Learn why music is so important in epidemics

by Deb Bartlett

Room 217’s 2020-2021 webinar series launches with a timely presentation by Dr. Remi Chiu called Music in Times of Plague and COVID-19.

In North America, we watched as COVID spread in February and early March, horrified at how quickly it killed thousands. In particular, news out of Northern Italy, affected our views on the spread, and we watched countries attempt to battle the virus with lockdowns and curfews. It took less than a week for we in Canada to respond to the World Health Organization’s declaration on March 11, 2020 that COVID-19 could be characterized as a pandemic. In days governments put emergency measures into place, businesses shuttered their doors, and staff were working from home, where possible. Originally, many thought the lockdown would be in place for a few weeks. Here we are six months later; although provinces have been opening in stages, we are still socially distancing, wearing masks, and being vigilant about hand washing.

Though we are able to gather in small groups, many lament the loss of group socialization – concerts, choirs, worship, movies, etc. How did we manage through COVID? Music! Check out this amazing video of how Italians began performing together while apart, in an effort to overcome the loneliness caused by isolation.

We published this story on our Facebook page on April 6. One of the sources for the article was Dr. Remi Chiu, a musicologist and coordinator of the music program at Loyola University Maryland. In the article, he says, “Music is proving to be a true antidote to fear, just as Renaissance doctors claimed.” Renaissance doctors? YES! For centuries, music has helped humans deal with epidemics.

We are excited that Dr. Chiu will be the first presenter of our 2020-2021 webinar series. You can register for his presentation, Music in Times of Plague and COVID-19, which is being held Wednesday, Sept. 9 from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. ET. As always, there is no fee for Room 217 webinars.

Dr. Chiu’s webinar will provide a historical context for music-making in times of public health crises. The musical responses to past epidemics can help reveal what musicians and listeners find valuable in music under COVID-19.

At the end of his webinar, attendees will understand historical context for music and other social responses during epidemics, discern some trans-historical uses of music that are relevant to musicians and listeners today, and develop ideas and strategies for music performance under current conditions.

Remi Chiu is an associate professor of musicology at Loyola University Maryland. He specializes in the history of music and medicine. He is the author of Plague and Music in the Renaissance (Cambridge University Press, 2017) and the editor of an anthology of Renaissance plague-related music, Songs in Times of Plague (A-R Editions, 2020). Currently, he is investigating the use of music in medical entertainments, such as the medicine show and the “freak show,” at the turn of the 20th century.