Michelle Kirby knew that a pot and wooden spoon wouldn’t do. She needed more noise.
So, the former Oak Bay district councillor in British Columbia dug up a trombone she hadn’t touched in 25 years, not since her inglorious days in the back row of her high-school’s band in the tiny Kootenay village of Windermere, B.C.
To applaud the doctors, nurses and paramedics fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms. Kirby serenaded the Vancouver Island community of Oak Bay with the only song she could remember: When The Saints Go Marching In.
“How appropriate, right?” she told The Globe and Mail.
The raucous celebration Ms. Kirby launched has since spread to several surrounding municipalities.
B.C. deputy premier and Finance Minister Carole James said she could hear the noise from Victoria when she was along the ocean on the city’s Songhees Walkway.
“It’s an acknowledgement and a rallying cry – whether you’re playing a gong, a kazoo or a whistle – that we’re all in this together,” Ms. Kirby said. “For two minutes every day, you feel connected to the people around you.”
In Vancouver, meanwhile, cowbells, hockey horns and fireworks are emerging as noise-makers of choice.
On the sidewalk outside the city’s St. Paul’s Hospital, Fin the Whale, the Vancouver Canucks’ mascot, bangs his CCM hockey stick to greet a nightly procession of police cars and fire engines, lights flashing, that crawl up and down Burrard Street, the strangely deserted downtown thoroughfare. A few blocks to the north, Coach has boarded up its Vancouver flagship shop with huge plywood slabs, perhaps anticipating worse to come.
Dozens of masked doctors, nurses and paramedics gather in the downtown hospital’s ambulance bay to take it in. Many have tears in their eyes. Some hold signs reading, “Thank you.”
“We hear it,” says Donald Griesdale, a critical care physician at Vancouver General Hospital, the city’s largest hospital. “All the emergency staff come out to watch every night.”
There were “hugs all around” the first night a police procession drove past VGH, sirens blazing, Dr. Griesdale said. “It’s incredibly uplifting. The support makes us want to go back to work, no matter how tired we are.”
The practice of raucously saluting front-line staff started among the stir-crazed in Italy, spreading to Spain, then France, closely tracking the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 disease.
Each country has injected its own national flavour to the nightly rite.
The Italians sing arias and soccer chants. In Spain, some dance flamenco on their balconies amid shouts of, “Viva los medicos!”
In Paris, tenor Stéphane Sénéchal’s Ave Maria has echoed mournfully across the rooftops of the ninth arrondissement. (“Holy Mary, Mother of God/Pray for us sinners/Now and in the hour of our death.”)
The sudden symphony seems to be many things at once: salve, rebellion, an act of grief and celebration, as people everywhere do as the late Montreal poet Leonard Cohen urges in Anthem: “Ring the bells that still can ring.”
One night last week on Vancouver Island, for her neighbours’ sake, Ms. Kirby put down her trombone, a 13th birthday present from her parents. She played the melodica, a hand-blown keyboard instead, which she insists is “far less annoying.”
She hopes you will join her. “Please. I can’t be out there embarrassing myself alone every night.”