A feisty Winnipeg senior is calling on all residents to lift their voices in song to help beat back the coronavirus blues.
"Everybody can sing," Tabitha Langel, 70, said earlier this week. "It’s everybody’s birthright. It’s a gift that everybody can do.
"I think it connects us at a time of isolation and lifts our spirits. Singing is very healthy for the brain. I’m not a brain scientist, but singing lifts up the joy parts of our brains."
Langel is speaking from experience: last Saturday, the Wolseley resident and about 30 of her musically inclined neighbours on Canora Street serenaded passersby with a social-distancing singalong.
Under sunny skies, they gathered up their instruments, stood on doorsteps and porches, and belted out their rendition of the 1966 Beatles classic Yellow Submarine, wherein the Fab Four famously sing: "We all live in a yellow submarine / Yellow submarine, yellow submarine / And our friends are all aboard / Many more of them live next door / And the band begins to play."
It had the feel of an impromptu street concert, but it was organized by Langel and her neighbours, who have been staying connected with computers and smartphones on a neighbourhood chat group, sharing news about the COVID-19 crisis and ideas for staying sane in self-isolation.
"The neighbour on the other side of me is a music teacher, and he set up a microphone and an amplifier and he led us," Langel said. "There were people singing at the end of the block. The chorus became really loud. People walking by stopped and sang.
"We gave ourselves a name, ‘the Canora Street Social Distancing Choir,’ because we wanted to make sure that social distancing is respected. Some people just stayed on their steps; one woman and her two kids danced, and it was wonderful," she said.
"We were very clear we will keep social distance. That’s the whole point — how to stay safe and get a happiness boost that singing gives."
The streetside serenade started as a one-off, but the high-energy senior said the neighbours are going to do an encore performance at 4 p.m. Saturday, and hope to keep the songs coming every Saturday until the pandemic peters out.
"We’re going to sing again and we’re hoping to sing even more songs," Langel vowed. "If people want to come and stand in the street and sing along, that would be great... they are ever so much welcome, but the social distancing is very much respected."
Langel, well known in the city for co-founding the iconic Tall Grass Prairie bakery in 1990, is also mounting a campaign to get all Winnipeggers to add their voices to the choir to ensure all stay connected and hopeful amid a health scare claiming lives around the world.
"We want to encourage people to do it on their streets," she said. "It would be cool if this spread like the fastest virus ever. Beat the virus! Sing!"
On the bakery’s website, Langel invites everyone to sing Yellow Submarine from their balconies, porches and front steps daily at 4 p.m. "And if you can’t carry a tune, Tabitha is asking you to carry a pot or pan, to add percussion to the voices. Let’s all chime in!" the website says.
She said the Canora Street choir opted for Yellow Submarine, "because it’s such a warm song, but in an isolated setting. It’s warm but it speaks to the sense of isolation. In a yellow submarine, we are very close together but isolated."
The campaign to get the city singing was inspired by grassroots initiatives in countries such as Italy, where housebound residents have been taking to balconies and belting out tunes — including a stirring rendition of O Canada — later viewed by millions online.
"Singing has healing power when we sing together," Langel insisted. "In times of joy or sadness, singing is the right response."
Organizing citywide singalongs wasn’t how Langel expected to be spending 2020.
"We were getting ready to celebrate our (bakery’s) 30th anniversary and, all of a sudden, this (pandemic) hits and life changes," she said.
Now, the Wolseley bakery and its outlet at The Forks are closed to protect patrons and employees. The store on Westminster will continue offering pick-up and delivery service.
For the record, singing is not the only way the dynamic senior is going the extra mile to help others during the crisis — she was also supervising the donation of hundreds of cookies (baked before the shutdown) to Resource Assistance for Youth Inc.
"They feed young people who live on the street," she said. "They’re a wonderful organization and they’re running out of food. I think Winnipeg can be proud of itself for how it’s responding. I’ve seen some amazing goodwill."
With arthritic knees, she no longer bakes, but she’s not about to slow down.
"If you love your work, is it work?" Langel said. "I believe it’s very important to be in this together, in a safe way."
Hopefully, there’s room on the Yellow Submarine for the rest of us.
Doug has held almost every job at the newspaper — reporter, city editor, night editor, tour guide, hand model — and his colleagues are confident he’ll eventually find something he is good at.
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