Orchestrating Isolation: Musical Interventions and Inequality in the COVID-19 Fallout*
Online event: June 22 2020, BST 3 pm - 6.30 pm
organised by Shzr Ee Tan, Royal Holloway University of London
and Kiku Day, Goldsmiths, University of London
with support from the Institute of Musical Research
Thank you for showing interest in our webinar next Monday on June 22, 3pm BST. Please use the link below to access the event hosted on Zoom:
Meeting ID: 895 7784 7357
[The event starts at 3 pm BST but we will open the room from 2.50 pm for all guests]
Much has taken place since we posted news of this webinar, which before the arrival of COVID-19 was conceived as a small London-based symposium on Racialised Performance in Western Classical Music. [Please watch this space - we hope to resuscitate the conference next year!]. In April, we moved to a virtual format in the interests of keeping the community hitherto assembled for this event alive, but felt we needed to address all conversations in context to the fact that a pandemic was marching through our world.
Our re-themed event commits to our original focus on race, and inequality at large, taking the view that pre-COVID, fundamental challenges have long existed and should not be swept under the carpet of misconceived ‘pandemic-levelling effects’, or worse, coronavirus-blamed excuses for structural and musical inequalities that have been exacerbated as a result.
On the same basis, we now welcome important and necessary discussions on the more recent impact of another earth-shattering re-ignited global movement of Black Lives Matter. We commit to these discussions while remaining painfully aware that structural racism, and particularly enacted on Black communities, has long been a societal problem everywhere – and that these issues need to be understood intersectionally in a vastly-changed and still-changing musical world.
To this end, our speakers – assembled from territories that will hopefully address to some extent re-imaginations of stereotypical East/ West/ North/ South divides, and participating at various stages of their career – may choose to reflect on ongoing, still-developing areas of musical inequality and interventions that remain very raw (see research questions below – we welcome more in the Q & A sessions!). Our keynote speakers Jennifer Koh and Kiku Day, and our panellists have already begun some brave, heartfelt and honest pre-webinar conversations.
We hope our webinar can create space for different musical discourses on race even as a pandemic rages on. While we acknowledge the roles American-centric debates – and, particularly, debates in Black communities – have played in calling to public account structural racisms around different parts of the world, we also ask for generosity in parsing different language abilities and levels of awareness around emerging English-language terminologies. We hope to interrogate these challenging discourses while understanding that they will necessarily be subtly different across an unevenly decolonising world.
We will not be able to do justice to many of the issues we have so far raised, in the few short hours on Monday. But we hope this event will be the beginning of new communities and important conversations on different and multiple playing fields, and we look forward to meeting everyone virtually in a few days!
Shzr Ee Tan, Royal Holloway University of London
Kiku Day, Goldsmiths, University of London
UPDATED MAY 26 2020
*This event has been re-themed and revised in format from an earlier conference, now postponed till 2021, on 'Racialised Performance in Western Classical Music', organised by Shzr Ee Tan & Maiko Kawabata.
'Orchestrating Isolation: Musical Interventions and Inequality in the Covid-19 Fall-out’ * calls to attention the devastation caused to musicians, freelancers and researchers in precarious labour, even as we mourn the traumatic losses of artists, investigators and teachers to the disease. This online event is also interventionist while remaining reflective in its commitment to not simply ‘waiting it out’ at a time where the world is no longer going to be the same again, in spite—or because—of the fact that basic systems of society continue to run, tenuously and miraculously at unimaginable costs: COVID-19-related racism, inequality in healthcare provision, economic impacts of industry shutdowns (not least music and live entertainment), closing of national borders; devastation of livelihoods.
To this end, we remain committed to exploring the issue of how inequalities and marginalities (shaped by race discourses and more) intersect with evolving catastrophic developments that are, critically, not always as society-levelling as formerly imagined. More worryingly, COVID-19 has been used as a blanket 'blame response' for the reluctance to address critical issues which predate it. As such, we also speak to the current situation in our convening of this meeting not simply as a topical or 'trendy' response of the moment. We ask further questions about the longer-term impacts of COVID in a post-pandemic world.
In the past months alone, we have witnessed musical communities all over the world spring up to sing, play and listen ‘together, 2-meters apart’ on balconies in solidarity, or wear masks in appropriately socially-distanced reimaginations of cori spezzati. As many jobs, professions and institutions have been transformed or scaled—up or down—online, overnight, we have also seen corresponding, heartening spikes in sounded internet responses to public health and other campaigns. These have ranged from the proliferation of pandemic playlists to the rise of stay-at-home Youtubers and musical government health directives. As our streets heave into relative silence with enforced or unofficial quarantines, we listen to birdsong in the city, the wind on our lawns, passive-aggressively panting runners, Netflix marathon broadcasts, or the sudden creepy whirr of distant traffic, with eerie wonder and (unjustified) irritability. There is discomfort and unease as some of the more privileged members of our community ‘take stock’ in quarantine, or claim private space in crowded living arrangements through sonic cocoons of our headphones. Some of us—and many more musical communities around the world—cannot afford to socially distance, or stop work even at the cost of free virtual labour. Some of us will inevitably fall ill. But simply ‘stopping to take stock’, indeed, is not enough.
What can and should we do here, as musicologists, ethnomusicologists, musicians, composers? We do not simply 'press pause', as different territories struck by the disease enter remission, reinfection, and eventual recovery at worryingly different rates. Instead, we rethink the way we make, write (about) and teach music. We share teaching, research and musicking resources. We build physical music communities into virtual spaces with offline as well as livestreamed performance pacts across the globe’s different timezones. We rethink musical performance, syllabi and research for public health and virality. And while we acknowledge that things cannot go on as before, we remember that in the pre-2020 world, there already existed complex, musical global challenges whose need for addressing should not be diminished a force majeure event.
On the specific discourses of inequality and how musicians of colour and artists are caught between the crevices of global lockdowns, we ask, further:
1. How has the pandemic changed musicking across cultural and geographical borders along new baselines of re-levelled (if still asymmetrical) virtual connectivities?
2. In the rush to embrace musicking, how do we deal with digital inequalities (eg internet access) and digital censorship across different communities and locales?
3. What are the cultural differences in approaches and tolerance of haptic and embodied activity in home-based musicking, as well its eventual remediation to the virtual world? Where do issues of privacy and unequal access to home performance spaces fit into the debates?
4. How have differently-abled persons/ musicians been impacted by these shifts?
6. How does cultural difference feature in reading musical 'gesture' across a screen? (What does this say, for example, about the stereotype of the 'inscrutable Asian face' in performance? How does gender play out in these spaces? How do we talk about issues of dis/ability in these virtual and socially-distanced communications )
7. In revamped live performance, how do differing and emerging ideas of musical social distancing across geocultural contexts prevail?
8. What is the potential re-levelling of representational input of diverse voices in a virtual context?
9. What is the economic impact on the recruitment of international students to music programmes?
10. How has the closure of national borders affected jobbing musicians previously and precariously making a living through networks of travel and transnationality?
11. How have intersectional politics played out on COVID-related racial aggressions against East Asian, Southeast Asian, Black, Indigenous and broader POC musician communities, with the increasing rise of nationalist movements worldwide alongside anxieties over COVID?
Update - further questions:
12. How has the emergence of Black Lives Matter - both as a current as well as longer-term campaign - further exacerbated recent societal upheavals in musical ways, and in music communities?
13. How have sounded worlds of recent Black Lives Matter and anti-racism protests/ periods of overnight reflection in communities and organisations around the world evolved in the thick of social isolation and anxieties over COVID?
14. How have new grounds regarding live performance, relative personal safety, and social distancing been recalibrated on account of performative protests around the world?
Our original keynote speaker for the conference on 'Racialised Performance in Western Art Music', Jennifer Koh, will commit her presence to the re-themed format in a short speech, a short performance and a Q & A session. In the past few weeks, Jennifer has been an activist and champion in keeping music alive in the time of COVID-19, embarking on a new, exciting collaborative compositional-performance virtual project called “Alone Together”, featuring no less than “four premieres in 10 minutes” from her living room and those of her partner-artists.
The Q & A session will segue into a short panel discussion on musicking/ thriving through the COVID-19 fallout, featuring the researchers and practitioners:
Mary Dullea (RHUL)
Pheaross Graham (UCLA)
Ecenur Guvendik (Middle East Technical University)
Hyelim Kim (Bath Spa University)
Tonia Ko (RHUL)
Tricia Park (Chicago)
Yundu Wang (Guildhall)
More information on Jennifer can be found here:
In addition to Jennifer’s performance on June 22, ethnomusicologist, international shakuhachi exponent and founder of the European Shakuhachi Society Kiku Day will perform traditional and new pieces on the flute, adapted for virtual engagement. No stranger to online musicking, Kiku is one of the early pioneers of Skype musical instruction, and most recently co-initiated the internet-based Robuki Wave, a web-galvanized staggered concert of a single tone featuring shakuhachi communities around the world playing ‘together, apart’. Following her performance Kiku will also speak on musical marginalities and racialised issues around the COVID fallout. Kiku will be joined in a panel discussion after her speech by:
Nweke Florence Ewomazino (University of Lagos Nigeria)
Xuejiao Fu (SOAS)
Marko Koelbl (MDW Vienna)
Dwight Pile-Gray (University West London)
Shzr Ee Tan (RHUL)
Ken Ueno (UC Berkeley)
Shelley Zhang (U Penn)
More information on Kiku can be found here:
Kiku Day - 'Local Isolation, Online Global Connectivity'
The second keynote speech and panel will discuss the psychological and emotional
repercussions of the unjust fear of East Asian musicians as high-risk carriers of the Covid-19
virus. While the economic and social consequences of Covid-19 isolation have received
more attention, this has been an underlying issue for many musicians of colour. It may to
some degree have disappeared under the myriad activities of online music, in which many
musicians have moved online to perform and thereby remain present if not in the physical,
then in the digital world. Some of us musicians have felt pressured to perform online, either
being encouraged or nagged by a sense of lagging behind certain very active online musician
In a visually focused world, how do musicians (and the music played) respond to the
demands of this large online and visual presence? Who is claiming the ‘ground’ online and
how is this done in various musical communities? Online teaching and musical activities
have never been as popular as now, which inspires long conversations on which of Zoom,
Skype, Google Hangouts, etc., are best suited for online musicking. We shall consider the
effectivity and the pros and cons of online teaching and discuss how we can manage to feel
connected while physically separated. One example of this feeling of connection is the
‘Robuki Wave’ – an ongoing event, in which shakuhachi players across the world play one
note for 10 minutes around noon local time in order to create a sound wave, an action
intended to serve as a social glue across national borders and cultures and between players.
We will also make references to emerging challenges such as the blocking of physical movement
and creative flows across national borders, as well as the resilience of musicians and academics who have found new ways to beat COVID barriers on- and off-line, and also in the face of new race, class and digital divides.
* * *
We welcome members of the public to these conversations and hope to keep the discussions relatively informal and loosely-themed. However, we also ask that you bear with us in the event of any further adaptations of the event programme, given the currently uncertain circumstances. In the interests of keeping this event a relatively safe online space, we will be monitoring attendance and requesting registration in advance. We will be in touch with those who have registered via email with instructions for online attendance on appropriate web platforms. Please sign up below if you wish to attend.
UPDATE June 4 2020: We have just launched a new Facebook Group. Please join at
Speakers, clockwise from top: Tonia Ko, Jennifer Koh (Keynote 1), Ecenur Güvendik, Yundu Wang, Xuejiao Fu, Jasmina Samssulli, Hyelim Kim, Pheaross Graham, Tricia Park, Marko Koelbl, Mary Dullea, Kiku Day (Keynote 2), Dwight Pile-Gray, Shelley Zhang, Shzr Ee Tan, Florence Nweke, Ken Ueno.
3 pm BST (30 mins + 15 mins) Keynote Speech/ Performance by Jennifer Koh, followed by short Q & A. Please indicate name, email (and institution if appropriate) if you wish to watch/ ask further questions
4 pm Panel (45 mins): Musicking/ thriving through the COVID-19 Fallout. Please indicate name, email (and institution if appropriate) if you wish to watch/ ask further questions in the chatbox
5 pm BST (30 mins + 45 mins) Performance/ speech by Kiku Day': Local Isolation, Online Global Connectivity', followed by panel on musical and racialised marginalities during COVID. Please indicate name, email (and institution if appropriate) if you wish to watch/ ask further questions
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