Music & Theatre in the Midst of COVID-19

Updated: Dec 10, 2020

Various art forms can serve as a therapy, calming our nervous systems and providing a healthy focus in the midst of anxiety. With COVID-19 affecting stress levels, the arts can be a valuable tool in dealing with the current circumstances. Music and theatre are two timeless art forms that have provided comfort and joy across the globe. Seton Hall University faculty members, from the College of Communication and the Arts, shared their thoughts on how COVID-19 has affected the world of artists and the potential silver lining as we move forward. The below interview was conducted by Danielle Clements and shares insights from S.H.U. Assistant Professor of Music, Jason Tramm and Gretchen Hall, Instructor of Theatre.

Q: Do you think the music industry will undergo a transformation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic? Will we see a return to the days of packed concert halls and arenas, or will people retreat to the safety of their headphones? 

Tramm: The return of "normal" functions and gatherings will take time but will occur.  History is our greatest teacher and guide, as the bubonic plague racked Europe multiple times.  Church and court functions had to be halted and life drastically altered.  People came back and society went on to produce the Renaissance.  I believe that this time of isolation and instability will result in an artistic explosion, as artists need to express what is inside.  

In terms of classical music, or ensemble based music like choral and orchestral, there is no substitute or ability to create ensemble sound or cohesion.  The issue of latency and sound quality seems to limit us all to soloists these days.  As I view music as a unifying force, drawing in people to create something greater than the sum of the individual parts, the loss is deep and profound.  While solo musicians at home can share their talents, I mourn the loss of ensemble music making in the most profound way.  I guess this is a microcosm of our current world, technology gives us something for comfort, but can never have the simple power of a hug or basic physical contact.  The same is true in music; a choir singing one phrase together has more power than all the solo recordings I have seen in the last weeks.  

Q: What do you think of the recent trend of artists and performers bringing live shows to Facebook and Instagram Live? Do you think we will see artists embrace virtual concerts in the future, or is this a temporary byproduct of current circumstances? 

Tramm:  Any way that music can enrich people's lives should be embraced in these tumultuous times.  Although the fidelity of these platforms is low and limited, it is wonderful that people are finding hope and beauty through these artists.  Recorded music is a phenomenon only available around the turn of the 20th century, the ability to hear high quality performances on streaming audio has been crucial to my life during these times.

Nothing will replace the power of live music performed by musicians, as good as recordings and streaming performances can be.  There is an energy and power that simply can't be transmitted electronically. 

Gretchen Hall, provided commentary on how actors are affected by the recent closings, while also offering some advice to students and the community on how to embrace the quiet and keep yourself centered during these uncertain times.


Q: As an actor and theatre professional, what do you think the long-term impact theatre closures might have on the industry? Hall: So many of my professional acting colleagues are suddenly out of work, many offered a few weeks' pay, despite having intentions of working much longer than that. 

Actors are very resilient people. We will come out of this with more stories to tell. I think stories are the only way I am really getting through this quarantine. Watching films and television shows, reading books with my children and creating our own stories, going back to the origins of acting…there will be light on the other side of this.

Q: As acting entails the ability to control your emotions, your voice, your breath…are there any exercises that people can do to help decrease stress?

Hall: Turn off the news and don't check your phones. This isn't an acting exercise, but you need to give yourself the space to breathe and not be inundated with what is happening. I have found yoga and meditation have been very helpful. If you can focus on your breath as it enters and exits your body, rather than focusing on the news, you might find some relaxation. 

Music and Theatre are undergraduate programs in the Seton Hall University College of Communication and the Arts.  Music majors may choose tracks in music performance, sound production and engineering, or musical theatre, or may work toward a certification in public school teaching by combining their major with a Secondary Education major through the College of Education and Human Services.

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