Despite the popular idiom, the emperor Nero did not actually fiddle while Rome burned.
For one thing, fiddles didn’t yet exist. And “strummed the cithara while Rome burned” doesn’t have the same ring to it. But regardless, there is no evidence that he played an instrument to pass the time during the destruction of over half the city. Despite a citation of the event in Shakespeare’s play Henry VI.
Plantagenet, I will; and like thee, Nero,
Play on the lute, beholding the towns burn.
But the idea has been on my mind in recent months. More than once while opening the microphone to introduce music, I’ve asked myself, “Am I fiddling while Rome burns?”
I no longer want to list horrible events on air, as I’ve found myself doing – beginning my time with the audience with a ledger of our collective grief. And I’m desperately weary of having to find a new way to say, “I know music won’t fix what just went wrong in the world. But it might help you, and I hope it does.”
The morning of one of these recent disasters I offered our playlist as a moment of reflection. And even when we don’t say that directly, it’s something I hope you’ll find on WUOL. Reflection. I build our day’s playlist with music that I hope allows you to see your own feelings and experiences in others, and that this give you a starting line for forward motion after a difficult time.
The composers of 200, 300, and 400 years ago faced grief, heartache, fear, uncertainty, and pain just like we do. They lost jobs, managed pandemics, and had disabilities. Some fought in wars, some lost family and friends to wars, and some even died in wars as soldiers, civilians, or prisoners. Some began their lives enslaved, and many never stopped fighting against the discrimination they faced. They had overbearing parents, and struggled to pay their rent. Marriages ended, friendships fell apart, and they grieved when loved ones died.
But they had joys as well. They held tightly to their families, friends, lovers, and pets. They went on vacations and attended weddings. They took pride in plants inside their houses, and enjoyed a good outdoor garden. They wrote music for each other and sometimes played together.
Every day on WUOL we bring you centuries of music that started with people just like you. Each playlist is a time capsule of the lessons of the past, and a look at what we’re learning now. I hope it makes you think, helps you reflect, and reminds you, as you take on the world, that you are not alone.
Music Director, WUOL