Songs I Learned In Stay-At-Home

The tweet leaped out from my feed as I scrolled through in the darkness.

When I cannot sleep, I’m often awake at the same time that Portugal is waking, legitimately, on the other side of the Atlantic. On my account, @julietbravofox, I follow more than 3,000 others–but one of my favorites when it comes to staying in touch with what’s happening in Portugal is that of the British ambassador to the country, Chris Sainty. Perhaps he seems an unlikely choice, but we met him during the precursor to Brexit a couple of years ago, at one of the town hall meetings his office held for Brits (such as my husband) who had made their homes in the country. His enthusiasm for Portugal and maintaining the very best relationships shone through, and we appreciated the counsel that he and his office gave during that time.

So what tweet jumped out at me? Well, Portugal had instituted stay-at-home orders weeks before the U.S. did–and Sainty decided he would do as many musicians have done during the lockdown, and he shared his talents at the piano in short concerts, which he tweeted out in a self-depreciating way. Truly British! But he has real affection for the instrument, and along the following weeks we’ve enjoyed these segments–and they serve as perfect little reminders of both Portugal and the joy that music can bring.

Since we began our own stay-at-home orders in Maryland in late March, we’ve also taken more music into Vivenda Vista de Paz in order to brighten our spirits and engage with friends and family far away.

The first of these? A lively Facebook group begun by my aviation friend Rachel Tanzer, living in Paris, who instigated with her sister the 5-Minute Dance Party. The concept had its genesis in the work she did organizing before the Coachella music festival years ago, with the self-admonition to take a break from the intensity of that effort and blow off steam with dancing in her office to a wide selection of upbeat music. Thinking this would be a good antidote to the umpteenth Zoom call, she formed the group on Facebook in March–and the now 1000-strong of us contribute links to YouTube clips of our favorite dance music. It’s been a great trip to both revisit old favorites (“Superfreak,” for example, and a lot of Prince) plus learn new ones (and legends like Sister Rosetta Tharpe).

Next, I linked up online with my brother, Luke, a musician living out in Bozeman, Montana. He’d mentioned on a family chat that he’d been giving guitar lessons as a way to help replace the loss of gigs that had shattered his calendar with his band Pinky and the Floyd. I thought of my own frustrations to get anywhere with my own guitar playing–and we worked out a weekly lesson over FaceTime. For the price I’d pay to take us out for a beer or two each week, we get to share songs (such as “Hotel California,” “Look At Miss Ohio,” and “Dust in the Wind”) and he tries to teach me bar chords. But the best part? Getting to know my bro a little better–he’s 8 years my junior and my dad and his mom married just as I left for college, so we didn’t have the quality time together that I have had with our sister and brother. That has been priceless–and we’re looking forward to a real visit hopefully this fall.

And one more? Inspired by my newly found chord knowledge–and Sainty’s sessions–I’ve returned to the piano after 5 years away from it. While we lived in Portugal, my beautiful amber-burnished baby grand stayed in Colorado, well stored but lonely. I swear it’s the same color as the vizslas–and I did not plan that at all. I’d had the prescience to have it set up before the orders began–and though it takes up half our living room, I am approaching it with a newfound looseness, picking out songs by ear and by chords.

I’m not ready to tweet out those songs yet, either by piano or guitar–nor am I likely to dance in public anytime soon–but the songs I’ve learned in the spring of stay-at-home will dance in my heart and bring me joy.