Could all the energy and passion of the live, in-person New York Encounter singing night be experienced over Zoom?
By Meghan Isaacs
What started out as a provocation from a friend and, at a practical level, a big risk, turned into a series of moments of unity for friends across the country. At the center of all of this was a great desire for friendship that found an authentic expression in an act that for so long has seemed impossible—singing together.
During this year’s mostly-virtual New York Encounter, one of the organizers, Paolo, called his friend Davide (Indianapolis), and suggested organizing a community singing night to virtually recreate the singing and dancing on the Metropolitan Pavilion stage that has traditionally been the final event of the Encounter.
“I said, ‘you’re crazy,’” said Davide. “I had tried for months to sing together, to jam together, with different kinds of software. It never worked because the latency in the network never works.” Paolo suggested a “round robin” style, in which individuals or small local groups take turns performing a song with the rest of the attendees listening (or singing along on mute). “I said, that might work. Let’s give it a shot.” Davide and his friends put the event together in a matter of hours, calling and inviting friends across the country to participate, organizing a spreadsheet full of song contributions, and designating hosts to introduce people and coordinate the Zoom technology.
“The beautiful thing was to see the desire to share and stay together. Just to see the desire of other people that you do not know, but with whom you share a common history, seeing the other wanting to sing together (in any way they wanted, whether a big group of guitars or just on their own without an instrument)—it kind of revives your own desire. We sang songs from the Movement, but also songs people just wanted to share. Everyone may have been on mute, but they were singing along and having fun,” said Davide.
“My family and I (we have five kids) always look forward to the New York Encounter, and when I got the invite for the singalong, my kids said, ‘that’s our favorite part of the New York Encounter!’ And it’s my favorite part as well,” said Monica, a friend from Boston. “In the back of my mind, I thought, [a virtual singing event] is not ideal, but the kids were so excited because it’s something they could participate in this year. So we connected and we loved it. We all sang along. I realized how much I missed singing as a community. You don’t realize how much you miss something until you experience it again.”
Monica’s friend Christianne called her afterwards and suggested organizing another gathering, beyond the structure of the New York Encounter. “I wanted to do it, but I didn’t really formulate the desire. It’s always better when someone says, ‘let’s do this,’ and you plan it together. I was so happy, and I asked Davide to help, and he and his community are so passionate.” Thus two subsequent nights of singing were born, again with participants from across the country.
Why singing? Davide, Monica and their friends could have proposed a book discussion, play reading, or any number of other activities to bring people together virtually (with far fewerless technological issues to surmount). Davide references a lesson from Father Giussani, quoted in the CL Songbook:
In music, in the panorama of nature, in dreams at night. . . it is to something else that man pays homage, from which he expects something: he awaits it. His enthusiasm is for something that music, or everything that is beautiful in this world, has awakened within him.
“[Singing is] the most authentic because it’s the connection between your expression and the infinite. It’s a way of being present which connects you to something bigger than you. It’s a different nature than just talking to each other. Singing really elevates the communal sharing to a new dimension, which is really the experience of the Mystery which is among us,” said Davide.
“What was so great is that there are some people who are maybe shy, but when you sing together as a community, they are actually sharing. My daughter played a piece on the piano; the kids have a platform to share a little talent with their friends, which is wonderful,” said Monica. “To me, it always makes me realize that we belong to a reality so much bigger than us. Even going through the pandemic, I’ve never felt so much connection to others,” she said.
While another virtual event is not in the works (with hope that communities will soon be able to sing together in person), these singing nights serve as an example of the Encounter continuing beyond the weekend of formal events. These nights were not mandated by anybody, and as such, are a sign of the creativity and Mystery that emerges when desire meets friendship. ❖