"Pandemic" And The Power of the Human Voice

Apr 22, 2020

With stay at home orders and enforced isolation, the COVID-19 pandemic has tested one of our basic human needs: to connect with one another. And even while new platforms have helped fill the void with distant communication, at their core, they still rely on the power of words and voice.

Bill Siemering was a co-founder of National Public Radio, which first went on the air in 1970.    “Radio is the most intimate medium, I feel, because it's the human voice, which is so expressive."


Siemering was NPR’s first program director and helped developed the flagship, “All Things Considered,” “Fresh Air” and more.

Credit CDC

Today, even while people are doing their best to physically isolate, they don’t have to socially isolate during this time. “We can have a conversation as a society and radio's a way to do that.”

And in a time of pandemic people rely more than ever on the spoken word, the nuance of the human voice for connection    “It becomes still reaching out with your heart. Know that we are connected in ways that are terrifying, beautiful....”  

Siemering is quoting a line from a new poem, called Pandemic. He’s one of many who posted it on his personal Facebook page.   “Reach out your words, reach out all the tendrils of compassion that move invisibly, where we cannot touch….”

Pandemic was written just as the magnitude of COVID-19 was becoming clear to everyone, the curtain of isolation was coming quickly down, and there was a lot of confusion as to how to cope with this novel experience. And do, this poet wrote:

----What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.

Poet Lynn Ungar wrote Pandemic on March 11th 2020.  “I'd been thinking about the idea of social distancing. And how our brains go to emotional distance along with physical distance and how clearly it was going to be the case that we needed to find ways to be connected at the same time that we were moving apart."

Again Bill Siemering:  "Yes. That's was what struck me so much was, was turning this into an opportunity of kindness, of reaching out of crossing orders, if you will. And that's why I thought it was such a wonderful poem."

 Here Ungar reads another section from her poem:

“Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.”

This poem got a lot of attention from people all over the world. A few weeks ago, a virtual choir project brought singers come together to contribute to a message of hope by setting the poem Pandemic to music.  It was composed by Martin Dedek, performed by CONCORA and directed by Chris Shephard. To Listen, click here.