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Photo: Simon Simard for the New York Times
Outdoor choir practice. “The choir at the First Parish Church of Stow and Acton,” wrote the New York Times last week, “was able to meet for the first time since the pandemic began.”

Although coronavirus on surfaces still seems to be an issue (read about a lab study in Australia that says it can cling to phones and banknotes for 28 days), my current focus is on droplets suspended in the air. More ventilation, fewer ventilators!

So I’ve been following stories about people who have found ways to do things outside that would be too dangerous inside right now.

Bob Morris writes at the New York Times about singers feeling more like they are part of a real choir when they rehearse from their cars. (More or less how I hope to be with friends in winter.)

“I love singing four-part harmony,” Morris says. “It isn’t just about the precision, the ringing sound when voices blend together. It’s also about community, listening to one another and breathing together, creating a mood-lifter and balm in a fraught world.

“But like theater and hand shaking, choral singing has been canceled for now — and for good reason. Singing is the AK-47 of expression in the coronavirus era, shooting out so many aerosols that a church choir in Washington made the news in March when almost everyone present contracted the virus after a rehearsal; 53 singers became ill, and two died.

“When my men’s a cappella chorus on Long Island turned to Zoom rehearsals in the spring, I didn’t last long. The lag time over Zoom didn’t allow for live harmonizing or even the simplest singing in unison. ‘Performing’ meant recording ourselves alone at home so our conductor could edit us together.

“It felt like homework for hobbyists, without the emotional payoff. So when I first heard about choirs singing live in cars, it struck, well, a chord.

“It started with David Newman, a baritone on the voice faculty of James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. In May, after a widely discussed web conference on the dangers of singing, Mr. Newman set up a sound system with four wireless microphones, an old-school analog mixer and an amplifier. Several singers gathered in their cars on his street, and he conducted them from his driveway.

“It worked. Out of respect for the neighbors, Mr. Newman started using an FM transmitter, so the blended sound came through over car radios — as it does for drive-in movies — not over a loudspeaker. He found barely any audio delay. ‘The latency was near zero, which was really exciting,” he told the Chorus Connection. ...

“Word of Mr. Newman’s drive-in chorus gradually spread as he posted instructions to help other groups. Bryce and Kathryn Denney, in Marlborough, Mass., were inspired … and were soon showing up with a car full of equipment for dispirited local choirs to facilitate live singing for up to 30 participants.

“On a recent Sunday, I was one of them. … The steeple of the First Parish Church of Stow and Acton, towered over the verdant town of Stow, Mass., west of Boston. …

“ ‘This is one concert that can’t be canceled,’ Bryce. …

“Kathryn, who directs musical theater productions, added, ‘We figured out how to bring people together to sing without making them sick,’ as she checked a spreadsheet of arriving participants and, wearing black latex gloves, [then gave participants] color-coded … sanitized microphones. …

“[The choir’s boyish conductor, Mike Pfitzer] had us sing scales and arpeggios. Hearing others not just over my radio but also outside made my voice shaky with emotion, especially when we sang the chords I’d been missing for so long: sunny major ones, darker minor ones and a trickier major seventh, as well. …

“I struggled with ‘Bonse Aba,’ the cheerful Zambian call and response song. … A rough translation of the song — a hymn — suggests it means that all children who want to sing should be able to sing. And so I did in close, bright harmony; we all did, with bells from the steeple ringing 5 o’clock just as we were finishing with another hymn, ‘May I Be Still.’ …

“ ‘It wasn’t just wonderful,’ said Ruth Lull, a soprano. ‘It was like coming home.’ ”

More here.

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A year or so ago the Unitarian Universalist Association sold their historic but drafty headquarters on Beacon Street near the Massachusetts State House and started fixing up a former warehouse in the Fort Point area, also referred to as the Innovation District.

Whether in the long run this will prove to have been a wise move remains to be seen. But having decided to take a peek at the new place recently, I feel I am qualified to opine that the new headquarters is better insulated.

The building at 24 Farnsworth Street, which in addition to the UUA headquarters, houses the Beacon Press and a UU bookstore, was extremely quiet when I went on a weekday afternoon — like a library of yore. There was a receptionist in the reception area, two people working quietly at computers in the bookstore, and low voices from two meeting rooms in the back. I took a few pictures. I really liked the high ceilings and the tall warehouse pillars and windows.

I am crazy about the Fort Point area, but I am also concerned that the plethora of brand new office buildings is not helping the area’s vulnerability to a future Hurricane Sandy. It’s next to Boston Harbor and extremely exposed. Some builders are actually incorporating flood walls.

The Boston Globe had this story: “Boston’s effort to redevelop its waterfront is running into a major obstacle: Water. From downtown to East Boston to Dorchester, rising sea levels are posing an increasingly urgent threat to developers’ plans to build hundreds of homes, offices, stores, and parks along Boston Harbor, with many acknowledging the need to reinforce existing properties and redesign new ones in case of flooding from another Hurricane Sandy-like storm. …

“Several building owners are already preparing for the growing possibility of flood waters. At Fan Pier, developer Joseph Fallon has moved critical electrical systems higher in his buildings. Nearby, developers of a residential tower at Pier 4 are proposing to use special flood barriers for lower entrances. And the newly built Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Charlestown is surrounded by protective walls and landscaping buffers, and no patient programs are located on the ground floor.”

The entrance to the new UUA headquarters is up several stairs, so maybe the planners were cognizant of potential floods and hoping never to regret their loss of the hill.

wall-of-large-donors

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Photograph: James Montague for The New York Times
Outside the Vakar Lajos rink, where the Hungarian name of the Romanian ice hockey team, Hoki Sport Club Csikszereda, is printed on the ice.

I don’t follow ice hockey, but a recent article on ethnic Hungarians playing for the Romanian ice hockey team caught my eye.

I already knew that a chunk of Romania is like a little Hungary because my church and a church in Transylvania (20 percent ethnic Hungarian) have a longstanding relationship. Exchanges back and forth occur nearly every year.

So in flipping past the sports section the other day, I couldn’t ignore an article by James Montague on the irony of Romania, a country that under communism repressed ethnic Hungarians, having so many of them on their national ice hockey team. A feeder team in Miercurea Ciuc, Romania, calls itself Szekely Land, after a former province of the Kingdom of Hungary.

“The Szekely Land, named for a warrior tribe that dates to the Middle Ages, is a Hungarian-dominated area of Romania, covering three counties in the center of the country. The roughly 1.2 million Hungarians represent Romania’s largest ethnic minority, about 6 percent of the country’s population. The fall of the Austro-Hungarian empire after World War I marooned millions of Hungarians in what is now Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine and Serbia. The Szekely found themselves cut off and subject to a policy of assimilation, including heavy restrictions on the use of their language, under the former communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu.”

Sometimes having so many ethnic Hungarians on the Romania team can lead to unhockeylike situations. The “anomaly reached a critical point during a 2011 game between Romania and Hungary in Miercurea Ciuc,” writes Montague. “After the game, almost all of Romania’s players joined with their opponents to sing the Hungarian anthem.

“ ‘Some of the paparazzi caught it, and it was a big scandal,’ said Attila Goga … who has played for the Romanian national team for a decade but holds dual Romanian-Hungarian citizenship. ‘It’s a little bit strange, but I can see that, too. They don’t understand our situation here.’ ” More.

My advice to autocrats: Don’t try to change people’s language. It always ends badly.

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Suzanne and Erik loved attending Glide Memorial when they lived in San Francisco. It’s a big, welcoming Gospel church. It calls itself “radically inclusive,” and having been there several times, I can attest to that.

“A radically inclusive, just and loving community mobilized to alleviate suffering and break the cycles of poverty and marginalization.”

Lots of hugging goes on. Homeless people participate, society ladies, political celebrities, gay and straight … Perhaps you saw the church in the Will Smith movie The Pursuit of Happyness, based on a true story.

Besides the extraordinary choir, which is the initial draw for many churchgoers, we liked the congregant testimonials about what Glide has meant in their lives. Some people had been through pretty dark times, and Glide had been one piece of the road out.

Today as my husband and I drove home from a visit to Providence, we put on a radio broadcast from a Unitarian Universalist church, where a friend sometimes reads the announcements on air. The minister introduced a new-to-the-church idea, which I hope works out as well in Boston as it does at Glide.

He called it My Story and gave his own spiritual story as his first example, inviting parishioners to let him know if they wanted to do the same in upcoming weeks.

If nothing else, it should help the service be more interactive. And it should let members get to know each other better, especially if they are brave enough to share their rough times, the things they don’t bring up at coffee hour.

By the way, life’s difficult passages may be well served by our favorite bit of wisdom from Glide: “A setback is just a setup for a comeback.”

How many friends and even public figures would you like to tell that to?

Photograph: http://www.firstchurchboston.org

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