Neither chore nor party

Neither chore nor party

Kitchen Karaoke started as a one-time novelty. It’s now a nightly ritual and a necessity.

BRATTLEBORO — Time. Patience. Consistency.

It's a trio of words that resurfaces for me frequently. Initially, they came to me when I asked one of my Army colleagues his secret for maximizing physical fitness. That was his answer, and I've found it increasingly applicable.

Under quarantine, it's become a mantra.

In late March, isolating with my family, I was struck by how unaffected I seemed to be. I ordinarily work from home, and I keep infrequent, even rare, social engagements. The biggest change was having my children at home with me every day.

But the effect of feeling unaffected was, ironically, not at all comforting. It was unsettling - unnerving, even.

Quarantine shouldn't feel normal. I felt rather that, in the normal course of things - pre-COVID-19 - I probably wasn't giving family and friends their due attention.

Fomenting disillusionment under these conditions, I decided to make the obvious move: On April 24, I started an online karaoke group on a popular social media app, and I invited my friends to participate. I called it “Kitchen Karaoke,” and I broadcast the following invitation:

“Welcome to Kitchen Karaoke - if you wanna join. I'm trying to see if [this online platform] will work for karaoke. Look: it can be instruments, no instruments, electronic support, a cappella - whatever you guys wanna do - but I would love to hear you guys sing. And I'm gonna try to do something right now. It's not a karaoke challenge, so just please enjoy.”

Then, standing in my kitchen - with a headband on, for some reason - I strummed a C chord on my guitar and launched into a regrettably sharp, but hopefully endearing performance of Sam Cooke's “Bring It on Home to Me.”

* * *

Of course, it was anybody's guess as to who might actually participate - though I had high confidence in some. And indeed, that night I was thrilled to have a few courageous takers.

We had a lovely rendition of Roy Orbison's “I Drove All Night” (ukulele), a self-reflective take on “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid (also ukulele), and a freestyle, stream-of-consciousness, a cappella rap.

We capped the evening with my partner and me fumbling through a version of Jimmy Eat World's “The Middle” on my son's glockenspiel.

* * *

I didn't really have a clear vision for Kitchen Karaoke. I had a vague idea that maybe we would all agree to get together on some Friday or Saturday nights and sing some songs for one another. That first night, I went to bed, happy to have seen our friends sing to us and happy to have sung to them.

You can imagine my delight when the following morning a messaging thread popped up suggesting that we designate a karaoke theme for the day and, perhaps, add a few guidelines for posting.

So, on April 25, I flipped a coin to decide whether the theme would be “Bob Dylan Songs” or “The '90s.” It was “The '90s,” and that night we saw samplings from Chumbawamba (“Tubthumping”), the Backstreet Boys (“I Want It that Way”), and 4 Non Blondes (“What's Up?”).

It was a strong showing, even by my incredibly loose standards for karaoke. (I subscribe to the Everyone Should Sing School of karaoke and forcefully reject the American Idol School, which assumes that a karaoke performance should be “good” or otherwise judged.)

Wrapping up for that evening, my partner suggested that I “pass the baton,” and for the first time it occurred to me that we might do Kitchen Karaoke more regularly.

I passed the baton, and so it went.

* * *

Actually, I should say: So it goes.

As I sit writing on Mother's Day, we have shown up for Kitchen Karaoke every single day since April 24. Today is Day 17, with our group having grown to a karaoke-perfect 10 members.

We've sung about friendship. We've sung about space. We've done The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, Guns & Roses, Queen, and '80s ballads. We've shared guilty pleasure sugar pop and one-hit wonders. We've covered Beyonce and Billy Joel, we've dabbled in rap, and we've channeled divas.

I admit that toward the end of the first week I felt a bit of karaoke fatigue. I doubt I was the only one. On that Sunday morning, I was on the verge of putting out a message asking if people wanted to go to a less-frequent model.

But even as I mentally formulated my message, my phone reverberated with Kitchen Karaoke notifications. I looked, and I found enthusiastic, even joyous, forecasts for the evening.

The theme was to be “Musicals” - with costumes and sets, if possible. Rather than burning out, people were doubling down. And I was - suddenly, without reservation - 100 percent back in.

The thing about Kitchen Karaoke, it's turned out, is that it's borderline compulsory. Sure, a few people have opted out in a few cases, but everyone shows up nearly every night. It's something that you do, even if you don't necessarily feel like doing it.

In fact, it's especially important that you show up on those days. And when you do, the karaoke gods reward you with the singular satisfaction of feeling that you've performed for an audience that loves all your subtle, nuanced, and quirky self-expression unconditionally.

Somehow, the term “catharsis” doesn't really capture it.

For me, there was a seismic shift after that initial run-in with fatigue. Kitchen Karaoke is now neither chore nor party for me. It's more of a ritual, having transformed from novelty to nuisance to necessity.

Curious moments aligned to support my transition. As I was spontaneously restocked with karaoke enthusiasm, I noticed a subtitle on the cover of a popular running magazine on my counter: “Streaking Is More Important than Ever.”

Damn right. Time, patience, and consistency.

Inspired by everyone's daily commitment to communing via karaoke, I mull further commitments I could make. I started running every weekday. I resolved to completely clean our kitchen every night so that we can awake to a more serene homescape. I repeat to myself every morning and every night: Time. Patience. Consistency.

I'm not sure how long the Kitchen Karaoke streak will go. I hope it goes through quarantine. Maybe even longer. Yesterday it was “State Names.” Tonight, celebrating mothers and Mother's Day, it's “Love and Tenderness,” with a bonus for flower references.

I wonder who will take the baton next. And I already can't wait for tomorrow's theme reveal.

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