November-December 2020

Live Music in the time of COVID-19

By Chris Wilson

live musicWe FolkWorks readers don’t need a study to tell us that just sharing the experience of hearing live music with others feeds our soul and adds to our well-being. However, there have indeed been several such studies – a 2018 study conducted by Patrick Fagan, a British behavioral scientist with Goldsmith University, is just one of them. Of course, I can’t imagine a study that proves otherwise.

Before COVID-19, we were used to a world including live musical performances where we could easily connect with others. But, as we all know, times are different now.

Many performers are streaming shows live, often with video replay. Of course, this is not the same as an in-person live performance where we are able to sit in the audience with our friends and other likeminded individuals. This column, “intermission,” celebrates the community that forms when we share in the wonderful music that not only speaks to us but can also be shared with others in real time, during breaks, and after the show.

Some live performances are returning in limited ways, but not all of us can or should attend just yet. Streaming shows do have their benefits, in part for the musicians themselves who have been shut out of their regular line of work performing live. The virtual tip jar is pretty much the only source of income for many musicians these days.

Also, a semblance of community is created when performers are streaming live and there is a chat window so that the audience members can comment to others during the show. Another option, if the artist is streaming on Facebook, is to create a “watch party” in which you and your invitees watch and comment together. A streaming show can also be shared with friends using Zoom as multiple people can log in with one individual providing a “screen share” to enable others to see the show while all can comment amongst themselves. Other platforms are also used for streaming, each having their own features.

Some of us are taking the live music matter into our own hands, so to speak. Do you have a musical instrument that you used to play just for fun years ago? This may be a good time to dust it off and reacquaint yourself with it. If you have forgotten some of what you knew back then, there are plenty of teachers on YouTube with helpful hints for free as well as formal lessons. Is there a way to share this with others either in your household or socially distanced outdoors? Recall the videos and news stories of people making music from their balconies and windows in Italy, Spain, and New York – three places hit hard early in the pandemic. A wonderful article from The Conversation in April of 2020 explains the neurobiological response to music and the “interpersonal synchrony” that compels us to join the musical beat even if it is just a tap of the foot or nod of the head.

For many, the pandemic and social distancing has resulted in loneliness for some who live alone and have few or no contacts with others. Can recorded music have some benefit as well? While not the same as live performance, the answer is yes. Most of us have special songs that bring back memories – some might even be sad and sentimental but allow us to “feel the feelings” as a catharsis. Other music can bring us out of our doldrums and remind us of happier times.

This is also a time to think about those who have extremely limited social contact. Perhaps give that person a call and ask about how they are spending their time. Share some interesting things that you have found on Netflix, YouTube or whatever service is accessible to both of you – sometimes it is just radio or standard television channels. I have personally found the folk community to be empathetic and concerned for the welfare of others.

As we work our way through these unprecedented times, we can let the music in to help. I will close with one of my favorites from someone we lost far too soon:

Chris Wilson was the creator and co-producer of "Audiofile," an award winning radio feature which ran internationally for 14 years on public and community radio. She is currently best known in the local folk community as manager for Irish musician Ken O'Malley. She is also an RN/Attorney/Bioethicist and publishes a blog addressing health care issues and seniors. You can reach her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


All Columns by Chris Wilson