Outdoors: Art in pandemics

Oct 21, 2020

I recently re-read "Station Eleven." This post-apocalyptic novel was the selection for the 2015 Great Michigan Read, so I read it then.

The book, set during and following a catastrophic pandemic, draws comparisons between a group of actors and musicians who travel and perform along the familiar shore of Lake Michigan and the troupes of itinerant performers who traveled through Shakespeare's England.

The message I took away is that during a pandemic, people use the arts to find meaning in their lives.

Shakespeare was born during a pandemic. He lost siblings to the plague.

At least three times during his career, London theaters were dark - sometimes for years - because of the plague.

"O Fortuna," the ominous 13th-century poem set by Carl Orff in Carmina Burana, means "O fate."

The wheel of fortune turns, and disease - the Black Death, smallpox, even the measles - provided equal opportunity fate. It brought death to the prince and the pauper, the young and the old, and not just in Europe - throughout the world, and throughout history.

Disease occurs in nature, too: hemlock and chestnut blight, Dutch elm, oak wilt, emerald ash borer and beech bark disease. Spruce and balsam are in decline. In the midst of life is death.

The Junior Choir at Interlochen used to sing a charming German round: "All things shall perish from under the sky / music alone shall live, never to die."

Even - especially - during a pandemic, art lives!