What could be more of the moment than a choral piece that reminds listeners to “avoid being sprayed by the nose and throat secretions of others,” and to avoid crowds, interspersing such advice with the names of those for whom it comes too late?
The advice, and the names of the unfortunate dead from more than 100 years ago, is from "Protect Yourself from Infection,” written by composer David Lang and performed by Philadelphia’s Grammy-winning choir The Crossing. It will be broadcast to a national audience Monday, on public radio’s Performance Today.
Commissioned by the Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia in conjunction with its exhibit on the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic, “Spit Spreads Death,” the piece was played on cell phones by participants in last fall’s “Spit Spreads Death” parade.
The composer describes it as “kind of musical motto,” inspired by a health manual the U.S. government issued during that earlier epidemic. Individual singers from The Crossing sing solo melodies layered on top of the manual’s medical advice, naming individual Philadelphians who died from the epidemic and individual health-care workers who cared for the sick.
The Crossing, meanwhile, has released a short accompanying film by Brett Snodgrass, which features artwork by Crossing tenor Steven Bradshaw and a recording produced by Paul Vasquez. The Crossing’s Donald Nally conducts.
You can listen to “Protect Yourself from Infection” on Performance Today on the WHYY Plus streaming service, where the series airs at 8 p.m. weekdays, or watch the accompanying short film on YouTube, which is linked to from crossingchoir.org.