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Need To Connect With Your Community? Howling Or Singing Is Good, Fireworks And Gunfire, Not So Much

Leigh Paterson
Fireworks go off in a Denver neighborhood during the nightly 8 p.m. howl.

As people around the country shelter in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, they are looking for new ways to connect with their communities.

In New York, they're cheering for healthcare workers. In Colorado, they're howling at the moon at 8 p.m. each night.

'All kinds of emotional release'

In Steamboat Springs, neighborhoods are finding connection in song.

Liz Wahl is one of the organizers of the Routt County Quarantine Sing-a-long. The group orchestrates nightly "get-togethers" featuring a shared song where the voices will carry but the germs won't.

She got the idea after seeing videos of people in Italy stepping onto their balconies to sing.

"I just thought it was so beautiful at a time of such tragedy," Wahl said. "It gave me hope when I saw it."

The lock-down reminds her of a time when, as a child, her family lost their home to a flood. Her parents made everything seem like a fun game to take away the scariness of the situation. Wahl wanted to give area kids something similar.

"They need something to look forward to every day," she said. "This is something we schedule, (where) we go out and see people, even from a distance."

It's also good for the adults.

"It's a reason to get dressed, brush your hair, take a shower," Wahl laughed. "It's a healthy outlet."

They try to make the songs topical, singing "Angel from Montgomery" to honor the passing of John Prine, and "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" on what would have been the Rockies' home opener.

"Sometimes it's very solemn, sometimes it's silly," Wahl said. "It's all kinds of emotional release."

Some participants dress up in crazy costumes for the sing-a-long. Others bring out musical instruments to play at the end of their driveways. Those who don't have neighbors video themselves joining in on the fun and upload it to the group's Facebook page.

'A sense of community'

In Fort Collins, Bradley Maston is taking the music out to the community.

Maston is a pastor at Fort Collins Bible Church. He's also a member of the Northern Colorado Caledonia Pipe Band, which typically performs at events and parades.

Now when he dons his kilt, it's for a parade of one as Maston walks around his neighborhood playing the bagpipes.

"I had decided to take the pipes out because of a post that I saw about a tradition where bagpipes were used in times of war or hardships to commemorate another day passing," he said.

But it also became a way to honor the essential workers.

"I thought the least I could do to give people a sense of community and encouragement and particularly to encourage those who are putting so much at risk, just to (let them) know — from a distance, bagpipes can be heard from a great distance — how thankful we are."

Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC
Bradley Maston walks the streets of his Fort Collins neighborhood playing bagpipes as a way to connect his community and honor front line workers.

During his piping walks, people often come out of their houses to see him — all while maintaining a six-foot distance.

"It's not uncommon for people to come up and ask to take a picture or ask to hold the pipes, in normal circumstances," Maston said. "And yet, everybody has been very kind and gracious … There's been a great respect for social distancing."

'Make good choices'

But not every approach to commiserating during the COVID-19 pandemic is safe. While howling at 8 p.m. is a great way to blow off some steam, shooting off fireworks, which is illegal within Fort Collins and many other city limits, is not, says JC Ward, senior neighborhood planner for the City of Fort Collins' department of Neighborhood Services.

"Shooting your firearms (is) also not permitted within city limits — even if you're shooting it straight into the air," said Ward, noting an increased number of reports of celebratory gunfire. "We want people to make good choices. It's not no-man's land; we still have law and order."

That includes following the stay-at-home order and social distancing recommendations, she said. In Fort Collins, however, police are focusing on education rather than enforcement.

"Just be mindful that this is a really unique time," Ward said. "That it is up to every single one of us to keep the whole community healthy and safe, and it only works if all of us are doing it."

However social distancing does not mean complete isolation, she added. Research shows that those with strong neighborhood connections have stronger civic ties, improved health and report better overall quality of life — making maintaining those connections more important than ever.

"Your neighbor is going to be your first responder," Ward said. "That's the person who is closest to you, who will respond the fastest to whatever the needs are for the neighborhood."

Part of the reason neighborhoods are seeing a swell of events — such as encouraging chalk messages on sidewalks and teddy bears in windows for children to spot on "bear hunt" walks— is out of necessity, Ward says. But part of it is just that as humans, we crave at least some social interaction. For some, the crisis has provided reasons to get to know your community.

"It's easier to approach your neighbor and say, 'I'm going to go to the grocery store, do you want anything?'" she said. "It's much more difficult to walk up to somebody's door and say, 'Hi, I live here. I'd like to be friends with you.'"

That's also helped take care of more vulnerable populations, including elderly neighbors. In the last two weeks, the city's Adopt-A-Neighbor program has seen several hundred new volunteers sign up willing to help out, Ward said. The hope is that this increased spirit of connectivity will continue after the shelter-in-place order is lifted.

"It's great," Ward said. "People are using what they have, and starting where they are, and they're doing what they can."

Stacy was KUNC's arts and culture reporter from 2015 to 2021.
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