Though music lovers may have few opportunities to perform together in person right now, it turns out that people of all ages are discovering or rekindling a passion for music making at home during the pandemic.
The online market for music products has reported a surge in sales of some instruments. And amid coronavirus anxiety, economic uncertainty, election tension, hurricanes and fires, people say music making offers a welcome respite.
Patricia McCormick said she started playing the flute in fifth grade, but in high school, another activity caught her eye.
“The option was to be in the marching band or to be in the band front and to be a flag twirler. And I went for the flag twirling,” she said.
McCormick is an author of young adult books who’s been nominated twice for a National Book Award. Still, somewhere inside she thought of herself as a flutist even though she hadn’t touched the instrument in years.
When the pandemic hit, she decided to try again.
She described it as transporting, “...in that it required total concentration, total absorption. So that when I was playing I couldn’t think of anything else. I have a daughter who is an essential worker in California. And there was an outbreak where she works. And I was obviously very worried. But when I picked up the flute, that went away.”
And she’s not alone in turning to music during this stay-at-home moment.
Music Trades magazine, which provides market data for the global music products industry, reports an 8% uptick in sales of entry-level instruments since March, especially guitars, digital pianos and electronic drum kits.
Editor Brian Majeski said they’re watching now to see what will happen with school band and orchestra programs this fall.
“Those programs are going to be dramatically curtailed in 2020 because of social distancing,” he said. “And so we’re wondering is this uptick in guitar sales and keyboard sales parents or kids who were going to participate in those programs looking for new ways to find expression? That’s a question we’re waiting to find out.”
Jim Stewart, who co-owns Stewart’s Music in Niantic, said his biggest seller during this COVID moment is ukuleles. He estimated a 250-300% increase compared with last year’s sales.
“It’s an inexpensive instrument. It sounds good even when it’s out of tune,” he explains. “It’s very easy to learn. It’s easy on the fingers. And ages -- I would say 4 to probably 90 have come in for those instruments.”
Twelve-year-old Ella Colvin got a concert ukulele over the summer from her mom.
“It can be pretty hard when you’re learning to go back and forth between the chords,” she said. “But once you get it and get the hang of it and practice, it’s really easy. And then you can build off of that and create songs.”
Ella has begun to compose songs on her uke during the pandemic.
“I can pour my feelings into it when I’m sad. Especially during quarantine. And so you could have really sad chords and really upbeat chords, and I just like the way you can portray words with chords and mirror each other.”
At the same time, author Patricia McCormick said music can offer a space away from words and from the crush of information around us.
“Music is in another realm, in another dimension. I might pick up the flute at the beginning of my practice session and still have one foot in the real world, and then part way through something changes, and I forget about this world,” she said.
“And when I’m finished, I feel very different.”