Commentary: I’m not taking live music for granted amid this current COVID-19 surge
From viral busking sensation Jeff Ng to packed venues offering live music, there’s pent up demand for live music - as well as a lingering worry that the Omicron wave might take that away again, says Karen Tee.
SINGAPORE: Viral busking sensation Jeff Ng has been all over the news lately for a variety of reasons. But he originally shot to fame because of the large crowds at his show outside The Cathay last month.
Of course, Singaporeans’ love for busking performances is not new. Many of us probably had a soft spot for the visually impaired singer who used to perform at the Orchard Road underpass between Takashimaya Shopping Centre and Lucky Plaza in the pre-pandemic days. Others, like singer-songwriter Jason Yu, got their start in the music business by busking.
Still, Ng’s performances have drawn hundreds, with social media videos showing the audience packing the outdoor plaza of The Cathay as they sang and waved smartphone flashlights along to the music.
Perhaps this shows just how much people miss live music after two years of pandemic-related silence.
I vividly remember feeling emotional the first time I watched a live band after restrictions on live music performances were lifted in end-March. After two long years of dancing on my own in my living room to live streamed music, it was liberating to watch musicians in person once again.
And it’s clear I’m not alone. Fellow music lovers have been flocking to venues that offer performances and DJ acts. Many F&B venues that offer live performances reported a robust response to the lifting of these measures, with fully booked reservations on weekends and sales surging, showing just how much pent up demand there is.
How else to describe that shared joy and camaraderie in being among a group of music lovers, getting so caught up in the music that we cannot help but bop along, tap our feet and sing along to familiar tunes?
On a screen, it’s just impossible to replicate how the musicians interact with the crowd. Even with the best headphones, you feel a different beat to the live performance.
STILL WORRIED ABOUT CATCHING COVID-19
That said, after avoiding crowded areas for so long, there is that inadvertent sense of anxiety in immersing oneself back into the midst of large groups – especially as we are “near the peak, if not at the peak” of a fresh COVID-19 wave.
Singapore reported 12,784 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday (Jul 5) and the week-on-week infection ratio has been above 1 since Jun 14 – indicating that the number of new weekly cases is rising.
It was reported that some spectators at Ng’s performance kept their masks on as a precaution even though mask-wearing in an outdoor setting is currently optional. As somewhat of a germaphobe, I can understand this sentiment.
Even though I am double vaccinated and boosted, I see no reason in increasing my risk of exposure to the virus. Plus, flu and common cold viruses are still circulating and I can certainly do without the uncertainty of picking up a bug and spending days wondering if I have caught COVID-19.
Personally, when I go to venues where there are performances and where I expect there to be crowds, I try to reserve a table so that I have a pocket of “breathing space”. I also prefer outdoor settings like beach bars or make an effort to keep my mask on as much as possible, even if I have a drink in hand.
These efforts allow me to feel less worried about my health so that I can still go out and enjoy life in the “new normal” of these uncertain times.
LIVING IN THE MOMENT
Over the past months, I have celebrated friends’ birthdays at boisterous karaoke sessions and enjoyed dancing in the sunset on the beach while listening to the thumping beats of a live DJ act. In the past, I might have barely remembered these experiences if not for a few snapshots taken with friends to post on social media.
But recently, I have noticed how carefully I savour each music outing I make, almost like I have found a long lost love and am afraid that it might disappear once again. Like many of my fellow music lovers, we request for our favourite songs and cajole the musicians to give us one last encore - and then one more for good measure.
Perhaps there is a lingering concern that live music acts may be temporarily curbed again, if this current COVID-19 surge continues or if new threatening variants rear their ugly head.
While Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong has recently said that there is no need to tighten safe management measures at this stage, the Government is monitoring the situation closely. If need be, the government will have to make adjustments, he added.
We certainly understand that measures may have to be tightened to save lives and to ease the load on healthcare workers who are still valiantly at the frontline of battle. COVID-19 hospitalisations have increased “quite significantly”, to the point that hospitals have started to cut back on non-COVID and elective procedures.
So it is no surprise music lovers are savouring every opportunity we can get to revel in the good vibes and support local musicians’ livelihoods as much as we can in the meantime.
I intend to live fully in the moment just in case live music is (temporarily) silenced once again.
Karen Tee is a freelance lifestyle and travel journalist based in Singapore.