VICTORIA -- Ashley stands beside her piano on an empty stage. She looks out to the empty room and invites a singer to join her.

“I would like to introduce to you, Maria Manna,” the pianist proclaims. 

“Yeah!” Manna says, beaming. After being greeted by silence, she jokes, “There’s applause!”

Manna and the professional musicians she’s set to play with today, haven’t performed for a live audience for a while. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused them to cancel all their projects and stop receiving an income.

“We started to get down and depressed, isolated at home,” Manna admits. “We’re trying to stay positive.”

Trying. But then Manna would see overwhelming images from the hospitals in Italy and have distressing conversations with her relatives living there. 

“In her town of 10,000 people, nine people died yesterday,” Manna says of a recent call with a cousin. “It was almost like communicating with someone who felt doomed.”

While people in Italy may feel hopeless in quarantine by day, Manna says they would sing hopefully from balconies at night.

She was so inspired by seeing videos of their performances, she decided to translate a Canadian jazz classic - Oscar Peterson’s ‘Hymn to Freedom’ - into Italian. 

“The words in that song say it all,” Manna explains. “It’s all about love and hope.”

When she was finished translating, Manna invited pianist Ashley Wey and bassist Louis Rudner to play the song ( while keeping more than two metres apart) for an online audience more than 9,000 kilometres away.

They performed in front of two cameras at Hermann’s Jazz Club in downtown Victoria for thousands of friends and family around Italy, watching on Facebook.

“We’re not allowed to touch each other [physically], yet we’re touching each other so much more than before because we’re reaching out [emotionally],” Manna smiles. “We’re working harder to love each other.”

Manna says she received messages of gratitude from members of her Italian audience, plus videos and pictures showing comforting smiles, happy tears, and expressions of renewed hope.

“That’s what I had hoped people would take away from this, that this is more love,” Manna says. “The love is going viral!”