Trumpet-playing Rio firefighter raises spirits by hitting the heights

By Yesica Fisch and David Biller, Associated Press

A Rio de Janeiro firefighter has devised a novel approach to curing the coronavirus blues by boarding a fire engine’s retractable ladder and playing tunes on his trumpet from the lofty perch.

Raised to heights of up to 200ft, Elielson Silva has performed all over the city, breaking the monotony for Rio’s residents in isolation, who watch from their windows and clap enthusiastically.

That includes tourist hotspots that these days are eerily empty – such as Copacabana beach and the base of Sugarloaf Mountain – and working-class communities.

Mr Silva plays tunes known across Brazil, but especially ones composed in and about Rio.

Firefighter Elielson Silva arrives to play his trumpet from the top of a ladder for residents stuck at home during lockdown (Leo Correa/AP)

Channelling an era that was more carefree, his songs tug at their heartstrings: Watercolour Of Brazil, Samba Of The Plane, Marvellous City and I Know I’m Going To Love You.

The 18-year veteran of the city’s firefighting corps said: “Everyone is suffering the pandemic and I’m trying to the boost the morale of Rio’s population, so all this difficulty is lessened in these times we’re going through.

“Bringing a bit of music, a bit of air, to these people has meant a lot to me as a musician and to the corps.”

On Sunday, he played in three separate neighbourhoods, always sporting his heavy, fire-resistant jacket and fire helmet despite temperatures above 80F (26.6C).

He draws cheers and enthusiastic clapping.

Mr Silva said he is trying to boost people’s morale (Leo Correa/AP)

“Hearing all that music restores our will to be in Rio, our sense of collectiveness,” Renata Versiani said from her windowsill, where she watched Mr Silva play with her husband and young daughter.

“Initiatives like this remind us of who we are as a community. It’s happiness to have a surprise like this.”

Ms Versiani knows the emotional value of such gestures.

She is a psychologist whose family, by her telling, has “surrendered” to the calls to stay inside their home.

Rio’s firefighters were the front line of the state government’s initial campaign to raise awareness about the need for people to isolate themselves and help contain the spread of the virus.

Mr Silva plays his trumpet with the Maracana stadium in the background (Leo Correa/AP)

They patrolled the city’s legendary beaches, playing a recording that urged beachgoers to head home, and spoke to people walking on the streets.

Since Rio’s governor imposed restrictive measures, the firefighters have been seen waving people off the beaches.

Brazil is in the midst of a pitched battle over the effectiveness of isolation, with President Jair Bolsonaro dismissing the virus’s severity and publicly taking aim at governors who impose shutdowns that he says could cripple the economy.

His gatherings in public with supporters counter instructions from international health authorities and his own health ministry.

Residents admire the performance (Leo Correa/AP)

Brazilians seem to be more atuned to the experts.

A survey by the polling firm Datafolha in the opening days of April found that 76% of Brazilians surveyed support social isolation.

Mr Silva is striving to make social distancing seem a little less distant.

In Rio’s Flamengo neighbourhood, the sun glinted off his horn as he played his final numbers – Brazil’s national anthem, then Hallelujah.

People watch the firefighter play his trumpet (Leo Correa/AP)

Onlookers surrounding him began applauding with their arms above their heads as his ladder telescoped downward.

“Congratulations to these heroes,” Mr Silva said, motioning to firefighters on the ground.

Then he put his hands over his heart, and took a modest bow.