The 2020 pandemic unleashed two contradictory forces of global affinity and lonely isolation. As many countries enacted lockdown policies individuals and communities had to deal with unprecedented enforced isolation. At the same time, at least for a few moments, people all over the world felt a strong sense of affinity and empathy, as no matter where you were in the world, we could experience some moments of all being together ‘in the same boat’, so to speak.
For musicians, music educators, and community music facilitators, one of the biggest challenges that the pandemic presented was inability to meet and make music together. As some professionals yearned for technological innovations, others embraced the technological and inter-personal limitations of video conferencing, creating new musical paradigms working to enhance solidarity and defy physical distancing.
Rev. Prof June Boyce-Tillman of University of Winchester University, for example, worked together with Winchester musical director Neil Valentine to create a Zoom-friendly adaptation of her “Space for Peace” (Sfp) event that she has been performing for over nine years in Winchester Cathedral and Winchester University. Having known June for some time, and having heard her descriptions of the SfP experience, I was curious and grateful for the opportunity to join such an event as soon as it went online.
After experiencing three COVID SfP online events, I decided that this was an experience that I must share with the music education students that I work with in Levinsky College of Education in Tel Aviv, Israel. This desire combined with my frustration of having to cancel an annual interreligious musical event that I had been organizing and facilitating in public spaces of our college every year during the winter holiday season. The interreligious population on our campus included religious and non-religious Jews, alongside Muslims, Christian Arabs, and Druze students and faculty. The idea to celebrate December 2020 online, in collaboration with Winchester University, seemed an innovative way to up-scale our traditional interreligious winter celebration, in the face of COVID-19 restrictions.
June, Neil, and I worked together to adapt the SfP concept to include Christmas and Chanukah songs together with secular songs in Hebrew and in Arabic all which celebrate the winter season. The secular input was crucial to me because many of the participating students self-identify as ‘secular,’ as is common within contemporary identity politic structures of Israeli society.
On December 9th 2020, Levinsky students logged on from all over Israel and were joined by Winchester students, faculty, and community members. Religious leaders from Winchester who attended included Rev. Dr. Terry Biddington FRSA, Dean of Spiritual Life and Director of the Winchester Institute for Contemplative Education & Practice; Muslim chaplain, Rizwan Hussain; Rev. Dr. June Boyce-Tillman MBE FRSA FHEA Professor Emerita of Applied Music;Neil Valentine, Creative Director at the University of Winchester Music Centre; and Dr. Amira Ehrlich, Chair of Graduate Studies in Music Education at Levinsky College of Education.
Many students, faculty, and religious officials expressed that they were deeply moved by the musical improvisation that they experienced together. Neil’s drone kept us aligned as we embraced the Zoom delay and entered an alternate mindset of timing. While some sound qualities were not optimal, the overall sense of cohesion was mostly maintained. I have no doubt that further experimentations could enhance our sensitivities and enrich the digital improvisation further. I hope for additional opportunities to explore such international and interreligious collaborations which may persist beyond COVID as a most welcome side effect which the pandemic may leave behind.
Submitted by Dr. Amira Ehrlich, Levinsky College of Education, Israel
Footage of the event can be viewed at: