She called her next-door neighbor, Helena Schlam. The 78-year-old lived alone. She was self-quarantining amid the coronavirus pandemic and had not left her home in five days. “I said, ‘Would you like the kids to come play [a concert] on your porch?’ ” Tien recalled in an interview with The Washington Post. “ ‘You can listen through your living-room window.’ ”
Schlam came out on the porch instead.
On Monday afternoon, Tien’s children, 9-year-old Taran and 6-year-old Calliope, became the latest musicians to bring a little joy to those who might be needing some in this troubled time.
They set up their music stands on the far end of the porch, playing songs from Suzuki Book One for cello in unison. The pair bowed after each song, Taran in a suit and Calliope in a pink party dress, as Schlam applauded from the other end of the porch, at least a safe six feet away. She looped in her grandchildren in Israel, who were self-quarantining, too, and told Taran and Calliope they just gave “their first international concert," Schlam said.
Later, Tien said, Schlam told her: “Music is how we’re going to get through this.”
That much has proved true for everyone from professional musicians to casual listeners — even as the coronavirus pandemic is changing the way we consume music.
In Italy over the weekend, tenor Maurizio Marchini roared Giacomo Puccini’s “Nessun dorma” from his balcony to his quarantined town. Countless others have taken to their rooftops and windows to belt out the Italian national anthem at 6 p.m. every evening.
Elsewhere, dozens of performers and thousands of fans have turned to the live stream — the pandemic’s living-room-friendly alternative to packed, sweaty venues.
Orchestras such as the Berlin Philharmonic and those at the Royal Opera of Versailles and Metropolitan Opera have delivered masterful performances to eerily empty concert halls, as audiences watched online. Artists including Neil Young, John Legend, Coldplay and Yo-Yo Ma have turned to the live stream or social media videos to offer consolation and entertainment.
Cellist Yo-Yo Ma — whose die-hard fans include Taran and Calliope — called his social media performances the “#SongsOfComfort” series.
“In these days of anxiety, I wanted to find a way to continue to share some of the music that gives me comfort,” he wrote Friday on Twitter, posting his first performance of Dvořák’s “Going Home." He dedicated his second performance to “the healthcare workers on the frontlines.”
For others under the drearier government-imposed quarantine, writing music has been the only escape.
Michelle Heckert, who is quarantined at Travis Air Force Base in Solano County, Calif., took her ukulele aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship last month thinking it would fit in nicely in Hawaii, where she was headed with her grandparents.
It ended up helping her keep her sanity.
She and the thousands of others aboard were ordered to quarantine in their rooms due to fears of the coronavirus spreading throughout the ship as they approached the California coastline. “I called my parents and was kind of freaking out. I was crying to them about not knowing what to do, how I’m going to get through this,” she said in an interview Monday night. “And by the next day I had figured out a way to channel that into something more positive.”
She pulled out the tiny instrument, writing songs about cabin fever to sunny ukulele melodies that seemed to belie the anxiety of the situation. From her balcony, she recorded the songs on her phone, with a natural fuzz from the rolling ocean waves in the background, and posted the clips to Twitter.
“Stuck in our rooms / may think we’re doomed,” she sang in one, “but we’re all fine."
In another, on the day the passengers were allowed to disembark and go to military bases, she sang: “If I want to keep the world safe / I gotta keep myself away."
Heckert, who recently got her master’s in songwriting, said at first she was just “trying to lighten my own spirits.” She had no idea her music would attract such attention.
“Music is one of those things we turn to in times of crisis and times of uncertainty,” she said, “and so it’s been really cool to see that manifest across the globe.”