Op-ed: The importance of music during a pandemic

Student plays in the CSU Wind Symphony
The 2018-2019 CSU Wind Symphony. October 3, 2018

In my role as director of bands at Colorado State University, I work with hundreds of students who study music as their major or who participate in our ensembles as non-majors. I have received countless e-mails over the past six months from students and colleagues who are genuinely concerned about their future in the arts. They feel isolated, confined by circumstances, and a loss of their most important experiences, both musically and socially.

What really strikes the soul of these artists is that they are unable to play music with others. Practicing by themselves is not enough. One expressed that they are “absolutely suffocated, like the world has stopped.” Another feels “the world is passing by and there won’t be anything left when it stabilizes.” An older student stated, “our profession will most certainly perish due to the economic crisis with which we find ourselves.”

My response to each individual comes from my heart:

What you have eloquently expressed is precisely the way so many of us feel right now during this pandemic. We feel genuine loss of the control and freedom of our lives and our ability to make music where someone can hear us live. 

I believe the varied emotions we are experiencing may be similar to the grieving process; we have experienced denial that this is happening, anger at why, bargaining for normalcy, and depression over the reality of our current (and temporary) situation. We may be entering the stage of acceptance because we are starting to figure out how to pick ourselves up and move forward.

I noticed a proverbial wall was hit by many musicians over the past few months regarding the current state of our existence and it is being widely expressed on social media. Your feelings are valid and sincere, and you are not alone in feeling this way.

The best news is that we will are doing this together!

All that being said, there are several things I remind myself of daily, which give me hope for the future:

The feeling of loss that people like you and I are experiencing regarding the current lack of live music is real; various media and social media outlets are sharing stories every day highlighting people who are trying to replicate live music for themselves and their friends. cities, etc. This makes me conclude that our profession is valued and an important part of our culture and our humanity. Musicians will be back and the need for music will be even stronger in the future.

I believe that the incredible ingenuity of our best scientists and medical researchers equals the ability of our greatest artists – they will not let us down! They crave studying this virus like we crave performing for audiences. They will work day and night until they figure it out, and when they do, everyone will expect music to be a central part of the celebration!

Which brings me to my next point:

I am constantly reminded that the universal way humans celebrate all over the world is through music. Whether singing at birthday parties, performing at rituals, singing for first responders, parading to celebrate sporting victories or conclusions of wars, or the iconic moment our entire United States Congress sang “God Bless America” on September 11, 2001, music brings us together. Music and its performance are valued by humans, and this pandemic may be a reminder of its importance.

Recorded music cannot replace the experience of live music. Something transforms the “air” of a live performance. We have learned that meeting through a computer screen does not give us the heightened human experience of interaction like meeting in person affords. Similarly, listening to a recording does not offer the same intensity of experience that occurs during a live performance. We can both recall the unexplainable goosebumps we get on stage from live musical experiences; we don’t need it explained, we just crave more of it. Those same feelings happen to people who come to live concerts and rarely do they say, “Why do I feel this way?” They just want to feel it again! It is magical and it is a human necessity.

This leads me to believe that musicians and our music, in a live format, is valued and will not disappear.

So take heart. Keep practicing (or keep listening). And know that soon we will be together again, playing, celebrating, and reveling in live music.

Rebecca Phillips
Dr. Rebecca Phillips, Director of Bands at CSU

Rebecca L. Phillips, D.M.A.
Director of Bands
Professor of Music
Colorado State University
National Band Association

To see a few recorded performances by our faculty and students, visit This Week at the UCA.