Late night thoughts on coronavirus, violins, etc

My inbox immunity is low. Still, the message from the Winspear Centre hit home.

Soon after Alberta Health Services recommended on Thursday that large gatherings of more than 250 people be cancelled, the Winspear scratched its March concerts. Helping to flatten the curve means instruments down.

"The health and well-being of our patrons, staff and musicians are of the utmost importance," the email said.

So, for now, the music dies.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that live orchestral music should be maintained in a pandemic. I'm just saying I remember what C.S. Lewis wrote in 1948 in a piece called On Living in an Atomic Age.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let the bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds. 

(Quibblingly, I would substitute riding a bike for playing tennis, and add helping Shelagh make Turkish beans with lamb. I would not include hoarding toilet paper. There should be enough toilet paper to go around.)

Turkish beans and lamb in the making

Of music, Lewis chose to formulate it as listening rather than playing. Etymologically, "listen" carries with it the sense of "paying attention to." Listening to music involves us in a kind of contract. I will give my time and attention in return for an experience, for emotion, for entertainment. Part of that experience is exactly the joy of not playing music, but, instead, receiving it as a gift from the outside.

These days of quarantine have me reaching for a lot more information and data from the outside. I am reading the New York Times more, listening to podcasts more, checking Twitter even more—all for the latest on coronavirus. But I notice, too, that I am being pulled downstairs to the record player more, and listening to Bach more. Upstairs on the Bose, we're listening to Milk Carton Kids more.

And we're even listening to Puccini, who will not accept isolation.

Thank goodness for the nurses and doctors and epidemiologists and public health workers of our time. Thank goodness for the people who share their information. Thank goodness for science. Thank goodness, too, for the artists who give us music. So we can listen and not feel alone together.

It will be exhilarating to have the Winspear back after the chaos.


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