By Kelly Parrett
During Spain’s two-month quarantine, Noah Chichester (ΦBK, SUNY Geneseo) found a way to connect his community: music. For the duration of the quarantine, Chichester and his neighbors held concerts from their windows in Galicia.“It was a really great example of people who ordinarily wouldn’t have a strong connection, other than sharing a back patio, coming together to make the best out of a difficult situation,” said Chichester.
Chichester received a message in his neighborhood WhatsApp group requesting that each neighbor come to their window and sing “A Rianxeira,” a Galician folk song; however, only Chichester, his roommate, and one neighbor participated. After they finished singing, Chichester’s neighbor complimented his voice. “I replied half-embarrassed that, well, I had studied singing in the U.S. and that I had my degree in voice,” Chichester recalled. She asked him to sing for the neighbors the next day during the nightly applause for healthcare workers.
The following night, Chichester found a karaoke track for “Cielito Lindo,” which includes “canta y no llores” (sing and don’t cry) in the chorus. “I sang that, and the neighbors ended up singing along,” said Chichester.
What started as a one-time concert turned into two or three each week. Driven to make the time spent inside more bearable, Chichester and his community found joy in singing together. “I also ended up having fun picking out—and in some cases, learning—the songs for each week, so it gave me a sense of purpose,” said Chichester. “I tried to sing popular songs in Spanish that they would know, but I also expanded to do songs from the U.S. as well. Sometimes I would see if there was a Spanish version of songs I did and sing half in Spanish and half in English, like I ended up doing for ‘Stand by Me.’”
After the concerts gained popularity in the neighborhood, they began theme nights. “The neighbors would all cook a dish within the theme, and I would sing a few songs,” said Chichester. “We did an Italian Night, and everyone made Italian food, and I sang ‘O Sole Mio,’ ‘Volare,’ and ‘Il Mondo.’”
Eventually, Chichester’s concerts caught the attention of singer-songwriter Allison Leah. “She reached out to me after I had shared my first singing video to ask if I would be willing to let her use a couple snippets of me singing on her song,” said Chichester. Leah’s song “We Can Still Sing” features Chichester’s vocals. “I ended up singing on the chorus toward the end of the song, for which her siblings also provided vocals, and I also sang the chorus of ‘Cielito Lindo’ with the line ‘canta y no llores,’ which we thought would really fit the song,” said Chichester. “My final contribution is toward the end of the song, where you can hear me singing a bit of ‘A Rianxeira.’”
Chichester also appears on the album art for “We Can Still Sing” as he conducts his neighbors from his window. Leah’s song, written during the COVID-19 pandemic, is about continuing to spread positivity throughout these difficult times. “After she played the song for me, I knew it was a really fitting expression of the spirit of the time,” said Chichester.
Grateful for his liberal arts education at SUNY Geneseo, Chichester appreciates how Phi Beta Kappa recognizes academic achievement and scholarship in the liberal arts and sciences. “It was an honor to be part of ΦBK, which represents those ideals in the face of a society which more and more frequently fails to recognize the full value of a well-rounded education that the liberal arts provide,” said Chichester.
His liberal arts education continued to serve him well as he moved from the U.S. to Spain. “Sometimes we hear the term ‘global citizen’ refer to the idea of being prepared to live in an increasingly globalized world, full of statistics, economics courses, and international political theory,” said Chichester. “My education and my experience singing for my neighbors during the two months of quarantine say otherwise. Sometimes the best lessons in international relations can be found not in a textbook of political theory, but by sticking your head out your back window.”
Photo: Noah Chichester conducting from his window in Spain.
Kelly Parrett earned her bachelor’s degree in English literature from SUNY Geneseo, where she was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa in May 2020. SUNY Geneseo is home to the Alpha Delta of New York chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.