Contagious singing as Corona Community Chorus unites voices

Casper ter Kuile lights a candle in front of his computer screen. And then the music begins.

All around the world, linked by video, more than 100 people sing “Come, Come Whoever You Are,” lyrics adapted from a poem by Rumi, the 13th century Sufi mystic. Then, laughing together, “Kookaburra,” the Australian nursery rhyme. And then, in Hebrew, “Hinei Matov.”

“How good and how pleasant it is that brothers dwell together” — the words of King David from Psalm 133, a statement of optimism for a chorus that can only sing together virtually.

This is the Corona Community Chorus. Each Sunday, it meets on Zoom to unite voices in isolation during the coronavirus outbreak.

The chorus is hosted from the home of ter Kuile, a graduate of the Harvard Divinity School and the author of the upcoming book, “The Power of Ritual.” Using instruments like the traditional Indian accordion known as the shruti box, he leads the group through a multilingual repertoire.

“I remember thinking, ‘You know, I’m not a doctor. I’m not a front-line person in any way,’” he says. “And knowing that the best advice right now is for folks to stay home, I thought maybe I can help by creating something that will make staying home a little bit more enjoyable.”


The idea flourished in a Tweet: “If I hosted a Zoom singing circle tomorrow at 1pm ET, teaching a few simple songs/rounds, who would be into that?” he asked. “Reply if you’re game!”

The response was surprising, he said. When he hosted the first meeting, dozens of faces from all over the U.S., Europe and Africa popped up in a grid on his screen.

“I think for a lot of people, it was just a moment of really feeling connected,” ter Kuile says.

“In this moment, of course we are having to physically isolate, but that doesn’t mean we have to socially disconnect.”

In the chat, participants thank ter Kuile, or praise his husband Sean Lair, a former classical singer, for his “angelical” voice. “Thanks so much everybody for this magical music community,” says someone on Jacklyn’s Ipad. “My spirits are lifted.”

In Scots Gaelic, the group sings the chorus to “The Boatman,” ter Kuile’s favorite song, and ends with a simple but powerful message in this time of uncertainty: “Done nobis pacem,” Latin for “grant us peace.”

“You know, I think of these songs as medicine for my mind,” ter Kuile says.

“That’s really what I wanted to share: That there’s so much skill in real medicine, in the hospital, but there are also ways in which we can care for ourselves and each other.”