Pope Francis praised musicians on Thursday for showing “new creativity” despite severe restrictions imposed on their work by the coronavirus pandemic.
In a Feb. 4 video message to participants in an online conference organized by the Pontifical Council for Culture, he also sympathized with artists whose livelihoods are threatened by the virus.
“We know ... that since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, activity in the musical field has been greatly reduced,” he said in the message, delivered in Italian.
“My thoughts are with all those who have been affected: the musicians who have seen their lives and professions disrupted by the demands of distancing; those who have lost their jobs and social contact; those who have had to face, in difficult contexts, the necessary moments of training, education and community life.”
“Many have dedicated significant efforts to continue to offer a musical service endowed with new creativity.”
The pope sent the message to the 4th International Convention on Music, an initiative of the Pontifical Council, in collaboration with the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music and the Pontifical Institute of Liturgy of the Pontifical Atheneum of St. Anselm in Rome.
According to the official program, other speakers at the Feb. 4-5 event include Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council; Saba Anglana, a Somali-Italian actress and singer; English screenwriter and novelist Frank Cottrell-Boyce; and the U.S. philosopher Martha Nussbaum.
In his address, the pope reflected on the communal dimension of music, highlighting how musicians serve the community at concert halls and other venues.
“I hope that this aspect of social life can also be reborn, that we return to singing and playing and enjoying music together,” he said.
The pope spoke about his passion for classical music in a 2013 interview with Jesuit journals. He named Mozart’s “Et incarnatus est,” from his Mass in C minor, as one of his favorite works, along with Bach’s “Erbarme Dich,” from the St. Matthew Passion, and Wagner’s Ring Cycle, conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler.
In his message to the conference, whose theme is “Church, Music: Texts and Contexts,” the pope quoted the novel “Don Quixote”, by Miguel de Cervantes: “Donde hay música, no puede haber cosa mala” (“Where there is music, there can be nothing bad.”)
“Many texts and compositions, through the power of music, stimulate everyone’s personal conscience and also create a universal fraternity,” he said.
He also underlined the importance of silence in musical works.
“A good musician knows the value of silence, the value of the pause. The alternation between sound and silence is fruitful and allows for listening, which plays a fundamental role in every dialogue,” he said.
“Dear musicians, the common challenge is to listen to each other.”
The pope said that musicians could help biblical passages to “speak” anew in different cultural contexts.
He noted that the conference focused on “the most diverse musical forms” from around the world.
“They express the variety of cultures and local communities, each with its own ethos,” he commented. “I am thinking particularly of indigenous civilizations, where the approach to music is integrated with the other ritual elements of dance and celebration. In this context, engaging narratives can emerge at the service of evangelization.”
The pope concluded with questions for the participants, in light of the pandemic.
“Is the silence we are living empty or are we listening?” he asked. “Will we allow, afterward, the emergence of a new song?”
He added: “Voices, musical instruments and compositions continue to express, in the present context, the harmony of God’s voice, leading towards ‘symphony,’ that is, universal fraternity.”