For those strolling the tree-lined knolls surrounding Pasadena during this time of social distancing, you might just happen upon a bit of live classical music, wafting delicately through the air.
It’s not an illusion brought on by cabin fever or a child practicing his instrument, as city Councilmember Andy Wilson initially thought when he first heard neighbor Beong Kim playing his cello out on his front porch.
“I thought I heard live music playing, and assumed some kid was practicing, but then I realized, ‘Hey, that’s not a hack job, that’s really pretty good,’” Wilson laughed.
Toward the end of “confinement, week no. 1,” a certain silence prompted Beong Kim to take up his cello, an instrument he’s played on and off over the years ever since studying music at the Colburn School, years before he decided to pursue law as an academic track.
The Kaiser Permanente attorney dragged his cello out onto the front porch and played Bach, and something about the way the chords reverberated in the fresh air felt satisfying. Passersby, as they biked or walked, took pause to smile at him and wave. Some people sat down on the surrounding curbs, just listening.
“It was at the beginning when everyone was coming to grips with this crisis and its tragic impact, it felt as if everyone was fearful and anxious … worrying about their health, their family’s safety and even their livelihoods,” Kim said. “This isn’t something I would even think about doing during normal times. But I guess I just wanted a way of giving some hope and letting our neighbors know we are in this together, and we can get through it together.”
Since that first trial run, Kim was able to enlist his wife, Bonnie Wongtrakool, to play along at the piano inside. They open a front-room window, and the gentle keys can be heard just enough to give ambience. Bonnie, notably the more reluctant player of the two, said “Oh no,” looking concerned, when told the wind was blowing just the right way to hear her strokes.
Kim laughed, saying that he himself is just an amateur, and later sent an email from the Pasadena Conservatory of Music, which is encouraging its musicians to share their musical talents with neighbors through mini-concerts from their front porches.
“Just thought I’d share that I’m not the only one who thought about porch concerts!” he said.
There may be bigger musical numbers echoing from basements and porches during confinement, but to neighbors fortunate enough to live nearby Kim’s impromptu concerts, the repertoire offers a poignant moment in the day, when people from afar — a safe distance, of course — can join together in sharing an experience.
Last Saturday, some 60 to 80 people stopped by during the course of the couple’s rendition, a celebratory Easter composition.
“It is a little bittersweet in that, this is the best we can do right now,” Wilson noted. “There is a great instinct among people to come together, and right now we are all fighting that gravitational pull, in a sense, but moments like these are creating a solution. It’s nice to know people are out doing these things, spreading some joy throughout the neighborhood.”
Kim said he’ll keep up his 45-minute concerts as long as people will listen, although he’s worried he’ll soon run out of fresh material.
“It’s such a small thing that we’re doing, when there’s a lot of suffering out there … hopefully, for people listening, it will take their minds off the headlines and we can all feel a moment of gratitude for how precious life is,” he said.