While Mrs Amanda Jones was still on our block’s Whatsapp group and energetically vetoing everything anybody ever suggested, one of the neighbours set up rebel faction in the form of a Whatsapp group for residents with children. (Mrs Amanda Jones has a child but, being the target of the rebellion, she was not included on the group.) The rebellion took the form of a children’s balcony party.
It was simple and delightful. At 4pm one Saturday, everyone with children came to their balconies and waved to each other and called “Hello! Hello!” Someone blew some bubbles. Then someone said “Let’s sing a song!” So they sang “Old MacDonald had a farm” and “If you’re happy and you know it”. Even some residents without children came onto their balconies to join in. It lasted about 15 minutes, then everyone went back inside.
Here’s a short video of everyone singing “If you’re happy and you know it”:
I was itching to organise a collaborative balcony concert, but I was having trouble getting commitments out of the various musician neighbours. I wish more people would read and take some lessons from Yes Man by Daniel Wallace, who decided to spend a year saying yes to every invitation, offer and challenge.
But then the National Youth Orchestra gave me a helping hand by announcing and “Ode-to Joy-athon”: on 17 April at 5pm everyone in the country was invited to go to their balconies, windows or doorsteps and sing or play Ode to Joy.
I bombarded the Whatsapp group with messages in the days, hours and minutes leading up to it, harassing all my neighbours to participate.
I moved the piano onto the balcony and at 5pm turned the volume up to max and started pounding out Ode to Joy into the central garden. I don’t know if anyone was actually singing or playing along, but there were people on their balconies, and I heard some shakers being shaken, and at the end of it there was cheering. Then one of the neighbours, standing in the garden brandishing a printout of the words, called out “One more time!” So we did it all again.
Here’s my cat waiting for Ode to Joy to begin:
Invigorated by the experience, I decided to go ahead and organise another balcony music session, with or without the participation of my apathetic neighbours. I announced that on Monday 27 April at 5pm I would like everyone to join me for a singalong of House of the Rising Sun. I carpet-bombed the Whatsapp group with videos, lyrics, chords and frequent reminders. I messaged people individually to guilt-trip them into participating.
I got non-committal responses from the musician neighbours (or straight-up not even opening my Whatsapp messages – yes, I’m looking at you, Paul the guitarist), which I was a bit disappointed about but which I was also sort of expecting. By then, in any case, I had decided to go ahead, with or without neighbourly participation.
One neighbour was enthusiastic, though, and he’s a professional opera singer, so that was amazing. He came and sat in the middle of the central garden and boomed out the most magnificent operatic rendition of House of the Rising Sun, and what was supposed to be a communal singalong became essentially a concert. Lots of neighbours came to their balconies and applauded rapturously, which just goes to show that people may be apathetic, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t want stuff to happen; they just don’t want to commit to anything that involves effort on their part.
I was going to record a video, but in my excitement I set the camera up with the lens obscured, so all I got was the audio, but I’ve set it to alternative video so you can listen to it below. Jack the opera singer was down in the garden, so his voice is a bit faint, but you can hear him if you listen. Also, can you hear the children frolicking and shouting in the garden? Mrs Amanda Jones would have had an apoplexy if she had known.
Here’s our balcony version of House of the Rising Sun: