The concert hall near my home is closed.
The stage is empty… the doors are locked… and on the marquee – instead of announcements of upcoming shows, there is a simple message: “We Are All In This Together.”
And so we are.
Here in DC, as in many parts of the country, the joy of sharing music, theatre and comedy in large crowds has gone away for now — another victim (albeit, a temporary one) of the coronavirus pandemic.
The arts have been called food for the soul. And it seems ironic that at this time when we need them more than ever to lift our spirits, the lights at our centers of culture — from the intimate bars and coffee houses where neighborhood bands play to the vast halls of the Kennedy Center and the Metropolitan Opera — have gone dark.
Or have they.
America’s most creative minds have gotten, well, creative. Just go to YouTube… Instagram… or other social media. From makeshift studios in their kitchens, basements and porches, they are bringing the arts to us.
Actors are reading stories to children… a late-night TV comedian is hosting his nightly talk show from his kids’ playroom with his giggly daughters by his side and his wife wielding the video camera… and musicians are posting videos singing of better days.
Some songs have taken on new meaning. Perhaps none more so than “Lean On Me.”
It’s a tune on the mind of many of us these days and in a way, it is a fitting anthem for this time of crisis.
We lost the man behind the song last week. Bill Withers died, not of coronavirus, but a heart ailment. He wrote songs about family, about friendship, and the bliss of waking up next to someone you love.
Simple, eloquent songs. Songs with a message that echoes today.
“Sometimes in our lives, we all have pain
We all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there is always tomorrow.”
The words to “Lean On Me” swirl through my head as I try to make sense of all that is happening today. The music calms me… the chorus brings a knowing smile.
“Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
’Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on.”
We can’t physically lean on each other — except for those who share our homes — in this era of social distancing. But we can show our connection in so many other ways.
In Italy, at the height of their COVID-19 crisis, opera singers emerged onto their balconies in Florence to serenade their beloved city.
In France, a national orchestra somehow found a way to bring its musicians together online for a virtual concert.
And on YouTube, the original cast of the smash Broadway musical “Hamilton” performed to fulfill the birthday wish of a 9-year-old girl — each player connected to the others on screen via a video conference app. That very special birthday gift has gone — you will excuse the pun — viral.
This is how we connect these days.
“You just call on me brother, when you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on.”
Across New York City, the sound of hands clapping — normally heard in the theaters of Broadway — now fills the air of whole neighborhoods as people come to their windows and doorways to cheer on hospital workers at the time when the night shift replaces the day.
Theatre critic Peter Marks heard the cacophony one evening as he dashed out of his apartment in lower Manhattan to buy groceries. “The moment blew through me like a warm wind,” he wrote in an essay for the Washington Post. He said the noise “is an impromptu curtain call… from a vast audience rooting for everyday heroes. It’s New Yorkers joining in a chorus, singing out in solidarity: “We are here.”
It has become a nightly ritual — citizens who have been told not to leave their homes uniting to honor those who are putting their lives on the line.
The entertainment industry is showing its respect too.
Plans are underway for a massive concert on April 18th featuring the likes of Lady Gaga, Paul McCartney, Andrea Bocelli, and Elton John— each creating music in a separate setting and all joining forces in a common cause: to celebrate the work of all these doctors and nurses, medical technicians and emergency responders.
The organizers (Global Citizen and the World Health Organization) are calling the four-hour special “One World: Together At Home.” It will simulcast in the United States on all the major television and radio networks, and will be available live on just about every global streaming platform.
Listen to the music… find some joy in the sounds… and cheer on those on the medical frontlines.
They are the embodiment of the words of the late, great Bill Withers:
“…lean on me.”