Months into the COVID-19 pandemic, life seems to have settled into a humdrum rhythm. Days pass like the swing of a pendulum -- back and forth, back and forth, from home to work, work to home.
Yet, such regularity as I have not experienced in years does little to offer peace of mind or comfort. Beneath the surface calm is the constant whirring of the brain. Actions have consequences and in these perilous times, we are required to constantly make decisions that could potentially impact not only our own safety, but that of those closest to us -- family, friends and colleagues.
If strict social distancing had made me feel relatively safe, the more relaxed social distancing now in place has made me more anxious. With the former, I was without choices; the latter means I need to make decisions based the perceived level of danger.
Do I accept an invitation to a large dinner gathering of people that I do not know, where masks will be taken off to eat and drink? Am I putting myself at unnecessary risk by requesting an interview be held at a hospital where COVID-19 patients are being treated? Weighing the pros and cons of my plans can go on and on, and I admit I have lost sleep over them on many nights.
And there is little respite from a brain on an overdrive, not even in one’s dreams. People around the world have reported having strange dreams in the time of the new coronavirus. On a recent night, I woke up in panic from a dream in which two burly security guards were approaching me as I sat on a church pew. Even in the dream, I felt the terror of having forgotten to wear a mask and realizing that the guards were about to grab me by the arms to escort me out.
Mirth is in short supply these days. If listening to an episode of “All Creatures Great and Small” can make me break into a fit of hearty laughter on a drive to work, I know I am willing myself to laugh at even the smallest thing, just so I can feel what it is like to laugh. If something can take my mind off all the doom and gloom being forecast about the post - COVID-19 pandemic world, I’d say I am game.
I would like to be moved, my soul stirred, to be transported away from the time and space that I occupy, if only for a few minutes. As most concerts around the world have been canceled, performances have moved to online platforms. I was struck by the brilliance of pianist Sunwoo Yekwon who posted on Instagram clips of Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 and Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No.2 performances, playing both the piano and the orchestral parts. Rock star Yoon Do-hyun has really embraced the online platform, performing live concerts almost daily. His online sessions stand out for their intimacy, where he makes the viewers feel like they are actually meeting and talking face-to-face. The sound quality does not matter too much at this point.
Yet, online concerts cannot replace the thrill of sitting in the concert hall, eagerly anticipating what is about to unfold onstage. The emotional and physical connections between the performers and the audience are absent, making it difficult to stay engaged. One misses the visceral emotions brought on by feeling the notes against the skin, breathing the same air.
Therein lies the difficulty. Breathing the same air without having it filtered through a mask is now a risky behavior. Hence, the cancellation Wednesday of next week’s scheduled Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra concert.
If a full orchestra performing in a large concert hall is not going to be possible in the foreseeable future, orchestras should look into alternatives. Outdoor performances by smaller ensembles, playing to an audience sitting far apart could be considered.
It may be a cliché to say music has the power to heal. But music does heal and healing is done best when there is a communion of souls. And these days, there are many that yearn healing.
By Kim Hoo-ran (firstname.lastname@example.org
--The writer is the culture desk editor at The Korea Herald – Ed.