As community musicians, we interrogate, explore and debate what the term community means. At its worst, it can be an exclusive structure – a framework for deciding who is in and who is out, an excuse to build walls between Them and Us. However, at its best, it is a space for expressing solidarity and belonging, facilitating shared experiences, and nourishing skills that benefit both the individual and the collective. It is my job as a community musician to seek out community at its best, using music as the medium.
As we navigate the complexities of this global pandemic, we are encountering a number of necessary limitations and boundaries in the way we navigate our world. Our social connections are primarily over phone or computer and our daily commute is now between the living room and the kettle. Strangely, however, at a time when we are physically isolated or separated from one another, I am seeing constant expressions of community at its best, particularly in music, dance and festivity.
Italy started our creative Covid Conversation, with multiple examples emerging of people gathering at their windows in the evening to sing together. Their call was answered across Europe, from local police in Mallorca traversing their community with guitars in hand, to a Bavarian town singing an Italian resistance song from their balconies. The message was simple – Italy, you are not alone.
The Times, India, reported that dance has become a simple tool for people to raise spirits and battle challenges to mental health. Tik Tok videos filmed in living rooms are being shared from phone to phone, traveling to and from homes around the world.
Our own UL students have risen to the occasion in so many ways. This was particularly evident in the recent Rí Rá Online Festival, organized by the Irish World Academy’s MA Festive Arts class. Not to be defeated by physical restrictions, these students moved their entire programme online and used this as an opportunity to open our viewing to feature artists from US to Limerick.
I’m sure like all my friends and colleagues at UL, I am frightened by the situation we find ourselves in. However, I am equally heartened. I have always been convinced of the power of the arts to connect, even in the most challenging of situations. As the days and weeks unfold, this conviction has been confirmed. Even when we cannot be in the same space, we can still sing to each other; we can dance together; we can reach across virtual spaces to remind one another that we are not alone. For me, it is also deepening my appreciation for things I didn’t realize I had taken for granted. I know that the next time I stand in the foyer of the Irish World Academy to conduct the Gospel Choir, my senses will be all the more alert. I will feel the air vibrate with a weaving of fifty voices. I will notice the changing light flooding in through the glass, with the backdrop of the river Shannon. I will look at every face of every singer and feel deeply glad for the privilege of making music together. Creating community together. And I will remind myself, everyday as I do now, that we are not alone.
Dr Kathleen Turner
MA Community Music
Irish World Academy, University of Limerick