In the Mood for Music

Anuracti Sharma | November 12, 2021 | Art

Listening to sound around you with your eyes open and then with your eyes closed makes a world of a difference, have you noticed? The eyes always want more. They devour movement, background, foreground. The ears are patient. They wait for the sound to settle in carefully, until the leaves begin to ruffle only for you, until the car honks for your attention alone, until a giggle almost touches your skin. Listening to music can be a private, solemn affair when you’re by yourself, drifting in your home, sitting still in a moving vehicle with earphones, earpods plugged in; as much as it can be a public conversation with fellow listeners giving you company at a house party, or just distracting ourselves out of a loud club, noisy restaurant, or even a music festival. Our conversation with music has shifted quite a bit in times of interim lockdowns, pertinent quarantines, extended isolations, here’s looking at what really changed and how music helped sustain us when nothing else could.

The Art of Listening

Just like that, at a designated time on bleak mornings, estranged evenings, Spanish police officers come around with guitars and ukuleles, intimately performing outside police cars in the neighborhoods of Algaida, Majorca. In Rome, the Italian national anthem erupts in unison followed by ‘a domani’ (see you tomorrow) atop balconies and courtyards. India saw building residents cheering one another by clapping, beating on utensils asynchronously yet enthusiastically. The inspiring ballad from Nigeria “We Go Win (Corona)” by Cobhams Asuquo warning against fake news and many such self-initiated corona-music based compositions found people shimmying in Uganda, Ghana, Democratic Republic of Congo. Joining in with ‘Clap for the NHS’, an initiative in the UK, people were clapping and expressing gratitude towards caretakers, singing along to Lewis Capaldi’s ‘Someone You Loved’; musicians and non-musicians alike, trying to keep their spirits high by jamming to their favorites and preserving littlest shreds of joy they can muster. At a time when death numbers continue rising and the number of cases refuse to fall in respective cities and countries, communitarian calls of music were a ubiquitous phenomenon observed globally.

How does one then make sense of this situation? Is it a form of denial, a delusion in the making amidst personal crisis? Or is it something more? Could there be a moment of peace granted when a sliver of voice or an instrument serenades our entrapped lives, in a way whispering that we are not alone? Showing up each day, alive, on the window, to greet a fellow neighbor, takes more courage than we’d like to admit. At the end of a dark night, it is quite possible that music symbolises this trope of ‘resilience’ in our lives. Either way, people smiled, waved, sung, heard, almost as if this musical outreach towards complete strangers was culminating into a fleeting sentiment of emotional togetherness. I found that an empty piazza is more scary than a full piazza,” responded the artist Mastrangelo in conversation with a regional newspaper after his performance at the Piazza Navona in Rome.

The term ‘isolation’ etymologically finds its origins in the word ‘island’, one that we all found ourselves in, gutted and restricted, confronting the loneliness that came with it. In the fear of contagion, people took to living their best virtual lives behind closed doors. March 2020 onwards, the global onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged millions of lives and today we are just about beginning to gauge how  controllable and potentially avoidable it shall be in future with immediate vaccination doses reaching one and all. But we are not the firsts, there have been centuries before us, generations after generations dwelling in the same misfortunes as us, during the black death of mid-1300s, the plague of 1576 in the north of Italy, and the 1918 influenza pandemic in India. In 1576 too, Italians emerged on their balconies to sing songs of solace, a sight we witnessed again in 2020. The mere difference being non-existence of streaming platforms to make musicians go viral online. Hiding away from the disease all we want, fortunately, music finds its way in.

Visualising virtual lives

I believe the concept of ‘less is more’ finds deeper meaning in the lockdown. Without the shenanigans of booking tickets, dressing up, sitting through traffic, reaching venues, greeting guests, being an audience to a live concert, indoors or outdoors as it may be, virtual performances are a whole new experience. Live streaming musicians on Instagram, Youtube, watching operas, symphony orchestras on some of the most prestigious museums’ online portals, or buying tickets to a tiny room based virtual home concert makes me realise how empowered and privileged our digital lives are. The intimacy of an artist, sitting in their home-aka-studio, with dim lights, headset and microphone on, performing in an online concert is so jarring yet comforting.

Consensually invading the most private space of an artist, a place of sleep and rest, family and food could be daunting for both entities involved. To invite unknown usernames, prying faces, eyeing the walls, the curtains, into your homes through a laptop screen, and to be able to do so with mutual vulnerability and a shared sense of belonging- as an ode to that one common binding thread which is music- has been therapeutic in the simplest of words. It can evoke paranoia to begin with, but once settled in, online music gigs are the shortest route to feeling alive, in large numbers, across pin codes and time zones. The fight against coronavirus is also a fight against the virus of loneliness and music, I’d like to believe, conquers all.

For all we know, the pandemic shall come and go. The realisation that we have little time on this blue-green planet of ours has hit us hard, undeniably so. This stark clarity of our existence and the choices we make about work-life balance, where we live, what we eat, whom we spend our time with, are matters we are beginning to ponder over and act upon, the latter being a major surprise element. It is visible in the pollution rates, property prices, streaming platform memberships, cooking challenges, social media addiction disorders amongst many other socio cultural transformations. My question is – why now? Why did we wait for a global monstrosity of such epic proportions to question ourselves and dwell upon our innermost desires, bereft of societal expectations and conventional lifestyles? Looking back, it is not so much about the kind of musical genre you are listening to now and then, but how you perceive it. Indeed, the protest music of rap encaptures this existential quest. When nothing seemed to be working our ways, we sought solace in the poetry of ghazals to calm our racing minds, and sometimes even been at the mercy of a croaking radio deciding for us, a mood we couldn’t pick for ourselves.

Music and other musings

It is easy, of course, to ask these questions, not so much to get to the answers. There are physiological reasons that explain the positive impact of music on mental health but metaphysical ruminations that revel in the bond between music and tragedies. A song’s intro unassumingly speaks to a memory, the verse reaches for the meaning behind it. Soon enough the harmonies kick in and the melody sings to you as if it had been folded and placed in the back of your mind, only to kick in at this very moment, once the chorus calls out to you in all its impeccable glory. The many shades of life imprinted on the writings of a song is one of life’s greatest pleasures.

I recognize the privilege of asking and contemplating these matters of music. Many around us are dealing with insurmountable losses. But I also know that there is a melancholy in the music of a eulogy at a funeral, as much as the sorrow in its air. That somewhere a newborn child cries tone deaf and it is still the grandest opera to the ears of a newest father. That a bundle of birds chirp with the same intensity atop the highest of branches even when there is no bicycle crossing roads or no passerby ignoring their coo. It is these miniscule moments, often invisible, acutely unbridled, abundantly ripe with unique musicalities, that we must strive to never leave amiss, walk unencountered or keep unfinished. Because when we listen intentionally, we make space for more music to exist, not simply in our playlists, but also in our lived stories of longing and loving.

Text by Anuracti Sharma

Artworks by Rutwik Ingale

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