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This family started a nightly concert series on their Annex porch in March. The show’s gone on each night since

This family started a nightly concert series on their Annex porch in March. The show’s gone on each night since
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It starts with a trickle at 7:25 p.m. People walk north from Bloor, some wearing masks, carrying groceries, others carry children. A few ride bikes, but most come on foot, everyone heading toward the same Annex house.

Vanessa Fralick walks with a trombone in one hand, her other hand in her pocket. Neil Deland carries his French horn. Kyle Windjack bikes with his trumpet case in a milk crate. Marcus Thompson leaves his apartment across the street, also carrying a trumpet.

The musicians gather in the laneway and front yard of the home where Adam Seelig and Nomi Rotbard stand on the porch with their teenage sons. The place is blooming with tulips, daffodils and music stands.

More front doors open and porches fill in as Seelig gives last-minute notes to the musicians. What started as a way for his family to thank front-line workers has become a nightly ritual for dozens in this neighbouhood. On this cloudy May evening, they are celebrating their 60th song in 60 nights.

At 7:30 p.m., pots and pans are clattering in other parts of the city, but you can’t hear them on this Annex street as the brassy gallop of “9 to 5” takes over.

The physically distanced crowd members nod, tap their feet, and a few hit the handles of their bikes and scooters in time with the country classic. Some hold up their phones to capture a gathering that none could have imagined months ago, a gathering that will soon dissipate as quickly as it appeared.

“Most of you probably get that that was a song by Dolly Parton called ‘9 to 5,’ ” Seelig shouts, because there is no sound system here. “Something I’m not sure many of you are experiencing right now. It’s more like 24-7.”

People laugh. Their days have been long, their days have been different, but they have come to count on this bright spot.

The newly assembled band — Horn on the Cob and the Social Distance — reprises a song from an earlier show, announces a birthday, and the neighbourhood sings a mask-muffled rendition to a neighbour who can’t believe her parents in Brazil were able to get the message to the band. Then, Seelig closes with a variation of what he says every evening around 7:36 p.m: Stay safe. We’ll see you tomorrow.

When it was clear they were going to be at home for a long stretch, Adam Seelig and his family started thinking about a creative project to add more structure to their days. Seelig is the artistic director of One Little Goat Theatre Company. While he primarily plays the piano, he and his teenage sons can play other instruments, too.

Shai Rotbard-Seelig, 17, plays the trombone in his school band, but picked up the tuba a few weeks before COVID-19 hit the city. Arlo Rotbard-Seelig, 13, brought his trumpet home on a whim for March Break. They decided to arrange and play a different song each night to honour front-line workers.

Their first performance was the first day of spring, but it was still very cold as they stood on the front porch wearing toques and gloves, playing a trombone, tuba and a trumpet. Nomi Rotbard started it off with a cheer for front-line workers, and then the trio played the swelling theme song from 1980s television show “The A-team.”

In the neighbouring homes, doors opened. Tim Hadwen and his family walked outside: “And there they were.”

A couple days later, Toronto Symphony Orchestra musicians Vanessa Fralick and Neil Deland were having a cocktail on Zoom when they heard the live music, something they were both missing. They told their friends they had to go, but by the time they walked a few doors down, the Rotbard-Seeligs were gone. Their front door was still open so Fralick and Deland yelled a greeting, and were invited to join the band any night they wanted to.

“We ended up going every night,” Fralick says.

Not long after, the TSO musicians were in the driveway for the concert when Fralick recognized two young guys getting out of a car across the street. They had both been faculty assistants at the National Music Camp of Canada, and one of them, Marcus Thompson, happened to be moving into the neighbourhood for a summer sublet. “Do you have your trumpets?” she asked. They did.

“Sometimes the band feels a little bit like the Doobie Brothers or the Sun Ra Arkestra, where we have this revolving door,” Seelig says. “Sometimes someone will be away and someone else will come.”

The audience has also grown. (They asked the Star not to publish the street, so they can keep physical distancing manageable.) One day, trumpet player Marcus Thompson saw two nuns on the street and invited them to that night’s concert.

“I didn’t think they were going to come but then a couple of weeks later they came with all the nuns,” he says, counting seven religious sisters in the audience.

They’ve performed the Backstreet Boys, songs by Seelig’s favourite pianist and composer Abdullah Ibrahim, songs for Passover and Ramadan, tributes to musicians John Prine and Ellis Marsalis, who both died of COVID-19 complications. Requests are sometimes incorporated. They never reveal a song in advance. They’ve done “Bobcaygeon” by The Tragically Hip in honour of long-term-care homes, and the personal losses people in their neighbourhood are enduring.

They take turns arranging the music, although most of the work is done by Seelig or his son Shai, says Neil Deland, who is the principal horn with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Each day, they practise their parts on their own and then come together for the performance. Aside from Fralick knowing the guys from camp, they were strangers to each other before this. Deland calls the musical output of the Rotbard-Seelig family “unprecedented.”

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“Especially for two teenage boys to be playing this much new music every day,” Fralick adds.

The Rotbard-Seeligs moved into the Annex neighbourhood about 15 years ago, when Shai was a toddler. Adam Seelig knew his immediate neighbours, but life was busy. It’s different now. The musicians, the audience, everyone knows each other better. They have celebrated at least a dozen birthdays together. They have mourned together.

“Basically, social isolation has brought us closer,” Seelig says. “We’ve become close with neighbours of several generations through music. There’s a paradox there and it’s been a beautiful one.”

Tim Hadwen live two houses away. “You know a lot of days, it’s the highlight of the day,” he says. “We all go back inside feeling a little better.”
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