Orchestral Music May Be the Cure for Your Pandemic Blues

Carolyn Wang
ILLUMINATION
Published in
3 min readAug 3, 2021

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When I look back to the “pre-pandemic” era, I think of those days as wisps of clouds in the evening sky –– although they pass quickly, each of them is memorable in their own special way.

Now, however? Days seem to routinely run like this: Wake up. Breakfast. Work. (The majority of which occur on Zoom.) Lunch. More Work. Dinner. Even more work. Sleep.

Then I find myself asking … what day was it again?

Despite the abundance of extra time that a COVID-19 summer has to offer, it has also hindered my ability to differentiate and celebrate each passing day. Rather, I unintentionally find myself in the state of mere existence –– present and working at my desk, but at the same time, totally out of it. Imagine a pink cartoon brain floating in melted ice cream –– that’s an odd, metaphorically accurate version of me.

That is until my mundane lifestyle was transformed by orchestra camp.

All of a sudden, I was thrown into a somewhat-mellifluous mess involving a bunch of teenagers, cool conductors, scary Rachmaninoff pieces, and most importantly, classical orchestral music.

Normally, I’m more of a Disney-song lover with some Grace Vanderwaal pop music mixed in, so I would probably not be found intentionally listening to instrumental classical music for the sole purpose of, well, listening to it. But after a week of Sibelius, Gershwin, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, and Sousa among others, I’ve learned to appreciate the magic that comes with orchestral music.

Unlike typical pop songs (and even my favorite Disney songs), orchestral pieces usually don’t have lyrics, which may seem irrelevant at first, but “lyric-less” music actually holds a lot of value. For one thing, it gives the listener a chance to interpret the music solely on their own… without the interference of obviously predefined, intentional conclusions that the composer wants the audience to draw out. (Such as modern pop songs about love/heartbreak.)

Take the Karelia Overture Op. 10 by Jean Sibelius for example. The first time I listened to it, I imagined myself in the mountains surrounded by fresh air, nature, wildlife, and peace, perhaps accompanied by the pleasant petrichor of a light shower. To me, the orchestral piece evoked a free-spirited, adventurous side of my personality that I never really got a chance to explore, especially during the pandemic. On the other hand, my conductor described the piece as not only a happy piece but one that brought about hope and longing. Others described a feel-good vibe emanating from the depths of the piece.

According to the LA Philharmonic, the Overture was actually written to “depict the grandeur of the Viipuri castle with something like the pomp Arthur Sullivan had used a few years before for the Tower of London in The Yeomen of the Guard.”

Evidently, the original intent deviated vastly from the modern-day interpretations of the listeners, especially for those with no background, yet that’s what made listening to (and playing) the piece so special in the first place.

By opening the piece up to each listener’s own interpretation, orchestral music not only brings a sense of joy/longing/sadness (or any other emotion) to each audience member but also enhances their ability to think creatively beyond the confines of words and physical existence. It’s a feeling that is made so readily available thanks to these amazing compositions (and YouTube), yet at the same time, so unknown due to the stigma of classical music as boring or old-fashioned.

Especially with the pandemic looming and new virus variants ravaging the country, orchestral music can bring a surprising refresher, relief, or escape from the physical world, as long as people are willing to embrace it. Thus, I urge those who feel burned out, bored, or simply “existent but also nonexistent” to take a mental break and purposefully seek out an orchestral piece to listen to.

I promise orchestral music will change your life. Just like it changed mine.

Music Recommendations for Starters

Inspiration: SJYS Phil 21–22 rep and CPYO senior orchestra 19–20 rep

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Carolyn Wang
ILLUMINATION

CS, Stats, + PPL @ UC Berkeley. Writer, musician, triathlete, & explorer. More about me: carolynwangjy.medium.com/ae3eb5de2324