Arts & Culture

Despite Social Isolation, Music Feeds the Soul

It is truly a testament to the enduring nature of this art form and its artists that such diverse and vibrant musical communities can exist entirely online.

Alvaro Bernal via Shotstash

The onset of the COVID–19 pandemic has shuttered performance venues worldwide. Artists across all genres have been forced to cancel their concerts or postpone them until next year at the earliest. In light of these delays, many orchestras, bands, theater companies, and individual musicians have chosen to broadcast and livestream performances online. This has allowed Furman’s music students to enjoy a wide variety of easily accessible music from their homes.

Classical music fans everywhere delighted at the Metropolitan Opera’s announcement of its Nightly Opera Streams Series amid shutdowns in March. Each night, one opera from the Met’s treasury of filmed performances is viewable online for twenty-three hours. Under normal circumstances, these can only be seen through Live in HD transmissions in movie theaters or with a paid subscription to the Met’s website, but for the foreseeable future, these world-class performances are only a click away. 

Furman junior Ryan Singer has enjoyed watching operas during quarantine. The cellist regards these performances as the ideal culmination of musical talent, saying that “it brings the power of vocal expertise together with the vibrancy of a symphony orchestra.” Another student listed operas based on Shakespearean dramas– Ambroise Thomas’s Hamlet and Thomas Adès’s The Tempest– as well as Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro as titles they’ve experienced through the Met’s online service. This student felt especially connected to the performances of opera singers Renée Fleming and Cecilia Bartoli in Mozart’s work, stating that hearing them sing together as the opera’s central female characters was “incredible.” Junior vocalist Addison Ballew also enjoyed the work of renowned singers during this unprecedented time, citing tenor Jonas Kaufman’s rendition of “The Flower Song” from Bizet’s Carmen as one of her favorite pieces. 

Broadway fans also delighted in recordings of beloved performances in the absence of live theater. While the release of Hamilton on Disney+ was certainly the most celebrated, other filmed shows have been made available for limited streaming on The Show Must Go On, a YouTube channel that provides highlights and behind-the-scenes footage in addition to full musicals. Besides watching those various operas and the broadcast of Hamilton, one student also enjoyed a filmed version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, which was filmed in 2011 at London’s Royal Albert Hall and made available on YouTube for a few days in early spring. 

Many music groups have chosen to create new performances adapted to the current climate rather than re-releasing old ones. Sophomore saxophone player Austin Krigbaum described the interesting process through which jazz bands have recorded pieces virtually, saying that “each musician plays and records their part at home…and then someone puts all the recordings together into one big video.” Krigbaum states that these individual musicians must use click tracks and “tap in time…so that it’s easier to line up the different recordings.” Once the video is put together, he says that “most, if not all of the members” can be seen in small boxes on screen, and an individual performer’s box gets larger when it is time for their solo. Krigbaum identified The Chad LB Virtual Big Band and Blue Note Tokyo All Star Jazz Orchestra as groups that he enjoys watching. He also praised NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concerts, which “got a home update” during the pandemic, as a series where he can experience a wide variety of styles and discover new artists. 

Despite all the new virtual performances being released to the public, sophomore drummer Isaiah Ives found himself drawn to something a bit more vintage in taste. “During quarantine, I watched Led Zeppelin’s pinnacle 1971 performance at an unnamed Paris opera house.” Ives was astounded by the sheer volume of the sound being produced by only four musicians. He states that this recorded concert “without a doubt, fed [his] soul.”

Though musicians and audiences alike are eagerly awaiting the day when in-person performances can commence, it is truly a testament to the enduring nature of this art form and its artists that such diverse and vibrant musical communities can exist entirely online. Even amid the pandemic and the financial strain caused by closures and cancellations, artists have highlighted past triumphs while never ceasing to create new and exciting music. This must be because, as Ives said, music feeds the soul, even in the most difficult of times. 

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