Song of Contagion is a new collaborative project between musicians and healthcare specialists. The collaboration looks to highlight reasons why some diseases are overlooked while other diseases are given more priority. The first workshop session was held on 23rd April in Graeae Theatre Company, Bradbury Studios in London. The project is a joint effort of the Grand Union Orchestra, Community Music (an organization that promotes digital music projects for kids) and epidemiologist Elizabeth Pisani. The collaborators shed light on diseases that were often overlooked, using music and lyrics.

This is not the first time that Grand Union Orchestra used their music to bring attention to sensitive topics. In fact, Pisani got the idea when she heard GUO’s performance on migration. Pisani was really unsure about the collaboration and had no idea how it will go.

Speaking before the first Song of Contagion workshop, Pisani said, “My idea was something very simple. The amount of disability a disease causes would be the tempo, the amount of money it gets would be the volume, and the press coverage would be the pitch. Ebola, for example, would be slow because [in global terms] it doesn’t kill many people, but it would be very high pitch because it generates a lot of press hysteria.”

Music And Health — How Will It Work?

The collaborating teams discussed possible reasons why some diseases are given more importance while other diseases are ignored. One possible reason is where the disease fell on the “Cuddly-to-Yucky” and “Benign-to-Scary” spectrums. What this means that a disease is considered really frightening if it, for example, was to be cancer in young children. So cancer would get better funding. In contrast if a disease fell in the benign-to-scary spectrum, for example, chronic diseases in obese patients, it won’t get much attention because obesity is considered unappealing.

Tony Haynes, the orchestra lead composer, then set out to define music parameters for each disease’s level of priority. Those parameters include tempo, rhythm, melodies and harmonies. By using these parameters, the musicians would be able to create unique musical pieces for each disease.

So let’s say tempo would define the disease’s impact, pitch would signify media coverage on the disease, affectees’ age group would be defined by melody and research funding would be represented by volume; so, for example, Ebola would be played at a slow tempo because few people have died from it. It will be played louder as the piece progresses because it has received increased funding over the years, while the lyrics would remind the audience that it is a disease that affects West Africa’s population mostly.

On the other hand, mental illnesses will be played at a faster pace, as a lot of people are affected by it, but might be played at a lower pitch since it’s not given much media attention. Lyrics would be quite tranquil and feature life on the streets of London.

Once the team has decided the diseases and parameters, they will explore the musical instruments and experiment with different sounds, to find out what works best. The team will also work with digital music specialists to create an accurate musical model for different diseases. Over the coming months, Tony Haynes will work on refining the compositions and focus on improving lyrics through users’ experiences of spending life with different health conditions and diseases. The team is also going to hold public workshops focusing on disease exploration through musical means and a discussion on decision-making process in global healthcare.

This would take the show’s authenticity to a whole new level and would show the bigger picture on healthcare and overlooked diseases.

Pisani is cautious yet hopeful as she believes that the concert is not just for music fans or health officials and believes that the more attention the concert gets, the better. Prominent coverage of the event will help raise awareness on overlooked diseases.

What Is Song Of Contagion Looking To Achieve?

Song of Contagion wants to make their audience experience a show like never before. They want to make their show as informative and accurate as possible by using the latest techniques in digital music. Most importantly they want to tell their audience a story about the diseases they might not be familiar with.

Song of Contagion is a great opportunity for people who are curious to learn new things about little known diseases yet not feel overburdened with monotonous information from health journals and health technology blogs. It is for those people who care about their health and are empathetic towards others suffering from such rare diseases. It is also for the music aficionado who is looking forward to a unique musical experience.

Future Of Health And Music Collaborations

Song of Contagion is not the first collaboration to take place between musicians and healthcare officials. Previously researchers from Edinburgh and Glasgow Caledonian Universities started the Scottish Music and Health Network (SMHN), where they studied the effects of music on health. So Song of Contagion is on the right track to bring about a positive change and hopefully more researchers will focus their efforts on studying the fascinating alliance of music and healthcare.