Saxophonist Sami Perfecto ('12) has found a unique stage during the world's coronavirus pandemic.
For 15 minutes each night, he performs on the balcony of his Barcelona apartment for his neighbors, who are under state-mandated quarantine to help stop the spread of the deadly virus. But he gained a wider audience when his version of "Preciosa" recently went viral.
In some ways, Perfecto was prepared for the performance's reception since he's played in his church's praise and worship team all his life and majored in music education at UNT.
"I've noticed how music can transform lives during times of extreme hardships," he says. "Now more than ever, music is needed by communities in order to bond and connect -- even if it's from a balcony or window."
Perfecto has run the Julio D. Perfecto School of Music in Arlington for more than 10 years. Two years ago, to be closer to his girlfriend, he moved to Barcelona, where he performs regular gigs and helps organize jam sessions around the city's bars for a project called The Sofa Jam. He also teaches online music classes for his school and English lessons to Chinese students in China.
He began playing on his balcony when the quarantine -- during which residents can go out only to get groceries or medicine, take out the trash, walk the dog or commute to essential jobs -- started in early March. His sister, Rebeca Perfecto ('12), director of admissions for the UNT Health Science Center, suggested "Preciosa" by composer Rafael Hernández Marín as a tribute to their Puerto Rican heritage. He received messages from Puerto Ricans saying they were praying for him and wishing him well.
But, of course, the most immediate response came from his neighbors.
"You could hear claps from all over, as if they were eager to hear more," he says. "Truly beautiful and rewarding to know that we are connecting, even if it's for 15 minutes once a day."
Perfecto is just one of many UNT alumni who are sharing their caring and creative spirit during this life-altering crisis. Here's a look at others who are helping out:
Known as "Mattress Mack," Jim McIngvale earned attention for housing Houston residents during Hurricane Harvey at his furniture-and-mattress chain Gallery Furniture. Now McIngvale, who attended North Texas in the 1970s, is using his stores to distribute meals and other supplies to children and seniors during this crisis. "Helping our community during these troubling times is truly a blessing," he says in this tweet.
Ventriloquist Dennis Lee ('86) has entertained students across the country as Nana Puddin'. In this Facebook video, he tells children that the future looks "bright" -- and that they are the future. Lee's YouTube channel features many videos for young children. He notes that, like him, many parents and educators are struggling with how to cope with the situation and this video was a way of helping them and himself. "We were like everyone else, caught up in the oh-my-goodness of the moment," he says. "We can stare at the wall and gain 80 pounds. Mentally it was not what I'm cut out for. I'm a very social person. I'm gifted at loving children and talking to them at their level and being positive, so I can do that piece of it."
Caring Through Music
Norah Jones, who attended UNT in the 1990s, was among the celebrities who sang the John Lennon classic "Imagine" in this Instagram video. She also posted a video of herself performing a cover of "Patience" and encouraged her followers to donate to food banks and MusicCares. "I hope you're ok in these strange times," she tells her followers. "If you're in a position to make a donation, there are many organizations who are getting food or supplies to people in need. … And please stay home as a pledge of social responsibility to our medical professionals."
Hand-washing Stations for the Homeless
As a lifeline for the homeless, rapper Lecrae ('02) helped set up hand-washing stations in Atlanta with the organization Love Beyond Walls. In an article for Christianity Today, he says, "Social distancing doesn't mean spiritual distancing. There is no Resurrection Sunday without a Good Friday. This is Good Friday for a lot of us. We are figuring that out now, and hopefully some creative things happen in light of it."
Creating Face Masks for Health Care Professionals
Fashion designer Khanh Nguyen ('08), who runs Nhã Khanh Atelier in Dallas, is using her skills to make 1,000 masks for health care professionals with the filters made from her non-woven breathable garment bag inventory used for bridal gowns. The virus has caused a shortage of personal protective equipment, and Dallas County officials asked clothing manufacturers for help.
"I am extremely grateful to my team for stepping up and lending us their time and talents to work from home during this difficult time," Nguyen says in her Facebook post. "They are doing this out of the goodness of their hearts without accepting any payment. We hope these masks will bring you some comfort and protection as we all are facing and navigating this together."
Denton Businesses Helping Employees
John Williams ('05) had to shut down his popular Denton bars -- Eastside, Oak Street Draft House and Miss Angeline's -- but is helping out his employees by selling T-shirts and $25 gift cards for $20 with profits going to his staff. Seth Morgan ('93) also set up a fund for his workers at Denton County Brewing Co. And they aren't the only ones -- many Denton businesses owned by UNT alumni are helping out their employees who have been hard hit by store closings. This list of Denton businesses offers ways to help.
Williams and his staff are now mowing lawns as part of their Yard-Tenders side business. "You're used to seeing us in the weeds behind the bar, now watch us take care of the weeds around your home," John says. "All joking aside, we're really grateful for the support we've received from the community. It means the world to us."
Music doctoral student Alisa Coffey, principal harpist for the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, plays music for the "Bedtime with Bach" series on Facebook. She was featured in articles from CNN and The Washington Post. "On a practical level, I've been taking time to get outside and enjoy the beautiful weather while life has been on pause," she says. "On a deeper level, having projects like "Bedtime with Bach," and other recording ventures has allowed me to connect with others through music even if it's not 'live.' This has reminded me of the value of music, and inspired me to use this time well in preparation for when we're together again."
Preparing Musicians' Practices
Harry Watters ('85), an Alexandria, Va.-based trombonist, instructs brass musicians how to prepare for practice every morning with the The Social Distancing Warm-up Series on Facebook and YouTube. "During these uncertain and challenging times, maintaining a daily schedule has been extremely helpful, where every daylight hour is accounted for," Watters says. "This includes designated sessions for practicing, exercise, family walks and, yes, naps. Feedback from our Social Distancing Warm-Up Series has been incredibly positive and truly inspiring. Band directors, music teachers and applied instructors have shared the online sessions with their students and colleagues around the globe. Many older musicians who have not played in years are also picking up their instruments again and joining us!"