Have you come across the term “corona-coaster” yet? I spotted it the other day and, boy, does it ever sum up the emotional highs and lows of living through a global pandemic!
Two months or so into this whole thing and I think we’re all still trying to figure out what to make of it. Some of you will be sitting at home, locked up, lonely, bored to tears, worrying about finances, your loved ones, what the future might hold. Others among you will be working every waking hour, immersed in a tragedy that the rest of us can only imagine — and doing your job anyway.
Some of us may be pleasantly surprised at how much joy we can glean from life’s simple pleasures one minute, only to find ourselves in despair as life as we know it slips from our hands. There’s a feeling of mourning, yes, but there’s also a pervading stillness, a sense of calm, and even a glimmer of hope.
Because, whatever we’re facing as individuals as we ride the corona-coaster, there does seem to be a common thread. All of us are pondering the question:
How do we want to live when all this is over?
In some ways it’s hard to get excited about the future. There are still so many unknowns around the virus itself, about potential cures or vaccines, and how to build herd immunity. This lockdown — or waves of it — could be with us for years. And of course, through it all, there’s the slight issue of an insane leader who thinks that having safety locks on the cabinet under your kitchen sink is overrated!
Whatever happens next, we know that life isn’t going to go back to the way it was, and that’s a terrifying thought.
But I wonder if it’s also the greatest opportunity we’ll ever have.
The unexpected side effects of COVID-19.
As awful as this virus is, I can’t help but be grateful for one unexpected side-effect: its ability to remove the scales from our eyes.
Thanks to the pandemic we finally see — I mean REALLY see — the damage we’re doing to the environment, as our skies and waterways clear and our air becomes cleaner, healthier. We’re well aware that we can’t go on polluting the environment as we have, but we’ve been lucky enough to see the results of a reduced-carbon lifestyle, and it’s enticing.
We also see, all too clearly, the problems of living in a society that doesn’t take care of everyone’s needs. A society where the contents of your bank balance determine your access to health care, to outdoor space, to mental health support. A society in which your earning potential may dictate whether you live or die.
What the answer is, I don’t know; the one thing I know for sure is that duality is toxic. Duality brings comparison, it allows us to think we’re less than or better than our neighbor, less than or better than anyone who might look different or think differently than we do.
But life, like music, is not about either or — it’s about moving between different directions, however you feel is appropriate at that time; it’s a continual process of co-creation.
Choir: the perfect model for society?
Perfect? That might be over-selling it. But if we’re thinking about how to model a fairer, more equitable society as we rebuild our post-corona world, there’s a lot to learn from looking to a well-oiled choir.
It’s not about equality: whether we’re talking about an orchestra, a choir, or the fabric of society itself, striving for equality is unrealistic. We’ll never all be the same, we’ll never all have the same needs at the same time.
But it is in our differences that we see our true value.
A choir consisting solely of sopranos is just not as interesting, or as effective, as a choir made up of a range of talents: sopranos, altos, tenors, bass. There’s beauty in a cappella, yes, but sometimes adding instrumental music takes your singing to new heights.
Whether you need a full orchestra, or just one single drum or flute, there’s a time and place for it all.
Improv, with its mix of novices and seasoned improvisers is another clear example: a good improviser can do something with the hesitant “ooohs” and “aaahs” of a shy beginner. The simplicity of the form isn’t only what makes it so accessible; it’s also the very thing that makes it so interesting.
The real power of music doesn’t kick in when we’re all the same; rather we find it when we bring our diverse talents together. Not when we’re all treated “equally”, but when we all get what we need, when we need it. When we’re all able to share what we’re really great at, and given the chance to shine — exactly as we are.
It’s like a garden. Don’t you love it that you see dozens of species, each with their own fragrance, shape, size, and color? Thank God we’re not all poppies! Enjoy the sunflowers, the roses, the cacti. Enjoy that they bloom at different times. Enjoy that they are all different colors and sizes. Enjoy that they have different needs and different gifts.
Allow room for each to shine in their glory at the time that is right for them.
I know you’re struggling right now, feeling vulnerable, scared, lost. I’m right there with you, I promise. But none of us should underestimate the wonderful opportunities that are being presented to us.
We may be apart, but we’ve never felt more like a community, as we check in with neighbors and friends more often, offer help to those that are most vulnerable, use our local stores more often, and as we get the chance to sing with people from around the country — from around the world even!
Navigating this new version of normal almost reminds me of moving to another country. At first you miss the things you no longer have access to, and you haven’t quite figured out what you’re going to enjoy about your new surroundings. Pretty soon though you begin to see which of your new experiences you really appreciate, you learn to recognize what you really need to be happy. And once you’ve recognized it, you learn to recreate what you love wherever you are.
This is our chance to recreate the world, our chance to focus on the good that we’re seeing all around us right now and to decide to bring it with us into our society as we emerge from the worst of the pandemic. And throughout it all, my dearest hope is that we keep on singing as we head towards a new society.
I’ve heard of so many choir directors losing hope recently, so this is my plea to you: keep going. Whatever our post-pandemic world looks like, there’s one thing I know for sure — we’re going to need song, maybe more than ever before. So keep singing, keep connected, keep showing up for the community you’ve created. And if you need help doing so, I’m here for you.
And if you happen to be a singer … we’re here for you too! Join us for an infusion of hope and connection. We’re especially loving improv lately. It kind of feels like we’re all making this up as we go along. Improv is a great reminder that that’s not a bad thing!