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Two musicians take to the balcony in Verona during the now daily 6:00 pm show of support and applause for Italy.

A Triumph of Spirit

While much of the world is in crisis mode and the financial markets are in turmoil, Italians are singing from their balconies, inspiring hope across the world. It is a perfect example of why so many people through centuries have fallen in love with Italy.

It began in Milan, when the local band Fanfaroma launched a balcony “flashmob,” encouraging Italians to take to their balconies at 6:00 pm to play instruments and sing to cheer the city up amidst the coronavirus emergency. More than 23,000 people signed up on the band’s Facebook page to participate. The Fiesole Music School also joined the initiative and invited participants to make videos and share them on social media. The idea then spread to other cities, first Naples, then Rome and then throughout the county with many thousands of Italians, from little children to grandparents participating.

Italy as a country and Italians as a people have inspired the world by singing and creating music together. Despite not being allowed to leave their homes for social gatherings their spirts have sent others soaring. Videos have spread from Italy across world, prompting similar displays in other countries.

The unprecedented nature and threat of the coronavirus outbreak has led to social distancing and self-imposed quarantines in many countries in order to slow the rate of infection. But such radical changes to everyday life are difficult to say the least. By reaching out to one another with song and music, Italians are seeking out and making a vital human connection. The duress also seemed to stir patriotism in a country that has an imbedded spirit of nationalism. The Italian media has reported a spike in sales of the Italian flag.

One widely shared video shows neighbors singing a patriotic folk song in the Tuscan city of Siena, while in Naples, a video shows people singing a song called “Abbracciame,” which translates to ‘hug me,’ while a woman smiles and dances on her balcony. In Sicily, neighbors are seen on their balconies, singing together, accompanied by a man playing the accordion. Said one local, “Sicily has figured out this whole self-isolation thing.”

In much of Italy, it started with the playing of the national anthem. Like many anthems, it is a martial call to arms and sacrifice, among the stirring words of the anthem are, “Noi fummo da secoli calpesti, derisi, perché non siam popolo, perché siam divisi. Raccolgaci un’unica bandiera, una speme: di fonderci insieme già l’ora suonò” (We were for centuries downtrodden, derided, because we are not one people, because we are divided. Let one flag, one hope gather us all. The hour has struck for us to unite).

Then came the piano chords, trumpet blasts, violin serenades and even the clanging of pots and pans, all of it spilling from people’s homes, out of windows and from balconies, rippling across the rooftops.

Italy has closed all of its schools, bars and restaurants and restricted movement for anything other than work, health or the procurement of essentials. But the cacophony erupting over the streets, from people stuck in their homes, reflects the spirit, resilience and humor of a nation facing its worst national emergency since the Second World War. Even though this is a virus that tries people’s souls, it has also shown the strength of the Italian people, demonstrated through gestures of gratitude to doctors, nurses and other medical professionals, as well as through music that is ringing out above the country’s vacated streets. The salute to the medical community was called Un applause per l’Italia – an applause for Italy. Social media feeds have been flooded with encouraging, sentimental and humorous web videos. One was of a man who showed off his new invention, a vest featuring a horizontal cardboard disc that maintained a one-meter distance from anyone around him. He just smiled and said, “I’m just going to work!”

On Friday evening, at the exact hour that health officials normally update the daily numbers of the country’s increasing infected and deceased, Italians from the Sicily to the Alps sang the national anthem and played instruments. Said one resident of Rome, “It’s not like we’re maestros, but it’s a moment of joy in this moment of anxiety.”

But while Italians sought to lift the national mood, there was no doubt it was still a heavy one. Images of nurses having collapsed from exhaustion or their faces bruised from tightly sealed masks have also spread across the web in recent days. Said one resident of Milan, “We’re Italians and being vocal is part of our culture, to feel a community and to participate of the collective grief.”

With that, he went back to clapping along with the music that echoed through the streets. Milan, Verona, Rome, Naples, Palermo and dozens more. Although at street level they may look like cities virtually deserted, each comes alive at 6:00 pm every evening to remind everyone of what true Italian spirit means – a triumph of spirit. Dio benedica l’Italia – God bless Italy!