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As Americans are hunkering down to prevent the spread of coronavirus, we're also hearing about lots of the little acts of kindness that will help us all get through this. In another of a series of his Worst Columns Ever, David Brooks predicted last week that the coronavirus would surely murder compassion, because during pandemics, "Dread overwhelms the normal bonds of human affection." Or maybe the coronavirus is more of a Rorschach test for your view of human nature. I'm more inclined to go with Kurt Vonnegut's dictum that "We are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is" — although now that I look it up, I see he attributes that line from Timequake to his son Mark. Kurt raised him right.

And so, here's a story from the Washington Post about two siblings in Columbus, Ohio — Taran and Calliope, aged nine and six respectively — who played their cellos on the porch of their next-door neighbor, Helena Schlam, who's 78 and keeping herself indoors as much as possible these days. The kids' mom, Rebecca Tien, was inspired by all those quarantined Italians singing to each other, so she called Schlam and volunteered her musical family's services.

"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.' "

Ms. Schlam, who lives alone, decided to come out on the porch, while staying a safe distance away. She also used a webcam to share the little concert with her grandchildren in Israel, who are also in self quarantine.

Neighbor kids play music for self-isolating elderly neighbor during coronavirus pandemic youtu.be

Schlam told the kids they'd just performed "their first international concert," and if that isn't nice, I don't know what is. And if you haven't read Robyn's piece on the singing Italians — and especially Puccini's batshit opera Turandot — well there's some assigned reading for you!


The kids played "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," and afterwards, Tien told the Post, Schlam said, "Music is how we're going to get through this."

We're not sure about David Brooks (honestly, we never are), but we're inclined to agree. A bit more Kurt Vonnegut, if you don't mind. When he reflected on why Armistice Day is far far better than Veterans Day, Vonnegut said he could do without celebrations of the fighters, but that he'd keep Armistice Day. "I don't want to throw away any sacred things." What else did he consider sacred? Romeo and Juliet, and "all music."

The Post notes that musicians from all sorts of genres have been doing online concerts, from the "Berlin Philharmonic and those at the Royal Opera of Versailles and Metropolitan Opera" livestreaming from empty concert halls to "Neil Young, John Legend, Coldplay and Yo-Yo Ma" performing live or on social media for fans:

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."


And Boston's Dropkick Murphys, who had to cancel their usual string of St. Patrick's Day concerts, will be livestreaming a concert today instead, on mulitple platforms: YouTube, Twitch, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The livestreamed concert begins at 4 p.m. Eastern.

NPR's Morning Edition — with one cohost, Rachel Martin, broadcasting from a temporary studio in her home — noted that every evening, people in locked down Spanish cities come out of their homes just long enough to applaud the nation's healthcare workers.

Madrid claps for healthcare workers amid coronavirus lockdown youtu.be

Maybe David Brooks is right, and the the compassion and the human connections will break down under this crisis. But we're not convinced. There are plenty of people being awful, but there always are. Short of zombie apocalypse, we're inclined to bet on humanity's better angels. And instead of saying Fuck You, David Brooks — just this once — we'd suggest he listen to the songs of those who are helping.

[WaPo / NYT / NPR]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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