The pop culture reference point of the moment is Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 thriller Contagion, which is surely streaming into quarantined homes at some kind of record. That COVID-19-inspired resurgence of popularity is justifiably shared with Albert Camus, whose 1947 novel The Plague rendered a pandemic.
For our purposes, however, the most salient line from an artistic rendering of pestilence may be found in Mary Shelley’s little-known novel, The Last Man, published in 1826. Yes, that Mary Shelley. Eight years after she unleashed Frankenstein, Shelley tried her hand at a literary pandemic.
In one section, she laments on the passing of what today we’d call the humanities: “Farewell to the arts, to eloquence,” she wrote. “Farewell to music, and the sound of song… !”
Ah, but Shelley wasn’t on social media.
OREGON IN SHUTDOWN: VOICES FROM THE FRONT
The “sound of song” is alive and well in Yamhill County, thanks in part to the efforts of Aquilon Music Festival founder Anton Belov, who this week began teaching his spring term classes at Linfield College online. Earlier this month, I stumbled upon a video of him on Facebook singing Sunday Morning Coming Down, a Kris Kristoffersen song that was included in Ray Stevens’ final album, Have a Little Talk With Myself, for Monument Records in 1969. Johnny Cash later recorded it for a hit on Billboard’s country chart.
Watching the classically trained Belov bring this country hit to life while hunkered down in his own house is a genuine treat. He is among a great many artists who are doing what they can on Twitter and Facebook to ensure that art finds a way to those of us who need it more than ever. Steve Martin strumming a banjo, Patrick Stewart reading Shakespeare’s sonnets, and Anthony Hopkins playing the piano with a cat perched contentedly on his lap have been a few of my favorites.
Belov continued to post new videos, and it wasn’t long before he’d launched a Facebook Karaoke group that now attracts singers from Yamhill County and beyond. I talked with him two years ago before the first Aquilon festival, and caught up with him this week for a Facebook Messenger interview on his latest endeavors. Below is a transcript edited for length and clarity:
When you launched this, were you aware other live Facebook parties were springing up elsewhere?
Belov: Nah, I posted a couple of clips and somebody commented that we should start a group. So, I did. There is the Quarantine Karaoke group, too, you know. It has 250,000 members! Ours is much smaller, about 500.
Is this the first local karaoke Facebook group?
I’m quite sure it’s a new thing. But we’re not all local. There are singers from all over the U.S.
It’s a unique concert hall!
It is so much fun. We had a live party last night.
How did that go? How many participated?
I think it was about 12. Everyone went live, one after the other. The videos are still there. The best thing is that it is such a supportive atmosphere.
Other than listening to members of the group on Facebook, what are you doing at home these days?
I’m learning an opera role and working on finishing an album with Oleg Timofeyev, Russian Romances, on SoundCloud. I’m doing the audio editing. That’s a lot of work! My concert with Oleg on March 15 was the first casualty of this crisis. We are all losing so many engagements.
Oh, that’s right. I remember, I hopped online to listen to it that night and saw it was canceled.
Yup, that one, plus a Texas gig this week, plus an opera in May. The [Aquilon Music] Festival is also up in the air.
I was going to ask about that. Obviously so much of the logistical prep would be happening now.
Yes, it is very stressful. I need to make a decision in the next couple of weeks.
And you have classes resuming at Linfield? How is that going to work?
All online. The courses are going to be OK, but the choirs? How am I supposed to conduct Men’s Glee?
It occurred to me a few days ago that it’s possible this pandemic is actually having the effect of introducing people to music they might not have otherwise heard. I wouldn’t necessarily seek out banjo, for example, but Steve Martin the other day posted a lovely piece he played that really went viral. I listened to it several times.
Wonderful! I agree, it is creating online communities.
Let me throw out a question that Portland’s All Classical radio is posing to listeners: What music brings you peace? What keeps your mind healthy and your heart nourished these days?
My favorite album nowadays is Ana María González’s Asi. Mexican popular music from the 1960s. Superb!
This story is supported in part by a grant from the Yamhill County Cultural Coalition, Oregon Cultural Trust, and Oregon Community Foundation.