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Uploaded May 28, 2020
To Which The Occupants of Our Gallery Raised Their Gaze
notes on the 2020 pandemic lockdown balcony concerts
by Jojo Soria de Veyra
Balcony Concert #9 - An English Garden Party by London-based light lyric coloratura soprano Charlotte Hoather accompanied by George. [Uploaded 24 May 2020]
California-based electric aerial and dance violinist Marta Z performs "Señorita" (Sam Mendes, Camila Cabello, etc.) for her neighbors. [Uploaded 5 May 2020]
Marta Z performing "Hallelujah" (Leonard Cohen). [Uploaded 29 April 2020]
THE lockdown balcony concerts phenomenon of 2020 started quickly, only a few days after the global lockdowns of March were put into effect.
Two months later, while some of these lockdowns remained, the balcony concert proved its having the staying power to qualify it as a permanent fixture in the socio-psychology of future multi-storeyed-building community quarantines. This should also be enough to bring the balcony, as an architectural feature, into the spotlight of culture studies.
You see, being on one's balcony is being both inside one's house borders and outside it. After all, a balcony is often a protrusion of a platform, supported only by either console brackets or cantilevered beams; in fact, countries have different laws for buildings regarding such protrusions above sidewalks. In certain homes, however, a balcony may just be a bashful sort, often called a Juliet's balcony, while some houses of the wealthy would not need such protrusions as they may have enough space to turn a room fully into a loggia.
Watching a bunch of people perch on a balcony also gives the viewer below a sense of that bunch's being up there (on the second floor or higher), but at the same time a sense of their being threatened by the law of gravity to at any point in time be suddenly down here (as in the case with drunk elements moving about on balconies with short balustrades reaching only up to their waistlines). In short, you could both envy those on balconies for being at such a height and be afraid for them at the same time. It is possible that your fear for them would overpower your envy of them.
WHEN the quarantine lockdowns of Q1 2020 reached the psyche of the inhabitants of the multi-storeyed buildings of our cities and towns, inhabitants who would not be given enough time to be in the open spaces at ground level below, their balconies collectively became their alternative park. What used to be a seldom-visited area to apartment owners wary of neighbors' gazes or the lure of gravity became a virtual telephone booth for intra-neighbor conversations.
Now, parks do have food. So neighbors devised ways of delivering or getting free or sold food via their balconies so that not everyone needs be at street level. Here's one way in Naples by which residents of a neighborhood delivered food to recipients or otherwise took from donors in the building:
Coronavirus: food baskets for vulnerable lowered from balconies in Naples. [Uploaded by Guardian News, 1 April 2020]
But, wait, parks also have shows. Now, one of the easiest shows to do on a balcony would be a musical performance (second only to a recitation of a poem). And so it came to pass that either musician inhabitants of a neighborhood decided to just come out presenting themselves with a balcony performance to surprised captive eyes and ears, or elements from the neighborhood who knew a musician or singer in the blocks requested a performance from the talent for the community's bored benefit.
Thus started the phenomenon, which would also automatically produce a flurry of YouTube and Facebook uploads seeking a wider audience for the purpose of sharing or promoting.
In Peru, the ad agency Zavalita Brand Building even came up with an America's Got Talent-inspired contest for balcony concert video uploaders, which they called Balconies Got Talent. (See entry #3 of diskurso.com's May 2020 picks list). The contest ended on May 11.
BALCONIES have always been a stage of sorts, because they're up there or across from another building; they are not within reach of their viewer.
For the value of their being up there, as a platform much higher than the usual stage, we have witnessed use by such "performances" as the Pope's Urbi et Orbi on St. Peter's Basilica's front balcony or a dictator's speech from a palace hall one. A church would also present the utter significance of its ceremonial music within its hall space by having this music performed (by a choir or set of musicians) from a balcony (known as the minstrels' gallery) placed either behind the churchgoers or at the church hall's sides; the music would not envelop you, the way evangelicals might have it for a participatory end, but rain on you from above.
Balconies have also been a demonstration of wealth, property-wise. A loggia, for instance, would suggest a homeowner with plenty of floor space to spare. The same with the balcony with a patio garden surrounding a family-size dining set. More so for the balcony that is actually on the roof, presenting at best a skyrise greenery. Meanwhile, a Juliet balcony (or balconet) would suggest either an owner's demand for a more private kind of balcony or one that frugally doesn't waste room space.
With the lockdowns, however, even though a neighborhood might involve buildings for the block's wealthier citizens, or though a building might have famous inhabitants in it occupying a unit or two, the resultant collective park aura created by the balcony spaces during this pandemic subtly put away the wealth difference and focused instead on rich talents, such as those shown by Charlotte Hoather and Marta Z in this page's embedded videos. Actually that's not even correct, for even talents that proved to be inadequate would still be appreciated by a neighborhood on their own terms, endearing their capacity to share (whatever it is they have) to a populace already tired of plugging their ears with too-polished Spotify material that's only been exacerbating their sense of isolation.
In this sense, the balcony neighborhood's concerts became its citizens' (temporary) new-normal karaoke joint of sorts, involving both awesome talents and struggling ones, both receiving applause and thanks, we imagine rarely accompanied by a scoff.
Charlotte Hoather's Balcony Concert #6 - May Day, May Day. [Uploaded 1 May 2020]
MEANWHILE, balconies of expensive apartments not far away from neighbors who would be in awe of such immoderation . . . have been touted by real estate brochures as spaces for their viewers to envy and for their owners to flaunt, advertently or not, as these spaces may intrinsically or readily or logically reflect an occupant's high status in life.
The luxury of being perched on one of these open areas would be similar to, although far more than, that of being on an outdoor table of a coffeehouse offering expensive coffee in an area where the passersby are mostly workers in awe of the high price of the house's brew. These passersby would naturally be envious of all persons having a sip there. Now, this expensive-café quality to a balcony would be the same as that in some theaters' opera box, that platform often reserved for dignitaries (to which occupants in the gallery would often raise their gaze).
But understand that not all wealthy people want to flaunt their identities as wealthy elements of society, especially to an impoverished set of viewers. To this sort of individuals wary of publicly exposing their faces for long in their balconies, those open areas during the isolation may have turned themselves into a sort of coming-out platform for pandemic neighborliness. We are presently reminded of that Manet painting titled The Balcony.
But, again, during the pandemic quarantine, the essence of balconies as symbols of status was almost erased, as we said above. Not only because such balconies would rarely be facing those of a squatted-on dilapidated building. Not only because most of these balconies' viewers were on similarly-valued balconies. It's because, as it would happen in any sort of lockdown instructing all inhabitants to shelter in place, any association of a balcony with its owner's money here quickly gave way to the focus on that neighborhood's being together in avoiding an enemy, notwithstanding that that enemy could be in any one of them or on a surface or two somewhere among them.
The people gathered here are refugees hiding from an invisible, roaming adversary. Fortunately, their fight with this enemy does not require them to be quiet. It only requires them to stay apart, even while they are together, noisy in a balcony-to-balcony scene.
This does provide a sort of contrast to the moviehouse that had been capturing our eyes and ears by darkening the hall and then asking everyone to be silent before the house's featured treat starts on its unpredictable journey. This year's pandemic-lockdown balcony concerts captured their audience's eyes and ears and hearts by darkening the earth with that featured threat concerning the unpredictability of illness and death's next picks.
As much as to the performers themselves, it was Disease, Death too, to which the occupants of our gallery raised their gaze and turned their ears. Otherwise they wouldn't be so forgiving to the neighborhood's lousiest singers, or be enjoying the privilege of being performed to by awesome talents while enduring novel constrictions that can't allow them to ask for signatures. [d]
Text (c) copyright 2020 diskurso.com