The City That Never Sleeps Won’t Stop Cheering

The city’s total death toll keeps climbing— just under 17,000 have died since the pandemic started. But as the city creeps into its seventh week of shelter in place orders and grim news cycles continue, New Yorkers’ spirits refuse to be crushed.

Since the crisis broke out in mid-March, every night at  7 p.m. New Yorkers close computers, put down phones, and pause dinner preparations to lean out their windows, step out on their balconies or stoops, and cheer. There are whoops and yells, claps and whistles, cowbells and makeshift cowbells created from pots and pans. Car horns blare.

Stuck in their houses, New Yorkers cheer, thanking first responders and healthcare workers for their tireless service through the weeks of hardship. In a time of extreme uncertainty, where numbers and guidance change daily, the nighttime howls of a fiercely strong city remain constant.

But the joyous cacophony that echoes through the ghostly avenues also serves a second purpose— the cheers are a chance for New Yorkers to connect with one another, to say, “We’re here! We survived another day!” It’s a chilling, beautiful reminder of humanity’s resilience. Even as they mourn their city’s struggle, New Yorker’s celebrate life. 

The cheering is a nightly tradition that has cropped up in many big coronavirus-plagued cities all over the world— Paris, Madrid, Athens, Barcelona, Atlanta, Vancouver, Los Angeles. In Italy, neighbors sing together to keep spirits up. Some sing opera arias. DJs host balcony dance parties. In New Orleans, where the iconic live music has come to a standstill, a jazz clarinetist in the French Quarter plays alone on his balcony.

In New York City, in every borough, the same sounds ring out every night. The city’s large, diverse community of almost 8.5 million people make themselves heard. 

A recent poll from CUNY found that 60 percent of New Yorkers say the pandemic made them feel closer to other New Yorkers and 61 percent felt more connected to other Americans in general. Yet, the same poll found that 43 percent of New Yorkers have felt no social connection during these past few weeks. While the clanging, banging, and whistling can’t replace a hug with a neighbor or a Friday night spent in a bustling bar, the sounds do seem to remind New Yorkers that they’re not alone. 

Here are the sounds New Yorkers captured at their home; sounds that celebrate life, mourn death, and encourage first responders:


Cheering on the Upper West Side from NYCityLens on Vimeo. Video courtesy of Hannah Waxman.

Cheering in Manhattan from NYCityLens on Vimeo. Video courtesy of Dody Tsiantar.

Cheering in Queens from NYCityLens on Vimeo. Video courtesy of Ben Manoukian.