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COVID-19 Diaries: Singing Through South Africa’s Lockdown 

Singing Through South Africa’s Lockdown
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Singing Through South Africa’s Lockdown

Like tens of millions of South Africans I’m stuck at home through the nation's lockdown, an attempt to stanch the spread of coronavirus.

My street has never been so quiet. South Africa’s 21-day lockdown — one of the strictest in the world, with even dog-walking banned — has transformed my normally lively Johannesburg neighborhood. I’m used to seeing my neighbors walking their dogs and children down the street. Now we all communicate via WhatsApp.

I decided to change that. In Italy, quarantined neighbors have lifted one another's’ spirits by singing from their balconies.

So I thought, why not do that here? For a few months, I’ve been learning to play the piano. It helps me de-stress and lets me pretend I’m a rock star, if only for a moment. Right now, because of the lockdown, I do virtual weekly lessons, over Skype, with my wonderful teacher, Emmanuel Egbebu.

But the star of my life right now is Dolly, my white piano. Since we rented her in December, Dolly has given me hours and hours and hours of joy — and no small amount of frustration as I struggle with dexterity drills and the painful ordeal that is sight-reading music.

But mostly, we have fun. And I figured, in these difficult times, why not share some of that joy with my street?

So on March 27, the first full day of South Africa’s lockdown, we decided to serenade our neighbors. The whole family got into the act — me on Dolly, my husband on his electric guitar, our 4-year-old daughter providing some interpretive dance accompaniment.

I have to admit I was a little cowed by my husband’s flawless rendition of several rock classics. Our neighbor chimed in appreciatively on WhatsApp, and opened her garage door to listen and clap. Another neighbor a few houses down complained: “He needs to turn up the amp.”

My old girl Dolly — yes, she’s named after one Miss Parton — doesn’t have such bells and whistles. And so, with trepidation and a shouted apology to my neighbors in earshot, I launched into the one song I’ve practiced the most, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

I’d love to tell you that it was a virtuoso performance and that I didn’t trip up, as I usually do, on that rapid chord transition between B-flat and B-flat minor to C to G to E-minor and then finally, my head spinning, to land comfortably on F. I’d love to say I sang along in a way that would make Judy Garland proud, but none of that happened. I slogged through the song, grateful for the lack of amplification, and felt both exhilarated and terrified at the end.

Because hey, I’m a long way from being Sir Elton John, (although that hasn’t stopped me from wearing my zaniest glasses to play, because I tell myself Dolly appreciates a little drama). But even Sir Elton started somewhere. And the joy of music is sharing it, something that these long hours indoors are giving me the chance to do — especially with my brilliant daughter, who so far, can almost reliably find Middle C on the keyboard.

And I believe that music will get us through our isolation, which I know from speaking to neighbors, and to friends across the globe, is taking its toll. If they could all hear me — and I’m glad they can’t — I’d tell them, things will get better, the skies will be blue again, and all your dreams will come true ... somewhere, over the rainbow.