Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast…
So wrote William Congreve in his poem, The Mourning Bride, in 1697.
More than three centuries later, in my own lifetime, there has been practically nothing so savage in choking the life from the breasts of innocent children than the scourge of polio. During the mid-part of the twentieth century, polio paralyzed or killed over half a million people a year worldwide.
Everyone who grew up in the years of my childhood came to dread the very word. Who among us does not remember the iron lung—a lifesaving device for so many of the afflicted, but a terrifying monster in our minds—lurking in wait, a spectre that haunted our dreams.
Those of us who managed to remain healthy all knew of someone who was not so fortunate. Richard Rhodes, an American historian and journalist, wrote of polio in his autobiography, A Hole in the World:
Polio was a plague. One day you had a headache and an hour later you were paralyzed. How far the virus crept up your spine determined whether you could walk afterward or even breathe. Parents waited fearfully every summer to see if it would strike. One case turned up and then another. The count began to climb. The city closed the swimming pools and we all stayed home, cooped indoors, shunning other children. Summer seemed like winter then.
Today—thanks largely to the development of effective vaccines, and mass immunization programmes—the disease has been almost eradicated.
In 1988, there were an estimated 350,000 reported cases of polio worldwide; by 2016, that number was 37, a remarkable decrease of 99%. And yet, it lives.
The global effort to combat the disease has been tremendously effective, but as long as even one child remains infected, children everywhere are at risk. A failure to completely eradicate the disease could spark a resurgence all over the world.
And so, to the power of music to combat all that is savage. A men’s chorus of which I am a proud member, Harbourtown Sound, recently partnered with Rotary International in support of their Polio Plus campaign, hailed as “one of the finest humanitarian projects the world has ever known”. Rotary fundraising has enabled the inoculation of more than 2.5 billion children, at a cost of $1.3 billion.
Twenty-one local Rotary Clubs recently joined with our chorus in a special Christmas concert to add to this global initiative. Thanks to those committed Rotarians, to philanthropic sponsors working with them, and to the organizational efforts of one of our singers, a Rotarian, more than $130,000 was raised in one afternoon.
For us on stage, it was a labour of love, singing glorious songs of the season—melodies as familiar to us today as the fear of the polio scourge was in days gone by. For those in the audience, it was more than just a concert; it was an opportunity through their generosity to assist in the eradication of polio forever.
The Rotary International outreach is described at this website—
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