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In times of coronavirus, tuning in to tune out anxiety

New Delhi, Mar 18 : In another time, another place, Bertolt Brecht had memorably said, "In the dark times. Will there also be singing? Yes, there will also be singing. About the dark times."

The context of Brecht's verse, written in exile in the late 1930s, was Nazi fascism, but the lines strike more than a chord in these days of the coronavirus pandemic with many people using poetry and music to keep their anxieties at bay and their spirits high.

From Gurgaon to Florence, people are tuning in to tune out their stresses, standing in balconies to sing out loud to each other in symphony, pressing a button to let the music flow or sometimes simply sharing their playlists on social media platforms.

In the suburban town of Gurgaon, on the outskirts of the national capital, residents of a highrise apartment building came out on their balconies to wave the tricolour and sing the rousing anthem, "Hum Honge Kamyaab" to ward off the blues and connect with each through melody.

In Italy, the home of operatic singing, videos of musicians and others standing in their balconies with their clarinets and cellos, drums and in some cases utensils, making music and singing have been shared over and over on social media platforms, their joie de vivre spreading in ripples across the globe.

The country is one of the worst affected in the world with more than 27,900 cases of the coronavirus and over 2,100 deaths.

The famous Italian resistance poem "Bella Ciao" (goodbye beautiful), "Forza Italia" (stay strong Italy) and "Nessun Dorma' (none shall sleep) were some of the songs that saw people come to their balconies for a sing along with their neighbours.

In one instance, famous Italian opera singer Maurizio Marchini serenaded his Florence neighbourhood with "Nessun Dorma" from his balcony.

"All these videos of Italians playing their instruments during the lockdown are incredible," Hollywood star Chris Evans tweeted recently, sharing his favourites.

Back home, composer Ankur Tewari, who was the music supervisor on "Gully Boy", held an online jam on Sunday for his followers confined to their homes.

The singer-songwriter said the trigger to livestream a music gig was a mix of his concerts getting cancelled and the general anxiety about India entering a crucial week with the number of coronavirus cases on the rise.

"It is essential for people to stay indoors and as much as possible, try and avoid being in social gatherings. I wanted to encourage that. I thought I'll do a gig so they don't feel that there's fun happening in the outside world and there's nothing for them," Tewari told PTI.

The musician, part of the popular independent band Ankur & The Ghalat Family, said music is a healer in times of so much uncertainty.

"Everything is so uncertain, we don't know how long it's going to go on, what's happening. But music is always a good healer so I thought it'd be good to sing songs to people."

Taking to music in times of distress is natural, he said.

"Indians, just like Italians, are quite musical. For every occasion we have songs. Music somehow connects with nature. It always brings you back to your natural state," he added.

Popular 1990s rapper Baba Sehgal released a new music video titled "Namaste", named after the no-contact Indian way of greeting gaining currency across the globe.

"I saw Prince Charles coming out of the car and trying to shake hands with one of his colleagues and realised he isn't supposed to shake hands and does 'namaste'. Then I saw Trump also doing that with some minister.

"I thought 'namaste' should be the theme. Not that it's a cure for coronavirus, but it's a preventive step. I wrote the soundtrack in an hour's time, made music by 2 am and dubbed the song the next day," Sehgal told PTI.

The 2.14 minute song is also a warning on climate change.

On Monday, popular British rock band Coldplay's Chris Martin also jammed live on Instagram, informing his followers that American singer John Legend will be the next artiste to perform in the series.

Actor-singer Rita Wilson, who tested positive for the infection along with actor husband Tom Hanks, made a playlist for all those in self-isolation or being quarantined.

"I want to make a @Spotify playlist for people self quarantining. Something that might relate to isolation, perhaps? Can you send some song ideas that I can add? Also, what should we call it? Quarantine Choruses? This is what one does in quarantine. U think of stuff like this," she wrote last week.

The playlist features 32 songs and runs for just more than two hours, with classics like Eric Carmen's "All By Myself" and The Beatles' "I'm So Tired," to more modern hits like Miley Cyrus' "The Climb," Destiny Child's "Survivor" and MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This".

Broadway actor Laura Benanti gave a shout-out to theatre students whose high school musicals have been called off amid the COVID-19 scare by asking them to send in their videos.

"Dark times for all. Trying to find some bright spots. If you were meant to perform in your High School musical and it was cancelled please post yourself singing and tag me. I want to be your audience! Sending all my love and black market toilet paper," Benanti wrote on Twitter recently.

An enterprising musician, Vaibhav Londhe, even made an EDM track on 'Go Corona, Go Corona', Union Minister Ramdas Athawale's now infamous chant at a prayer meet.

Coronavirus, which originated in China's Wuhan city in December last year, has claimed over 7,000 lives globally. In India, the disease has infected 147 people and killed three.

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