Nurse Simona Camosci started writing a song last April to keep her spirits up during Italy’s devastating first wave of coronavirus. A year on, and with much of Italy shut down again, Light up the Rainbow (Accendi l’arcobaleno) has been recorded with the aim of raising funds for student nurses.
“At that time of turmoil and sadness, and a profound need to cling on to something good, I wanted to write optimistic lyrics that would project me towards the end of this tragic event,” she tells the BBC.
When the Covid crisis hit Bologna early last March, she had just transferred from the local health centre to a specialist hospital clinic. After 36 years, she had been hoping to spend the final chapter of her career in a less frenetic environment.
Within a week her new workplace had become Bologna’s designated Covid hospital and she was at the checkpoint, filtering patients.
One of her scariest memories was watching doctors, nurses and hospital managers frantically moving beds between buildings – “the constant back and forth as operating theatres were turned into wards and wards into intensive care units”.
Whenever a comforting thought popped into her head, she would type it on the computer at work. It took her two months to complete the song, a homage to human life and the role of nurses in protecting it.
‘A gesture I’ll never forget’
Her new team showed her how to cover herself adequately while working on the frontline, and a former colleague from the health centre brought her an old visor she had used at the dental clinic.
“It was a gesture I’ll never forget because that face shield – which I washed and disinfected daily – meant I could protect myself adequately in those days when there wasn’t enough protective gear for all of us.”
Simona chose the title because it signalled a positive future. “Because when does a rainbow appear? At the end of a heavy downpour or a huge storm, when bad weather has ripped the doors of our homes open,” she said.
Simona’s idea was to put together a group of nurses to record the song, then use it to raise money to set up bursaries at the University of Bologna. If there was one thing the pandemic had highlighted, it was the scarcity of qualified nursing staff in Italy.
She asked an old friend, music producer Giancarlo Di Maria, to set the lyrics to music and was thrilled with the result. “I actually like the maestro’s melody more than my words,” she laughs.
Hope was the defining element of her song but not every line is positive.
One line – We’re fighting this together with you, but don’t call us heroes – reflects her response to the singing on balconies in support of health workers.
“They shouted ‘You nurses are heroes! You’re our saviours!’ But we’ve always been there for people; it shouldn’t have taken a situation like this to recognise what we do. I found it incredibly sad. I didn’t feel gratified.”
‘This is our song’
Her next task was to put together a chorus of nurses. “The only requirement was that they shouldn’t be completely tone deaf.”
Eventually she found seven fellow nurses and Coro in Corsia (Chorus on the Ward) was born.
Among them was close friend Silvia Fortunato. “I didn’t volunteer at first because I was too embarrassed,” laughs Silvia, who had sung for years in a church choir as a child.
“When I read the words, I fell in love with it because it reflects all of us healthcare workers. This is our song and Simona is right, it has to be sung by those who feel it deeply.”
A nurse of over 20 years, Silvia had felt similar emotions to Simona’s, compounded by her own frustration that a back injury had prevented her from working on the frontline.
‘From being abused to being hailed as heroes’
After reading scores of posts on social media by stressed nurses she compiled a collection of their pandemic experiences and published it first online and then in print. The aim was to alert readers to nurses’ trauma and raise money for those infected with Covid.
“A few months before the pandemic, our colleagues were being regularly assaulted in Accident & Emergency. So we went from being abused to being hailed as heroes,” she says, adamant that all they wanted was to be recognised as professionals doing their jobs.
The worst was when the applause had died down. “People started accusing us with conspiracy theories: ‘Covid doesn’t exist’, ‘you’re working with Bill Gates’, and so on”.
Silvia’s favourite line in the song comes up in the chorus: The uniform we wear tells everyone what we are. That sums up their pride in the profession, she believes.
Finding time to rehearse and record
Then came the challenge of trying to rehearse with eight nurses working incompatible shifts at different medical facilities and constantly changing government restrictions on movement.
“We only managed three rehearsals. At my house in the living room: all distanced, singing with masks on and the windows open in the middle of winter,” Simona remembers.
A crowdfunding page helped cover recording costs and there was even some money left over for the first two modest nursing bursaries.
The chorus complete, Simona knew she now needed a big name for guest vocals if the song had a chance of becoming the hit needed to raise the money for scholarships.
She found it in Andrea Mingardi, a famous Bolognese singer-songwriter, whose wife fell in love with the song and encouraged him to participate. Now 80, he recorded his part safely at home in his own studio.
Light up the Rainbow was released last month. It is a poignant time for the song to come out. Bologna is once again in a red zone, with hospitals at breaking point and waiting lists for intensive care.
“The situation’s really devastating, but I refuse to be sucked into negativity and pessimism,” says Simona. I want to continue with my optimism because I can see a light at the end of this tunnel, just as I see a rainbow.”