Graduate alumnus William Robin, Ph.D. ’16, published an article in May in the New York Times on the very timely subject of pandemics and their musical impact.
Specifically, Robin’s research looks at the effects of the 1918 influenza pandemic and its effect on the music industry. Titled “The 1918 Pandemic’s Impact on Music? Surprisingly Little,” Robin’s article explores how the existential crisis that the coronavirus has presented for so many of us did not seem to be prevalent in 1918. Instead, as he explains “cultural life returned swiftly to normal after the flu.”
While certain performances and tours were postponed or canceled due to quarantines across the country, many fundraising galas and concerts went on as planned – with great financial success (although likely with negative consequences concerning the spread of the pandemic). In the photos of newspaper clippings included with Robin’s article, readers will note the overwhelming presence of masks, the musical compositions inspired by the pandemic, and other strong resemblances to our current times.
We reached out to Robin about this recent publication, and here’s what he had to say.
“I’ve been writing for the Times since I was in grad school at Chapel Hill, and it’s always been an exciting outlet for public musicology. This recent piece was an opportunity to delve into primary sources on early twentieth-century music — using research skills I learned at UNC — to tell a new and not-yet-told story about the effects of the 1918 flu pandemic on American concert culture. My current scholarship deals with a very different period in U.S. music, the late twentieth-century avant-garde, but this was an enjoyable detour and I learned a lot in the research.”