Gowanus Canal canoers celebrate early voting with live opera, French horn salute

October 24, 2020 Elizabeth Kuster
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Paddlers from the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club (GDCC) and Brooklyn’s Wide Awakes Navy joined forces with the Metropolitan Horn Authority (MHA) and Harlem-based opera singer and drag performer Shequida Hall on Friday night to create an only-in-Brooklyn musical experience aimed at promoting early voting.

The costumed participants boarded their various vessels at the 2nd Street dock and paddled or motored slowly to the Gowanus’ Fourth Street Basin in the evening gloam. Meanwhile, surprised and delighted pedestrians, bicyclists and Whole Foods shoppers realized something special was up and quickly lined both sides of the Canal and the Third Street Bridge to watch the goings on. They were rewarded with the sight of a blinking life preserver, illuminated “Vote!” signs and the sparkling Hall, who was clad face-mask-to-foot in glittering silver sequins.

Harlem-based opera singer and drag performer Shequida Hall (center, in sequins) sang two pieces at the event, to enthusiastic cheers from onlookers.

The festive flotilla (vote-illa?) began with a stirring military-style French horn salute from the MHA, followed by their sweet rendition of the 1971 “Willy Wonka” song “Pure Imagination,” evoking warm memories of that movie’s chocolate-river boat ride.

GDCC Captain Brad Vogel then called attention to the Gowanus Canal’s unique composition. “As many of you know, the Gowanus Canal is a rather polluted body of water,” he said. “It’s a place that has both the legacy of industrial toxins and a recurring problem of 300 million gallons of combined sewer overflow running into it every year. That’s not something to be happy about. But it is, in a way, perhaps, a little bit like America: With all of those problems, it still manages to bring a great deal of beauty and hope to all of us who call this place home. And we are all working together, I can assure you, to make sure it gets cleaned up. Vote!”

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Canoers held a blinking life preserver, illuminated “Vote!”

Hall then proceeded to belt out “The Star-Spangled Banner,” followed by “Libiamo, ne’ lieti calici” from “La Triviata.” The thrilling performance carried beautifully over the rippling water, and the mask-wearing audience cheered as Hall hit the famous high note at song’s end. (“By the way, I cannot swim,” the singer quipped at one point.)

According to MHA member Blair Hamrick, the event was “supposed to be just weird enough to make people go, ‘What? Oh: Vote!’”

Message received.

For information on early and absentee voting, visit the New York State site.

The Metropolitan Horn Authority quartet (left to right): Peter DelGrosso, Elizabeth Schmidt, Blair Hamrick and Kevin Newton.

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