As Dr. Daniel Levitin lays out in his book, The World in Six Songs, music and singing likely predate spoken communication. In light of this, music has become knitted into the evolution of human consciousness and culture in a way that cannot be excised, no matter the situation or crisis. We use music for everything—to connect, to teach, to pray, to entertain, to self-soothe, to prepare for war, to inspire peace, to heal.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the spontaneous and planned musical interventions providing much-needed bright spots during our COVID-19 crisis.
The first evidence of music battling COVID-19 came from social isolation hackers in Italy, who joyfully stood on their balconies and played music and sang together. While this may seem like nothing more than a bit of good fun, the medical community is finding that social isolation is no joke. The National Institute of Health reports that social isolation can result in “high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, or Alzheimer's disease.”
Not a pretty picture but making music helps by producing anxiety and depression-busting neurochemicals, including serotonin and oxytocin, while providing a full brain workout that keeps neurons firing. Perhaps most importantly in these times, a series of studies has shown that singing together regularly can increase immunity.
Italy’s balcony musicians and singers performed the overture for music in time of COVID-19 and the show continues to go on.
The first major artist with a COVID response was Chris Martin—frontman of the band Coldplay. In his role as the music curator of Global Citizen, Martin launched the Alone Together concerts to encourage people to stay home and yet still connect.
DJ D-Nice (Derrick Jones) took this one step further. Alone in Los Angeles, the popular rapper and DJ felt isolated and took to Instagram Live to throw a distanced house party named Club Quarantine. Jones invited his followers and fans to his virtual party and they came in droves. Ultimately 100,000 people safely danced and socialized. We were even able to get in a little virtual water cooler time chatting about Jones and Halle Berry flirting in the Insta comments). Club Quarantine was the first Instagram Live to hit more than 100k people, showing the desire of people to connect and music’s ability to bring them together. Dancing, when combined with music listening, produces many of the same benefits of actively making music such as elevated mood, decreased anxiety and lowered blood pressure. And the party continues, check out Jones’ Instagram for the next house party.
In between these events, musician after musician released videos of hand washing songs so we would not all be earwormed by our A,B,C’s as we timed our twenty seconds of sanitizing. Some artists, like Neil Diamond, altered lyrics to give more precise instructions. One website, WashYourLyrics.com, created by a 17-year old, produces a PDF with proper hand washing instructions timed to the lyrics song of your preferred song. These hand washing tunes are a type of work song, which can be similar to the ancient art of the knowledge song.
Knowledge songs, as Levitin described in The World in Six Songs, help pass on important information from one person to another or one person to many. Knowledge songs have deep roots in African as well as the Aboriginal and native cultures of Australia and North America. A good example of a knowledge song came from Ugandan rapper turned politician Bobi Wine who released a reggae-based tune about how to stay safe from COVID-19. The video in its original form has already been viewed hundreds of thousands of times, taking this age old tradition and using technology to spread its message far and wide.
Of course, music as a way to pass time and escape worry is also happening behind millions of closed doors (though often in front of cameras) all over the world. This video out of Cornwall in England of a married couple, both with dementia, happily whiling away the afternoon playing piano and dancing demonstrates how, even in even doubly dire circumstances, music will come through.
The list of spontaneous and planned welcomed musical interruptions to COVID-19 goes on and on whether it’s singing police officers in Spain, a husband soothing his sick wife with a duet though a closed window or a doctor at the Mayo Clinic singing to revive and inspire tired staff.
As for us at Musical Health Technologies, the beat goes on and seems to get faster and more urgent. Even though the SingFit staff is no longer able to sing together in person during our staff meetings (yes, we do that) our work continues. We couldn’t be more grateful that our clients continue to run SingFit PRIME group sessions where possible as the program does not require outside contractors or performers to come into these now staff-only communities. Some of our clients are still holding smaller sessions with people placed at least six feet apart in the room. Others are holding sessions in hallways with residents in their doorways. Where residents are confined to rooms, clients are communicating new needs to us and we are creating specific solutions in response to COVID-19 and expediting others on our roadmap.
Our thanks and wishes for safety go to all 1,800 certified SingFit facilitators and their colleagues at 500 senior living communities showing up to work to be there for those in their care. We also want to thank all the front line workers; medical and care professionals, truckers, people in the food industry, government employees, bankers, the cleaning staff at all the places we still need to go and everyone else making sure the rest of us stay safe and fed.
Send your favorite music in the time of COVID-19 videos (including those of you singing) to Sing@SingFit.com and stay safe. We’ll be back with updates and musical resources for our unusual times.
Co-Founder and CEO
Musical Health Technologies