Italian choir sings famous Crosby, Stills & Nash song 'Helplessly Hoping' in quarantine

The choir's video is resonating around the world.

March 31, 2020, 10:55 AM

It begins with Irene, a 17-year-old high school student, singing the opening lines from her home in the countryside outside Rome.

“Helplessly hoping her harlequin hovers nearby,” she sings intently into the camera of her mobile phone.

A vivid white light from the uncertain world outside illuminates the room.

“Awaiting a word.”

Then comes Matilde, sitting cross-legged on a couch at her home in Rome, a headphone cord dangling from her right ear.

“Gasping at glimpses of gentle true spirit, he runs,” Matilde sings, joining in perfect sync with Irene on the opening stanzas of “Helplessly Hoping,” the 1969 folk classic by Crosby, Stills and Nash.

“Wishing he could fly.”

Lorenzo, a nurse who has been working on the front lines of Italy’s battle against coronavirus disease, adds his delicate tenor voice in harmony.

“Only to trip at the sound of good-bye,” Lorenzo sings, his hazel eyes fixed on the camera lens.

Chiara joins in. Then Gioia, Emma, Christhian, Lada, Francesca and Simone. And on and on.

As Italy enters its fourth week of a nationwide lockdown and grapples with the somber reality of a death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic now eclipsing 11,000, the musical video of hope and solidarity, performed by members of the Italian youth choir Il Coro Che Non C’è while in isolation in their homes around Rome, is resonating around the world and earning praise from unexpected places.

“This song is a hymn to hope. That is the thing we need right now,” said Chiara Altamura, 17, a performer in the choir who also manages the group’s social media accounts.

PHOTO: Chiara Altamura, 17, is a member of the Italian youth choir Il Coro Che Non C'e.
Chiara Altamura, 17, is a member of the Italian youth choir Il Coro Che Non C'e.
Courtesy Chiara Altamura

“The lyrics are simultaneously splendid and cryptic,” said Ludovico Versino, the choir’s director. “Fundamentally, we are living in a time of powerless hope. We can do nothing right now but stay at home and hope this terrible moment will be over soon.”

The idea for the video was conceived by Versino, along with one of its members, Irene Fabbri, as they searched for ways to keep the choir connected during the long days of social isolation.

“On the 8th of March we were supposed to get together to rehearse ‘Helplessly Hoping,’ and we had a concert planned for March 14, but both were cancelled,” Versino said.

In an effort to control the COVID-19 outbreak in Italy, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte ordered a nationwide lockdown on March 9, closing schools and businesses and forcing all but the most essential workers to remain in their homes. The restrictions remain in effect and there is no clear forecast as to when they may be lifted.

“Our singers were very down about this. Then it occurred to me to have each person record a video at home, to feel the closeness of our group again, as well as to use some of the time on their hands and distract them from the situation,” Versino added.

Over the next 10 days, dozens of the choir members studied, practiced and performed their individual parts -- on balconies, in bedrooms and kitchens scattered across the city -- and sent their videos electronically to Versino, who stitched them all together with the assistance of another choir member.

“I thought that was a beautiful experience to do, even in this terrible period,” Fabbri told ABC News by email. “We knew we were doing something all together, even as we are far from each other.”

Lada Bressi, a 17-year-old classmate of Fabbri's at Liceo Albertelli in Rome, says making the video was a welcome distraction from the anxious loneliness of social isolation.

“Obviously, the quarantine changed everyone's lives,” she said. ”I go out only to take the rubbish out. Luckily we have two small balconies; that's where I recorded the video!”

PHOTO: An Italian choir's rendition of "Helplessly Hoping" has gone viral on YouTube.
An Italian choir's rendition of "Helplessly Hoping" has gone viral on YouTube.
Courtesy Ludovico Versino

For choir member Lorenzo Arduini, his country’s battle against the virus is deeply personal. He spends his working hours as a nurse at San Camillo Hospital, suiting up in personal protective equipment and caring for patients, some showing symptoms of COVID-19. Though the northern areas of Italy have suffered by far the worst outbreaks of the disease, the Lazio region around Rome has seen nearly 3,000 cases and 150 deaths through March 30, according to figures released by the Italian government.

“The situation is critical, but we, doctors and caregivers, try to give our best every day for the patients,” Arduini said. “I've been working for a few years now, and I was in contact with many difficult illnesses with human suffering and death. But this is a completely surreal situation.”

Arduini grew up listening to Crosby, Stills and Nash and other American folk singers. So when the idea was presented by the choir to record a song together during the quarantine, he was quick to suggest “Helplessly Hoping.”

The finished video, which features more than four dozen singers from the choir, was posted to YouTube last week. It has since been viewed on the site more than 160,000 times.

“We thought our mothers, our aunts and a few friends would see it,” Versino said, stunned at the response.

The worldwide embrace of their performance was a surprise to all the performers, said choir member Andrew Murugan, 20, a student at La Sapienza University in Rome.

“I totally did not expect for it to reach this huge popularity,” he said. “But I think that it's beautiful that something that helped unite our choir resonated with so many people.”

PHOTO: An Italian choir's rendition of "Helplessly Hoping" has gone viral on YouTube.
An Italian choir's rendition of "Helplessly Hoping" has gone viral on YouTube.
Courtesy Ludovico Versino

Over the past few days, the video has received attention and endorsements from celebs including actress Mia Farrow and musician-actor Stevie Van Zandt.

It even caught the eyes and ears of David Crosby, one of the original members of Crosby, Stills & Nash, whose recording of “Helplessly Hoping” appeared on the group’s debut album in 1969. The trio was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.

“[T]hank you Italia for making my day wonderful by singing that song so well and with such heart,” Crosby wrote on Twitter. “[T]his is now my favorite version of this song ever ... I like it better than our original,” he added in another Twitter post.

“It was shocking,” Bressi said. “A member of the choir sent the screenshots taken from Twitter, and we all went crazy.”

“I was soooooo happy!” Nicole Arpini, 20, wrote in an email to ABC News.

When the news of Crosby’s praise reached Arduini, he said he was overcome with emotion.

“I almost fainted,” Arduini said in an email to ABC News. “I started to sweat, and I was walking around talking to Crosby's poster in my bedroom.”

For all the young choir members, the response to their quarantine music is a reminder that the pandemic threatens countries all over the world and that all people must unite in the shared fight to overcome the virus.

“I’d like for the people who will watch or already have watched the video to know that this difficult and frightening period is not going to last forever, and that we will go back to normal and value even more the things we missed the most during this lockdown," said 18-year-old performer Dinoosh Kokuhennadige.

The group’s three-minute performance ends on the song’s chorus, with more than 40 of the choir members’ videos filling the screen. The lyrics, from another era, imbued with new meaning in this period of fear, isolation -- and hope.

“They are one person.They are two alone. They are three together. They are for each other.”

“There’s a saying here in Italy, ‘la speranza è l’ultima a morire,’” Altamura said. “That means, ‘Hope is the last thing that dies.’ And we truly believe it.”