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Do you have a pandemic playlist?

Music has been a mood-lifter, and provided comfort and connection in these bleak times

For many, music selections have been more deliberate during the pandemic
For many, music selections have been more deliberate during the pandemic (iStock)

One of the most played songs on Kishi Arora’s phone in the last year is Ray LaMontagne’s We’ll Make it Through”. An unintentional choice perhaps, but an unsurprising one with its reassuring lyrics.

Got to believe it’s gonna be alright

Lean on me and I’ll lean on you

And together, we’ll get through

We always do.”

Arora has been homebound with her mother in Delhi since lockdown last year, her pandemic routine unchanged since then. The pastry chef and food consultant misses meeting friends and eating at restaurants. But through the frustration and loneliness, one constant companion has served her well. A pandemic soundtrack. Arora has music playing through most of the day. Up tempo tunes motivate her in the morning and while baking and doing housework. Exploring new music keeps her evening walks interesting. Her cooking videos spark conversations with social media followers, not just about the food, but also her choice of the soundtrack in the videos.

Pastry chef and food consultant Kishi Arora has used music to bond with her mother
Pastry chef and food consultant Kishi Arora has used music to bond with her mother (Kishi Arora)

She bonds over old Hindi songs with her mother, favourites by R.D. Burman or Mohammed Rafi punctuated with anecdotes her mother tells of her of the memories around the tunes. “I’ve learned more about my family through this music and my mom’s memories.” Like Arora, music has been a steady companion to many during this pandemic year, filling the silence, soothing anxiety, motivating and helping to process a bewildering range of emotions.

Comfort and connection

Being alone in Delhi during the pandemic was challenging for tourism professional Sarfaraz Siddiqui, but it helped to revive an old passion. “I started writing poetry and composing music again. Listening to old favourites like Kishore da and Rafi Saab was comforting and motivated me to sing again and to write my own songs.” The comfort and motivation music can provide is well documented, research showing music’s ability to change moods and help in processing feelings.

Also read: Krista Tippett's On Being: A healing podcast for the times

Working in a hospital’s stressful, and often depressing, environment is taking its toll on Janya Sachdev, a microbiologist at AIIMS in Delhi. “Singing with my choir or attending music concerts were things I used to decompress and suddenly all of it was gone, with no return in sight. The monotony of the endless work-home-rinse-repeat cycle started fraying my nerves!” said Sachdev. Playing music through the day has always been a habit, but now it is “comfort music” from her childhood, which brings her joy. “I compiled these songs into my Spotify ‘Pandemic Playlist’, using it to cheer myself up whenever needed. Many of the songs are cheesy ‘guilty pleasures’, but I’m past the point of being ashamed. I listen to whatever makes me happy!”

Janya Sachdev missed singing in a choir but music has been a great comfort
Janya Sachdev missed singing in a choir but music has been a great comfort (Siddharth Khandelwal)

While adults have some life experience to help deal with the situation around us, many children have struggled with the uncertainty and disruption. Ten-year-old Veera Kumar found the lockdown scary initially and could not understand why she could not go to school or play with friends. “Music is a major part of my life as I learn piano and love singing. I listened to music for fun before the pandemic, but now I listen to it for comfort, losing track of time. Initially, I could not sleep as I wasn’t tired enough and music helped me relax.” said Kumar, who discovered the music of Queen last year, including them on her pandemic playlist with other favourites like Pentatonix, Adele, Maroon 5 and Billie Eilish.

Music helped 10-year-old Veera Kumar sleep
Music helped 10-year-old Veera Kumar sleep

Connecting meaningfully while isolated has been difficult. Studies show that listening and playing music is useful in strengthening social bonds. Arora exchanges music recommendations with a friend, who often sings to her over the phone. “At Christmas, he sang carols on the phone and it was such a nice way to connect and cheer me up.” said Arora. For Bangalore-based personal branding consultant, Ganesh Vancheeswaran, music has helped his family bond and made the last year enjoyable. “With everyone at home now, we play music throughout. Each of us takes turns playing songs we like. This helped us bond and appreciate the music better. Occasionally, we discuss different genres with our son.” said Vancheeswaran. Discovery has been their theme this year, the family exploring everything from Jazz to Hindustani classical; and Indian film songs to Rabindra Sangeet.

Different tunes for different moods

For many, music selections have been more deliberate during the pandemic to serve different purposes. Delhi-based architect Tilottama Shome discovered Christian Rock music during this time. “I find it calming. The words of praise and worship are encouraging and uplifting. I am also a crier. So, these songs often move me to tears.” said Shome.

Siddiqui has distinct music for different parts of his day starting with morning ragas like Bhairav and Jaunpuri. “While working, I often choose instrumental music like Zakir Hussain’s tabla recitals and guitar solos by Estas Tonne.” Sachdev soothes her pandemic-induced insomnia with a relaxing classical playlist of Brahms, Bach and Chopin. While drawing, Kumar listens to pop rock group, Imagine Dragons, as the rhythm helps her to concentrate. Arora frequents her go-to track, “Return of the Mack”, a song she associates with past successes like good exam results, to reassure herself that everything will be alright.

Expanding musical horizons

Many have used this time to discover new artists and work on music projects. Public relations professional Schubert Fernandes, who also works closely in the independent music scene, has been busy this year with varied initiatives. Like “The Lockdown Gig”, an online ticketed series that enabled artists to earn during this time, and the formation of Indie Music Allies, a collective of Indian independent music industry members. “I also started sharing music, a new, just-released song a day, calling it #SoundOfTheDay, which then became a sound of the month playlist on Spotify.” said Goa-based Fernandes.

Musician Schubert Fernandes also composed new songs during this time
Musician Schubert Fernandes also composed new songs during this time

Siddiqui discovered new artists like vocalist Kaushiki Chakrabarti and Pakistani musicians, Leo Twins, during this time and set his poetry to music, composing twenty new songs – Sufi, Rock and a few folk numbers. Kumar has created piano covers of her favourite songs, currently working on Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.

“Singing new pieces gave me a sense of purpose, while listening to music, like Christian rock, gave me a sense of the presence of something bigger than the nitty-gritties of everyday life.” said Shome. It is apparent that music has benefited many during this time. And though it cannot alter the pandemic, it can help living through one a little easier.

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