Amid the anxiety and uncertainty of the COVID-19 crisis, Bostonians are turning to song to create a sense of community.
Across the city, neighborhood singalongs have been organized by arts organizations or residents hoping to stave off isolation at a time when Massachusetts residents are urged to practice social distancing. Two people have died in Massachusetts from the novel coronavirus, and 525 cases have been diagnosed in the state, officials said.
Inspired by videos of whole neighborhoods singing in Italy, where over 4,000 people have died from the coronavirus, Michelle McCormack thought it would be a perfect way to bring the community together.
“It’s a really terrifying time in history," said McCormack, founder of Secret Boston, a company that organizes concerts, parties and other local cultural gatherings. "The goal is to distract people in a way that’s not about looking at the news or fighting with people over what’s true and what’s not but instead actually doing something cool like coming up with songs to sing together,” she said.
Secret Boston’s social media pages have thousands of followers, and McCormack wanted to use the platform to bring people together in a time of enormous worry. Singing is a perfect way to bring people together, even when they are forced to stay home and isolate from one another, she said.
With the help of two eager participants, Jessie Stettin, 28, and Andrew Johnston, 27, McCormack announced that Secret Boston would hold daily singalongs at 7 p.m. Keeping a safe distance from one another, residents pop their head out from windows or scatter in the street to to join in a nightly singalong.
And sing they did.
On Friday evening, people sang from their windows and sidewalks to belt out “Lean On Me,” the Bill Withers’ classic. Secret Boston posted the video on its Facebook page.
On March 10, their rendition of ‘Sweet Caroline’ drew hundreds outdoors and McCormack said it has only grown since then. A recent post to Facebook got more than 1,000 shares and hundreds of likes.
Stettin and Johnston joined McCormack to help her promote the singalongs through Instagram. They prompt the audience to suggest tunes and then pick the most popular to be the song of the day, which they announce at 5 p.m.
Johnston said his favorite part about the whole experience has been seeing the community response. He said a mother messaged them on Instagram, thanking them for the distraction—her and her young son have been stuck in their house for several days. The son now looks forward to 7 p.m. every day so they can go outside and sing, Johnston said.
“In this time where social connection is being asked not to happen, it’s so good to have the connection of singing with other people, even if it only lasts for a couple minutes,” Stettin said.
McCormack said they plan to continue the singalongs until the social distancing policies are no longer in effect and she said she hopes more and more people will participate.
Videos posted to social media from the South End on Thursday show dozens of people singing “Hey Jude” by the Beatles. Some even took to the streets to dance, while still staying six feet apart per social distancing etiquette.
Other residents have organized nightly sings on their own. In Jamaica Plain, a 6 p.m. singalong has been held every night since last Sunday. The first two nights featured “Yellow Submarine” by the Beatles and “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley.
Eric Schwartz is yet another Bostonian using music to cure the angst brought on by the pandemic that has killed more than 10,000 people around the world.
The Newton native has been in quarantine for the last nine days—he was in close contact with someone who was later diagnosed with COVID-19. Schwartz said he has been staying sane the only way he knows how—by playing music.
For the last three nights, Schwartz has been streaming concerts on Facebook from his home. His set up includes a guitar, a keyboard, and a couple speakers. He said he preforms mostly mostly folk music but he also writes comedic songs with a political edge to them. Friday’s concert featured all of his explicit material but Saturday’s will be the “all ages” version, he said.
Schwartz said he’s found the community response to his music to be quite heartwarming.
“It’s heartening to see how many friends and their friends are sharing it. I’ve been getting so many posts saying ‘Thank you, we didn’t know we needed that. We didn’t know we needed to laugh,’” Schwartz, 51, said in an interview. “It’s such a symbiotic thing because I also need that contact with people otherwise I’d go nuts.”
Some folks have offered to pay Schwartz for his Facebook concerts. But he prefers they donate to several different organizations that are providing assistance to local musicians and artists.
The Boston Music Maker Relief Fund is giving out grants of up to $200 for lost revenue from canceled shows. So far, the organization has raised more than $50,000 and has given out 114 grants. The Boston Artist Relief Fund was established by the city of Boston to give out $500 or $1,000 grants to lower income artists who are being impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We’re in an unprecedented situation and the only thing I can do to help is encourage people to support musicians that they depend on and love,” Schwartz said.
The singer-songwriter said he has also used the concerts to help himself cope with the uncertainty of the pandemic.
“Many performers are most alive when they’re performing which is why many of us have become performers. It utilizes a part of us that doesn’t have another outlet,” he said. “I feel more at home performing than I do in a conversation. . .My highest self comes when I’m writing songs and performing them so it’s important for me to keep in touch with that.”