenting his new $100 million ‘mausoleum’ in Toronto in the least suitable time.

These are also families forced to home-school their children and maybe doing a better job than some schools. One example for all – the Marsh family from the UK, singing their funny adaptation of the Les Misérables song .

Majority of musicians and sound artists used to depend for their income on concerts and live shows. Now all of them had to switch to the internet. It is not easy for them as it is not for the most of us. So if you can, please support your favorite musicians through attending their online shows and purchasing your online ticket or donating.

We live online

For an online audience it may be quite challenging to sit down and listen to music. Even if we have now more time on our hands then ever in the recent history. A passive consumption of music is undisputably a great way to spend time and boost your mood or relieve stress. But I guess you would agree with me, that after a longer while even the most comfortable sofa becomes annoying, and your thoughts become like wild horses gallopping in every possible direction. Paying attention and concentrate even on the best piece of music can go only that far. 

There is no doubt, that music can energize us and can help not to be that passive. For example  when exercising or dancing. You can find many websites and social networks personalities, who organize online groups to work out or dance. And again, if you are so inclined, I would urge you to join and support them. You can help them and your health at the same time.

The modern technology and internet allow us these days to play together online in real time. These virtual jam sessions are a great way to act responsibly in regards to not spreading the virus and at the same time to play or sing with others and have fun. From the safety and comfort of your own house, you can actively participate in musicking with like-minded people from all over the world. But there are a few conditions here. First, your electronic devices must be suitable for that. Also the internet connection must be fast enough. And you need at least some experience to be comfortable when exposing yourself like this, even virtually. (MakeUseOf website has a more information about virtual jam sessions here.)

Musicking for uninitiated

Finally, here we are where I intended to get with all those words above. This is where I would like to expand on my Musicably idea. It is a rather simple idea to use music and help those, who can benefit the most. And there are too many of them! Those who don’t have guts, and who believe they cannot open their mouth for singing. Who got convinced by themselves or by others that they don’t have any talent. That they are ‘Tone Deaf & All Thumbs’ as described by Frank R. Willson in his interesting book.

I am writing this to those, who have already spent weeks in a home confinement and still don’t see how music could help them. Those who have already cleaned and put in order everything in their dwellings, who tried all cooking recipes they had never had time for before. Those who are tired of watching more TV series, playing more computer games, making origami, exercising, reading, writing, studying … 

Whatever you have beend doing that helps you in getting through the hardship of the quarantine, if active music making – or musicking – is not part of it, you are missing out. You are missing out big time, if instead of grabbing and playing a simple music instrument, your eyes and ears are constantly glued to the increasingly terrifying news. Sure, we all have to be informed how to better prepare and how to deal with what is to come. But if you accept that those who lead your country are doing it with the goal to help and save everyone possible, then a prolonged immersion in the onslaught of negative news doesn’t do any good to you, nor to those who you have been spending the confinement with. 

If you agree with me, here is my simple proposal – include active music making / musicking, in your daily schedule. 

Start making music on your own and challenge also your partners, children, friends and neighbours to do the same. Undust those long neglected music instruments from your basement or attic and start using them. If you don’t have any, be creative and use whatever you find around, be it utensils, empty containers, plastic, cardboard, metal … anything works. (A lot of good inspiration you can find in the book Make Music! I reviewed here.) 

It doesn’t go any simpler than the good old hair comb and a piece of paper . And even if that is out of question – use your own lips and learn how to whistle. 

Is it simple? Absolutely!

Is it easy? … Not at the beginning. But that’s the point!

You can also decide to purchase a music instrument from your local music store if they offer a home delivery, or order from Amazon. If this is your case, I would suggest you to consider simple music instruments, that will not require extensive learning period. It just doesn’t make sense to get discouraged right out of the gate once you realize, that your current abilities don’t equal your will power. Therefore make it easier for you at the beginning and once you get more familiar with the very process of music making, you can expand on it and go as far as you want. Believe me – musicking can be fun all the way, if you do it right. 

Music instruments to try

I understand, that you still may feel lost here and want to ask what instrument would I suggest. 

There are quite a few of them. The first group are simple wind instruments like harmonica, tin whistle, ocarina, or fuyara. Beside the music-making, these can also help to improve your lungs capacity as you have to blow into them to make a sound. Also if you are already recovering from the coronavirus desease, can be a good way to exercise your lungs. Just consult with your doctor first!

For the second group of instruments you will be using your fingers and hands. If playing guitar is your dream, a great and a much simpler substitution is a strum-stick or a dulcimer. Another tiny and bautifully sounding instrument is a kalimba also known as a thumb-piano or mbira. You may consider also such instruments as a hang or a tongue drum, but also some variation of a metallophone or xylophone.

If the electronics would be your chosen group, you may not know it, but you have been carrying a great music instrument with you all the time. Yes, your smartphone! Owners of Apple products may consider the GarageBand application. It offers many music instruments, but is also a great loop-machine to make your own beats or rhythms. In fact, it is a full-fledged recording studio as well. Android phones users could consider some alternative apps like the Walk Band or the n-Track Studio.

Next step – Start Now!

Once you are clear about the instruments of your choice and you have it already available, the next step is to find your favourite tune, melody or song and start learning how to accompany and reproduce it on your own. 

At this point you should have enough information to take a decision and make your next step. Are you still not clear? Or would you prefer first to “improve your ears” and listening skills? Then I suggest to consider purchasing Earobics Series exercises from the Listening Centre . Recently I had a chance to meet its founder Paul Madaule here in Toronto. My review of his book When Listening Comes Alive you can read here.

Don’t make it complicated! Don’t criticize yourself or others! This is not a beauty contest, nor a competition to become the next music star. 

Be clear about your purpose. This should be to relieve stress, calm down anxiety, boost a mood and energy, and spend a great time by learning and doing something new – making music. Musicking!

If you are interested, I have written a short manual How To Start Musicking – For Those Who Don’t Consider Themselves Musical. It is intended to help exactly those who have no previous music experience at all. Please subscribe by clicking on the button in the top right corner. Also let me know that you would like to get the manual here. I will send it to you as a PDF file. 

Keep safe and keep musicking!


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