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  • Marie Trout

Live Music is an Essential Service — Five Reasons We Feel on Hold Until the Music Returns

Live music is therapy, it is joy. Music runs like blood in the veins of humanity.

Music has been essential to human wellbeing, togetherness, and strength since long before recorded history began.

For an equally long time, practices involving rhythmical instruments have been a fixture of human bonding and ceremony. Instruments made from dried gourds filled with small stones, pounding rocks, and drums made from animal skin stretched over wood.

The human voice singing, making sound, humming, clicking, and yelling likewise is perfectly suited to creating music.

Humans are music-making beings.

Music performed live, where the vibrations of the sounds move our bodies as well as our souls, has served as an essential part of our development as homo sapiens.

Music was there when we needed courage (preparing for or going into battle); when we were going through difficult times (death and burial rites); when we needed to understand our world (seasonal shifts, fear of darkness, search for meaning); when we had something to celebrate (rites of passage, birth, marriage, and coming-of-age).

We created music for all kinds of community bonding ceremonies. Music has been there so we didn’t feel alone.

Music performed live communicates feelings in ways words, recorded music, and other activities cannot.

Music moves us as one.

Fans of blues and blues-rock in the twenty-first century speak with a very consistent voice when asked about what music does for them.

Music provides:

1.Fun. Hearing live music is a good night out on the town. It is play time. It is a place to let go, feel a sense of flow, and feel free.

2.Authenticity. Music performed sincerely invites others in. Music played spontaneously, improvised, and requiring deep listening to others requires honesty.

3.Connection to one’s own feelings. Through the musicians sharing their experience in song, storytelling, and musical expression, the listeners benefit by recognizing and resonating with the emotions shared. The listener can move through this emotional experience properly distanced so as not to get overwhelmed. The experience can allow for a safe discharge of emotions through allowing tears, feeling chills up the spine, getting goosebumps, allowing physical movement, clapping, and dancing. Overall, it may result in the listener feeling a bit lighter.

4.Connection to others. The listeners connect to others and feel a sense of unity, which may intensity the experience. It is an access point for compassion and empathy as well as a way of feeling closeness even to people that seems different from oneself.

5.Relief and escape. The listener leaves his/her troubles behind for a bit. He/she may even feel as if traveling in mind and spirit to somewhere else. This momentary sense of floating can offer a new perspective.

Many music fans claim their connection with the live music scene helps with anxiety and depression. For some, the ritual of feeling bonded with the community in going out to see and hear music is lifesaving.

Now, due to the coronavirus, this practice of experiencing live music clashes with social responsibility.

It turns out that singing and any activity that involves speaking, breathing, and moving while being close to each other offer perfect conditions for the coronavirus to spread.

The pandemic has relegated song smiths, singers, bards, griots, shamans, virtuosos, groove-keepers, road warriors, rhythm kings and queens to stop performing live. Instead they try to convey the live experience through online streaming services.

But when we connect online, we have to do so without physical closeness.

This means that we have lost access to the experience of losing ourselves to the rhythm along with others.

We have lost the experience of singing along and hearing others sing.

We have lost access to a part of ourselves that only comes out in the darkness of tightly packed rooms where we feel the beat of the music in our gut, put our head back, close our eyes, and allow the majesty of combined sensory experiences to flow through us as we sway with the music.

We have lost access to experiencing live music as a pressure reliever or release valve. We can no longer find that safe place to safely discharge emotion and experience beneficial moments of musical catharsis.

Eventually, society will open up again and music will once again bond us in physical closeness to one another.

Until then, there are no easy answers.

In order to be safer, we have to stay away from each other. It is the right thing to do even as the financial consequences are mounting and the emotional toll is building.

Musicians were among the first to recognize this responsibility. In mid-March, as soon as it was clear that social distancing was key to slowing down the dissemination of the virus, the music stopped and musicians were forced to cancel tours with cataclysmic financial consequences.

Since many musicians and sidemen work from gig to gig without traditional employment, they are unable to seek unemployment benefits.

Musicians were and are stranded financially. Also caught in the net, are owners of and staff at live music venues, promoters, agents, managers, publicists, and many more.

Still, this is what must be done. A laissez-faire approach to this virus would leave our healthcare system overstretched. We could lose millions of people.

Some young people on beaches, bars, and various businesses have shown an alarming degree of lack of social responsibility.

Some even go as far as to, with the Bible in hand, claim that bringing people together at this time is “essential.” Others, quoting Ayn Rand, state that it is immoral to act against one’s own self-interest and therefore flout directives and guidance from authorities.

These approaches only intensify the suffering by making more people sick and by putting many more at risk of dying. Such activities only make the pandemic more severe for all of us. Such selfish behavior makes it last longer before we can emerge again from our social isolation.

Saving lives by observing social distancing practices is clearly the best approach. All of us together. In and out of the music business. Paradoxically, each of us being isolated and alone is the best and most responsible action we can engage in to get through this as a community.

This kind of communal thinking and action is required for us to usher in a new era in which we can once again embrace, celebrate, listen to music, and dance close together with a whole new level of appreciation.

Music online isn’t cutting it, but it is better than nothing.

Recorded music isn’t cutting it, but it is better than nothing.

Let us keep in mind that having close, physical contact with each other — and certainly accompanied by music — is essential to human wellbeing. It is perfectly understandable that isolating ourselves and socially distancing is counter to everything that makes us feel understood, feel loved, and feel human.

We have no choice but to sit this one out, but with everything in my heart, mind, and research, I want to put my two cents in: art, music, and particularly live music are all essential services.

The reason we miss experiencing music live, is because we humans need it like we need water, food, and air. It’s as simple as that.

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