Rio firefighter trades hose for horn to extinguish the blues

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People watch firefighter Elielson Silva play his trumpet from the top of a ladder for residents cooped up at home, during a lockdown to help contain the spread of the new coronavirus in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, April 5, 2020. He draws cheers and enthusiastic clapping. Hearing all that music restores our will to be in Rio, our sense of collectiveness, Renata Versiani said from her windowsill, where she watched Silva play with her husband and young daughter. Initiatives like this remind us of who we are as a community. Its happiness to have a surprise like this. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

RIO DE JANEIRO – Decked out in full firefighting gear, Elielson Silva stands 150 feet above the ground atop a retractable ladder poking up from a red fire truck.

His lofty perch is about as high as Rio de Janeiro's colossal Maracana soccer stadium behind him. Silva faces a row of apartment buildings filled with Brazilians sheltering from the new coronavirus and watching from their windows and balconies.

He raises his silver trumpet to his lips and the notes soar toward his audience, helping extinguish the blues from being cooped up inside their homes.

Silva plays tunes known across Brazil, but especially ones composed in and about Rio. Channeling an era that was more carefree, his songs tug at their heart strings: “Watercolor of Brazil,” “Samba of the Plane,” “Marvelous City” and “I Know I’m Going to Love You.”

“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,” says Silva, an 18-year veteran of the city's firefighting corps. “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.”

Raised to heights of up to 200 feet, he has performed all over the city. That includes tourist hot spots that these days are eerily empty -- like Copacabana beach and the base of Sugarloaf Mountain -- and working-class communities Rocinha and Jacarepagua. On Sunday, he played in three separate neighborhoods, always sporting his heavy, fire-resistant jacket and fire helmet despite temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

He draws cheers and enthusiastic clapping.

“Hearing all that music restores our will to be in Rio, our sense of collectiveness,” Renata Versiani said from her windowsill, where she watched 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.”