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Lisa McCormick leads an impromptu, socially distant ukulele concert on the Brattleboro Town Common.

Voices / Essay

‘A tangible strand of joy connecting each of us’

An impromptu, socially distant ukulele concert on the Town Common brings people together, however briefly

Lisa McCormick works as a musician and music instructor. “As far as this being a one-off event, or something that might be repeated, that’s a tough call,” she writes. This event took place as escalating concerns about the COVID-19 virus spreading have heightened numerous expert recommendations to isolate to the greatest extent possible. As an alternative, “I’m cooking up all sorts of ideas for Zoom!” she writes.

Brattleboro

Saturday afternoon, I checked the weather forecast for the coming few days. Sunday was predicted to be bright and sunny, if chilly. But after that, it would be day after day of clouds and rain and cold.

And staying home.

Suddenly, an idea shot through my head. “There is something I must do.”

Before I even had time to think it through, I found myself designing a ukulele and singing gathering on the Brattleboro Common for the next day.

My plan: I’d be amplified, so people would be able to hear me. I’d send the songs out in advance. People would come to the Common with their music and their ukulele, and stay as far away from one another as they like — yet at the same time, they’d be together and engage in something that gives us tremendous joy.

I posted it to Facebook, and got many “no, thanks” responses. Many had made the commitment to stay at home during this time.

As I packed my gear into my car, I wondered if the whole thing was a dumb idea and if I should just cancel.

But something kept me marching forward. This must happen.

* * *

As I pulled up to the Gazebo, I noticed one woman sitting on a park bench, all bundled up in her winter woollies, with her ukulele. It was 34 degrees out.

And then along came another, and another, each claiming a whole bench. Other folks sat on the ground or brought their own chairs.

As audiences and jamming musicians go, they were miles apart, but the smiles and the eye contact were a tangible strand of joy connecting each of us, in real time, in a real place.

I fired up my speaker, and we began to play and sing. A handful of dog walkers and passersby were drawn in by the music, and they came closer to sing along and dance. Everyone at a safe distance, everyone sharing joy.

It was all so blessedly real.

We played for close to an hour. Then we all packed up our stuff, shouted well-wishes, waved goodbye, and dispersed — with songs still running through our heads and smiles on our faces.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #554 (Wednesday, March 25, 2020). This story appeared on page B1.

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