Using the Sacred to Calm the Profane

This is not going to be a post about COVID-19 and the unprecedented amount of upheaval and death it is causing in the US right now. You have plenty of news and social media sites for that.

This is not going to be a post about how to cope with suddenly teaching online or working from home. You have plenty of emails and instructions from your administrators for that. (Though I will just point out that if some of y’all had gotten on board or at least familiar with online pedagogy before now, it might be a smoother transition for you. That’s all.)

I just know that we are all feeling new and challenging amounts of stress and anxiety. No matter what you’re doing, you are under stress. This kind of stress is exhausting and upsetting and not at all easy to live with, day in and day out. So please – find something that works for you in helping to mitigate, even a little bit, the effects of stress on your body.

One thing I am diving into is religious choral music, specifically the albums of the Tallis Scholars. Their music can be found on most music streaming platforms. When I write and grade (especially if I am writing a lot of comments or revision notes on assignments), I need to listen to music without words, or with words I don’t understand. Enter: Latin! The Tallis Scholars are the preeminent singers of Renaissance/Early Modern polyphonic music. (Polyphony = different melodies sung simultaneously.)

It is lilting, calm, beautiful, and I don’t understand what they are singing, so it’s been perfect for these trying times. Additionally, the group is suffering financially right now, as they make their livings by constant touring, which is off the table right now, and so even streaming their stuff gives them some royalties. So give it a try! At first, don’t be surprised if all of the music sounds pretty much the same – that’s how I felt, as well. Over time, with repeated listens, the music makes itself more present to you, and you can discern the varied strands much more effectively. Try either 2015’s John Taverner: Missa Corona spinea/ Dum transisset Sabbatum I and II or 2007’s Allegri: Miserere/ Palestrina: Missa Papae Marcelli and Motets. Those are both very chill, very stunning compositions from start to finish.

But above all else, just get by. Just do your best, which is all any of us are (hopefully) doing. You were never prepared for this. You didn’t expect it. So don’t worry about not achieving great things right now. Staying healthy and present of mind is enough of a job as it is. So focus on that. You can do it.

The above mentioned 2015 album

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