It’s a terribly unfriendly irony that, in a time of great fear and uncertainty, when any other circumstances might allow or demand for us to come together, a global coronavirus pandemic has forced us all apart.
Social distancing is incredibly lonely, and though it might be the best way to slow down the spread of COVID-19, that doesn’t make it any easier.
It’s no easier in Barcelona, either, where the typically bulging and crowded streets have been completely deserted, as cases of the virus continue to increase exponentially.
“Every day, we keep hearing that the death toll has increased, and that the virus is spreading faster than ever,” Alex Lebron Torrent, a musician who lives in Barcelona, tells HuffPost Canada. “It’s hard not to think about.”
But in the midst of all this fear and isolation, people across the world are finding creative ways to take each other’s minds off the virus. They’re using music to make everyone feel a little less lonely — and it seems a Canadian song has emerged as the anthem to relieve the world’s anxieties.
Torrent was at his apartment with his two roommates — just a stone’s throw away from the now-abandoned Sagrada Familia cathedral — when he began to hear the sound of a piano drifting into their home from somewhere outside.
He noticed people across the street meandering out onto their balconies, and when he did the same, he realized there was a man out on his balcony, in the building next door, playing a piano rendition of Céline Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.”
“My first instinct was to get my saxophone and join him, because it was such a beautiful moment,” Torrent says. He’d never played the song on the saxophone before, but he improvised an accompaniment to the song. “The pianist and I don’t even know each other. I didn’t know there was another musician living down the street. It was just instinct.”
There’s a touching moment in the video when Alberto Gestoso, the pianist, lifts a hand to acknowledge his duet partner when he jumps in on the saxophone. People from windows and doorways erupt into applause.
“There’s just something about that song. It’s from ‘Titanic,’ a movie we’ve all seen and have connections to, and with everything that’s going on, the song is kind of a farfetched analogy about a sinking ship,” Torrent says.
About a sinking ship, yes — but also about love in a time of crisis.
Growing up, Torrent watched the film nine times, and remembers how he felt listening to that song. “It was one of the first singles I ever went and bought as a kid, so the song means a lot to me,” he says. “I haven’t heard it in its entirety for I don’t even know how many years. So it was even more magical this time, maybe, than the first time that I heard it.”
The video, published by Gestoso’s partner, Roman Santana, has been viewed more than two million times. (It’s also captioned “Music against the virus.”) Torrent’s has been viewed more than 160,000 times. Torrent says the balcony performances will continue.
And Barcelona isn’t the only city using Céline Dion as a way to get through their loneliness. In San Francisco’s Bay Area, where some seven million have been advised to stay inside, a man carried an accordion out onto the deserted streets to serenade neighbours with the very same song.
She might have had to cancel a number of tour dates after falling ill (but, thankfully, tested negative for COVID-19) but it seems Dion’s song is becoming the de facto quarantine anthem.
Elsewhere, musicians are doing their best to bring people comfort. There’s a viral video of quarantined Italians singing to each other from their balconies. (There’s one of Trevor Noah hilariously imitating it.) Indie artists are live-streaming from their homes. And several musicians — John Legend, Keith Urban, Coldplay — are hosting virtual concerts on social media.
Watch: Celebrities are holding live-stream concerts for those stuck at home. Story continues below.
In her landmark book, A Paradise Built in Hell, the essayist and social critic Rebecca Solnit investigates the ways in which communities respond to disasters — how the worst circumstances bring out the best in us, and how they dredge up a sense of common purpose. Looking in-depth at five disasters across history, she builds a theory of “disaster collectivism,” and finds that the “image of the selfish, panicky or regressively savage human being in times of disaster has little truth to it.”
In fact, she argues, “in the wake of an earthquake, a bombing or a major storm, most people are altruistic, urgently engaged in caring for themselves and those around them, strangers and neighbours as well as friends and loved ones.”
In short: we come together in crisis, even when we can’t come together physically. (Stay home! Wash your hands!) Across Canada, people are stepping up to offer a helping hand to their neighbours. They’re doing food deliveries for the elderly, hosting zoom parties for anyone who feels lonely, and starting Facebook groups to see if anyone needs anything.
Music, it seems, is just one more way people are trying to take care of one another.
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