BARQUISIMETO, Venezuela (AP) – Orchestral music envelops the streets of a Venezuelan city every time a truck loaded with musicians drives through traffic last year, attracting the attention of drivers and passers-by who take photos and stare at the vehicle. The live performance is an attempt to give people a little break from the coronavirus pandemic and other hardships.

On a hot afternoon that week, the musicians climbed onto the platform of the truck and began playing with face masks as they traveled through Barquisimeto, a town west of the capital, Caracas. Her instruments included a cello, violins, and even a Steinway & Sons grand piano.

“Music can not only entertain us, it can also transform us, heal us and soothe our emotions,” said José Agustín Sánchez, a Venezuelan pianist, composer and conductor who started the initiative.

Before the show began, Sanchez reminded the musicians that their upcoming performance was a “musical disinfection” that could provoke a range of emotions in them and their audience. He told them to be ready to be yelled at, but also to see someone clap and cry.

The tour started in front of a medical school next to a hospital. Sanchez was conducting the mobile orchestra from his piano as the musicians were sweating under the midday sun. The orchestra played for hours many of the tunes he wrote as the composer for the Caracas Municipal Symphony Orchestra.

In Venezuela, more than 140,900 infections and 1,364 deaths have been confirmed from COVID-19. Experts believe the low number of cases compared to other countries in the region such as Brazil, Colombia and Peru is largely due to the isolation Venezuela has experienced for years due to a political, economic and social crisis.

Barquisimeto is also known as Venezuela’s “City of Music” as it is the hometown of several musical instrument manufacturers, musicians and composers in the country, including Gustavo Dudamel, the music and artistic director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the USA, one of today’s great conductors.

Sanchez, 31, returned to Venezuela in 2017 after almost 11 years abroad. His travels took him to Tibet and Nepal, where, after several months of “exploring peace from the sound”, he decided to return to his affected country to deliver a message of unity.

He was out and about in Venezuela during the pandemic, playing on pickups, but also in medical facilities treating patients with COVID-19. His Instagram account contains videos of Sanchez wearing personal protective equipment from head to toe and playing the piano alongside patients and healthcare workers.

“It’s a worthy show, it’s beautiful,” said Zulay Chirinos Mariño, a 60-year-old Barquisimeto resident. “I have goosebumps.”

Associate press photographer Ariana Cubillos and writers Jorge Rueda from Caracas, Venezuela, and Regina Garcia Cano from Mexico City contributed to this report.

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