It’s 6:15 p.m. on Tuesday evening in Oakland and neighbors are gathering for a quickly-arranged concert on their street. People sit and stand on their porches, steps, and sidewalks. An older couple enjoys the concert from their car. Some people wear masks, but all are meticulous about keeping their distance from people who do not live with them. Five musicians who live on the street, including a middle schooler, are setting up their stands and tuning their instruments, which include a bassoon, a cajón, a viola, and a violin. It’s hard to imagine how they will be able to play as they are standing so far from each other.
The crows that sometimes settle on the enormous Acacia tree at the top of the street have left and have been replaced by a few songbirds sitting on the overhead cables. At 6:30 p.m., the musicians replace the birdsong. Two of the musicians are professionals and three are amateurs; they have never before played together and didn’t have time to practice. They play Beatles songs (Hey, Jude, All You Need Is Love) and are applauded loudly at the end of each song by the 50-plus neighbors who have come out of their houses to listen.
What prompted the neighborhood musicians to put on this concert? “I think everyone was hungering for a connection. We’ve all seen around the world people singing and it seemed like a logical thing to do,” said John Santos, a Grammy nominated Latin jazz percussionist.
The organizers of this street concert were inspired by the images on TV of neighborhoods in Spain and Italy, where COVID-19 has infected and killed thousands of people. There, people stood on their balconies and sang popular sings together and listened to musicians playing from their balconies. Also, in the UK, people throughout the country have been coming outside their homes to clap and cheer in support of the National Health Service (NHS) and the brave and dedicated medical workers who are taking care of very sick people.
Santos had been taking out garbage and got chatting with neighbors from a distance, including another musician who was weeding in her front yard. “People were lonely and missing people. We all need a safe reason to get out of our homes. We wanted to give something for people to look forward to,” said another musician, who wished to remain anonymous.
The musicians enjoyed the opportunity to get together and play, even though they didn’t have time to practice. And, based on the enthusiastic applause after every song and post-concert comments and emails, the neighbors enjoyed and appreciated it, too. “The music was very nice. And it was nice being together at this very difficult time,” said young mother Rocío Pinto Sanchez, who listened to the concert on her porch, standing next to her family and little dog.
Later, I was talking with a few neighbors and we got chatting about what future events might focus on. Here are some of their ideas: a talent show, karaoke, drumming, a magic show, juggling, and a salsa class and dancing…all while keeping at a safe distance from each other.