When the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic began, one story made its rounds through the musical community. A choir in Washington, US, came together to rehearse on March 10. In the following weeks, dozens of members including the conductor, Adam Burdick fell ill to COVID-19 and two members died. It was classified as a “superspreading event”.

There are many unanswered questions about this story. Who was the index case? Was the virus spreading silently through the Scagit Valley community before the fatal rehearsal? These are answers that will only emerge in time. The story of this deadly rehearsal sent shockwaves through the performing arts communities globally and still guide the banning of musical activities today. The toll of the virus is in lives and livelihoods. As the pandemic rolls on, musicians are still finding ways to live with its tangible effects in which death and silence are the new normal.

COVID-19 is far from the first pandemic. In the absence of concerts, we wait for tested empirical evidence. The jury on what exactly is the superspreading factor in musical activities is still out and views are diverse. In the meantime, there’s another avenue we can looked to: history.

The current COVID-19 pandemic is the...