Music in the Time of Coronavirus: Back to Basics

With so many people suffering heartbreaking losses of jobs, health, and even loved ones through this COVID-19 crisis, music may offer us a semblance of connection and hope. Even so, musicians have nearly lost it all in the short term, with social distancing halting all live performances. My heart aches for the overwhelming and universal sense of loss. So, what are we to do? How can we help?

While many have turned to live-streaming performances to fill the void in the short term, I personally believe that our “Great Pause” implores musicians to dig deeper and replenish a sense of autonomy in our creative process. Wholehearted music transforms our energy through the power of sound; without the essential oneness with an audience, or the resonance of an acoustic space, this cannot be replicated online. Fortunately, we now have the time and the space to rejuvenate our creative intentions and contributions. By revitalizing our personal creative processes, we can surmount this experience as inspired artists. This is our purpose.

Since my most recent performance on March 11th, I’ve reflected on questions that have long inspired me: What human qualities are exalted by great music? What vital impulse makes some music truly GREAT, or even timeless? What is the meaning of music when all is lost, and how long can we go without it?

Recently, these have led to more ominous questions: What is lost in our music if live-streaming substitutes for live performance? What role will these digital imitations play when we are able to perform for folks in venues again?

And I must ask:

What do listeners miss out on if we do not give them the opportunity to yearn for powerful musical experiences…that feeling of the instruments and energies resonating through the room into their bodies? Furthermore, what growth do musicians miss out on by grasping at digital straws rather than owning our solitude and developing ourselves alone in a room, like we did before we were established professionals? Reveling in sound, first and foremost.


This prudent advice is extended to musicians and music-lovers, equally: Rather than settle for a simulacrum of live performance, I invite you to direct your attention to the life-affirming essence of creative music. For the time being, we need look no further than recordings from the master musicians.

Try this: Slow down and let the music envelop you. Pay attention. Revel in the power of music, rather than relegating it into the background of other activities. We need to listen deeply and gratefully, with the music front-and-center, not in the background. Hint: Turn off your phone, close your laptop, shut your eyes, and delight in the sensory bliss that is this music. You will not be disappointed!


Musicians have long celebrated solitude as vital to our artistic development. Let’s take this opportunity to nurture our PERSONAL SOUND, with greater compassion, in the privacy of our homes. Whenever we’re compelled to address our instruments, let’s proceed with curiosity, maybe even exploring sounds that could sabotage a restaurant gig. It’s possible that exploring outside of the melody-harmony-rhythm grid might express the truth where things ARE right now. Think of this as a creative “reset” button…let the MUSIC play YOU.

Whatever you work on, please play, practice, and listen from a deep NEED for the music. When the opportunity to perform for live audiences arises again, what joy might you have to share? Revel in the lush and malleable sounds you are so fortunate to make every day! What a gift!

Last question: What might thrive in each musician’s inner gardens if we stop pulling at every sonic “weed” and choose to nurture whatever wants to grow? These inner wildflowers are the seeds of one’s own personal SOUND. The music we make can only become deeper and richer as a result of doing this kind of digging. Musicians deserve time for that kind of artistic development to unfold, and so does our audience. Contrary to a call for productivity — this is a call to simply listen within and bring our deepest sound-in-potential to the surface. It takes time. Time that we now have.

This worldwide “solidarity in solitude” invites both musicians and listeners to reconnect with the universal healing energy of music. Only a rejuvenated and widespread enchantment with the creative process might deliver us through this experience with a deeper appreciation of the true gifts of music. This makes the music better than ever. Music for LIFE’S sake.

I eagerly await the opportunity to offer concert experiences that will celebrate these gifts with a deeper appreciation for their potency than ever before. Until then, stay safe, and enjoy the music.

[Photo Derrick Michaels – by Efrain Ribeiro]

Derrick Michaels is a Baltimore-based tenor saxophonist, composer, concert presenter and educator. A former student in Towson University’s jazz studies program, he is a frequent performer in Baltimore, especially noted for his 2020 concert series, “A Posture of Possibility” at An die Musik–creative forays into the realm of free improvisation with the likes of Ellery Eskelin, Susan Alcorn, Michael Formanek, Dave Ballou, John Dierker, Zach Swanson, Eric Kennedy, Mike Kuhl, Jon Seligman, Theljon Allen, Alex Weber, Jeff Reed, Phil Cunneff, Ben Frock, Chris Pumphrey, & many more. As he states on his website, ‘My mission as a performer and curator is to illuminate the infinite possibilities that unfold within improvised music.

For more about Music in the Time of Coronavirus see David Crandall’s article Word from the Digital Frontier.

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