Arts and CultureCOVIDNationalSelf CareSF Bay Area

New Facebook Sing-a-Long Group Brings Smiles to Neighbors & Essential Workers

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Ilana Minkoff helped start the Quarantine Sing-a-Long Facebook group

Guest Post by Shannon E. Bolt

These days, we might think of “essential workers” as the ones who are allowed to imitate normal life beyond their  front doors, even though it comes at great risk to their own health. For San Francisco realtor Ilana Minkoff, walking her dog in Cole Valley was the way she got to imitate normal life during this crisis, and seeing all the UCSF essential workers at their 7pm shift change gave her an inspired idea.

Minkoff and her neighbors could express their gratitude and joy to all of the essential workers by applauding and serenading them nightly from their porches. That way folks from different households could all sing together while keeping six feet of social distance between them.

A devoted music lover, Minkoff developed the concept from news reports and viral videos of Italians under quarantine joining each other in song from their open windows and balconies. “I live down the street from UCSF and see all the medical personnel walking up and down the hill in their scrubs as their shifts change. I am so grateful to them for all they do and it’s a little way I can say thanks every day,” Minkoff says.

She contacted a few friends, recorded their harmonious happening as she walked her pup, and posted the video to a Cole Valley neighborhood Facebook group. Folks who weren’t involved in the inaugural chorus expressed regret that they hadn’t been a part of it and requested an encore.

Soon the casual musical performance became the recurring nightly focus of its own Facebook group. With the help of a little news coverage here and a little more there, the membership of the group exploded to more than 58,000 in about three weeks. People from around and outside of San Francisco started sharing their song videos. The group now boasts a wide collection of short films capturing the silly, the heartwrenching, the joyful, and the very real snapshots of life as we currently know it. Pitch perfect is not required, though positivity towards one another is sacred.

Ara Picou is a member of the Quarantine Sing-a-Long Facebook group

“There’s an entire community here, a family, that has made me step out of my comfort zone and has helped me gain confidence,” Ara Picou, in Oakland, says. “It’s also nice to know that there’s constant gratitude given to the health and medical community for all their hard work. It genuinely makes me feel happy that in this time of need, they’re also able to gain happiness from this group.”

Happiness is a recurring theme in the group. Shellie Kramer Glass of Yucaipa, CA, says that she was suffering severe depression when her friend invited her to join. Since that day, she says, “My depression is about 90% less of what it was. It gives me somewhere to go to get a smile and a laugh, and I can help others get a smile too.” She doles out extra smiles by performing duets with her dozens of puppets. While she’s been puppeteering for about 5 years, her daily involvement has led her to use her puppets more in the last 4 weeks than in the previous 2 years, and she is now a part of reading and singing websites for kids as a result.

Shellie Kramer Glass sings along with her puppets.

It’s not just puppets who are inspired to make their voices heard. “The potency of this group became apparent to me when a friend shared that this group prompted her to sing out loud to other people for the first time in years since her vocal cord surgery,” says Julianne Douglas of Eugene, Oregon, noting that her friend’s new audience is one made up of thousands of people from around the world.

Even as the genres change for the member-selected song of the day, the the group strikes a chord of optimism. Each post includes an expression of gratitude and/or applause for all the helping heroes out there allowing the singers to croon safely from home. In response, many essential workers have extended their thanks for the respite that the songs bring at the end of long, stressful days. Ultimately, the shared music uplifts the participants as much as both the virtual and the sidewalk audiences — tapping into our genetic imperative to build social bonds through the power of song.

After several songs were muted for copyright reasons, the song polls and final selections are now screened by Facebook staff before performances begin. The notoriously hard to reach corporate headquarters has taken notice of the group’s rapid growth and has extended extra support for it. The Quarantine Sing-a-Long also support’s Facebook’s #ThanksHealthHeroes participation in the World Health Organization’s hashtag campaign begun for World Health Day on April 7.

If you want to join the window choir, the daily jam session starts at 6:59pm after the song is announced in the late afternoon. No audition necessary. You can join right here.

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