Honoring Rescue and Recovery Workers at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum

On May 30, 2017, The National September 11 Memorial & Museum recognized the 15th anniversary of the end of the historic rescue, recovery and relief efforts at Ground Zero.  As part of the ceremonies, the Peace of Heart Choir, as in previous years, performed on a balcony/overhang overlooking the hall where the ceremonies were held.

The choir's performance this year began with the Star Spangled Banner, as a Color Guard presented the nation's flag, and, it continued during a portion of the ceremony where those in attendance were invited to tie blue ribbons at the base of the last standing column of the World Trade Center to pay tribute to all those who sacrificed so much and to those who continue to suffer health-wise because of their heroic efforts. 

Immediately above is video of the ceremony, courtesy of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.  In the background, the choir can be heard singing the following songs at the following time signatures:

02:07 — Star Spangled Banner
14:27 — Bright Morning Star
17:50 — One Day
21:03 — That Lonesome Road
23:53 — Paz y Libertad (partial song)

Fore more info on the National September 11th Memorial & Museum please visit:  https://www.911memorial.org/

Singing for Hope at the NYC Port Authority Bus Terminal on March 8, 2017

I walked down West 40th Street on this unseasonably warm and increasingly windy early March day until I reached my destination--a thoroughly familiar transit hub for New Yorkers, the Port Authority Bus Terminal, the main gateway for interstate buses with connections to MTA trains and MTA buses for what would be an entirely unique and fun experience performing at the evening’s Sing for Hope concert. This would mark our first performance of the season and the first performance organized with the help of Sing for Hope at the suggestion of one of our sopranos, Cheryl. Sing for Hope, an organization whose mission is very similar to our mission works to organize musicians and other arts groups to perform at hospitals and other venues across the city. They also organize the annual “Painted Pianos” project, which places pianos in the streets and parks of NYC for several weeks.

I entered the terminal looking for our performance space. The directions were clear in our notes that it was in a spot that could easily be missed. I took the escalator up and it was quite easy to find—there was a set of stairs heralded by our banner with our Peace of Heart Choir logo that led to the balcony which would serve as our performance space. I took off my red coat revealing my red top and found myself immersed in a sea of red worn by fellow choir members and our maestro, Rene, on this International Women's Day to show solidarity for the women's rights movement. Rene clad in a red sweater, began doing an abbreviated vocal warm-up and testing the mikes and PA system. He brought his prized guitars as usual. We warmed up with the viscerally striking performance space as our backdrop. The Port Authority Bus Terminal’s Performing Arts Stage features a series of step and repeat banner stands with inspirational photos of children and adults immersed in the joy of music with hashtags such as “ArtForAll”, “SingforHope”,  and “SFHvolunteer” and then there was the musical equipment, most notably, the center of attention--the enchanted Sing for Hope piano created and hand-painted on site by visual artist/graphic designer Patrick Freeman bursting with swirls of neon pink, periwinkle, green, purple, yellow, and orange in configurations of stars, rainbows, and hearts. The brightly colored piano provided such a magic to the space. Interest was growing among those passing by as we warmed up. Our performance space was undeniably unique as our audience stood and watched along the mezzanine on our level. Directly across from us and encircling us on our level were our audience—friends and family, passersby who stopped to watch, and vendors who were part of the booths that lined the mezzanine.

I looked straight across from us at the overhead clock. It read 5:12 and so we charged forward, a few minutes earlier than our 5:15 start time. We were bursting with energy and ready to sing. We opened with our usual opening number, “Siyahamba”. Next up was “Yonder Come Day”. We got a little bit of a work-out, moving back and forth, alternating between singing behind Rene at the piano and our soloists at the mikes and right out front at the glass partition, directly above Au Bon Pain. Our audience on the level below gathered in front of stores across from us such as GNC to our left, Jamba Juice directly in front of us, and Starbucks to our right. We performed “Let The River Run” featuring lovely solos by Lynn and Gwyn and “Hombe” featuring resonant solos by Tony and Gail at the mikes and Rene working his magic behind the Peter Max inspired piano. He alternated between playing on the piano and playing his prized guitars on other pieces with an assist from Laurie and Ariel on guitar at various points. We premiered a new song here, a fitting “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. “Freedom Is Coming” also felt so relevant considering the day. One of our standards, “Lonesome Road” was very moving featuring a heartfelt solo by Nancy. We enthusiastically sang sing-alongs such as “Peace Like a River”, “Down by the Riverside”, and “This Land Is Your Land”—all six verses. I could feel the joy as we sang “This Little Light of Mine”. An a cappella “Give Us Hope” celebrating children as our future resonated as we saw children pass by, particularly one little girl carrying a poster board—I couldn’t make out the words but I could see the colorful rainbow she had drawn. Perhaps it was from one of the rallies that she had attended earlier in the day with the woman who accompanied her. The little girl’s smile and her wave to us said it all. Several of us waved back. I know she put a smile on my face. 

 

During “One Day” highlighted by wholehearted solos from Gary and Amanda, a man wearing dark sunglasses walking by on the lower level was obviously moved by the music. He stopped and stood in the center of the walkway swaying to the music and beginning to dance. An audience had really formed on the lower level--some people recording us with their cell phones with smiles on their faces, others flashing peace signs at us as they walked by. There was intermittent applause after several songs. We had a few breaks at which point Gary spoke of the mission and history of Peace of Heart Choir and Tony thanked our audience including friends and family who had come out to support us and friends of the choir, Ruth Antrich, and Frank Asencio who had volunteered to take video of the performance. Christina noted that a friend she hadn’t seen in years had just seen our performance. Ahh, the power of music!

We closed with our signature closing song, “Let There Be Peace on Earth” featuring a powerful solo by Deb—impressive she had sung without a microphone. Rene directed us to take our bows twice to appreciative applause.

Yes, the acoustics of the venue had been challenging. What can’t be denied is the special energy of the space--a unique and fun venue, and how music transforms a common space bringing the extraordinary to the ordinary.

It started with an idea, “Wouldn’t it be nice to put a piano here?" What was once a vacant space is now alive with the spirit of music on Wednesday and Friday evenings for the thousands of commuters that pass through during the evening rush and we were part of that. I will never forget the peace signs, the people who stopped to record us, the man in dark sunglasses feeling the power of our music, and the little girl who smiled and waved at us, carrying her poster board with a rainbow emblazoned on it—a ray of hope. On that evening, our brightly colored tops comprised of a considerable amount of red and our voices had brightened the gray corridors of the Port Authority Bus Terminal.

In Harmony,
Carrie Wesolowski, Alto 1

Take Us Out to the Ballgame: Choir Sings at the Staten Island Yankees on June 24, 2016

I walked out of the Bowling Green train station and walked towards the signs with the word “Ferries”. A few minutes later, I reached the Staten Island Ferry terminal –the words “Staten Island Ferry” beckoned me.  As I approached the terminal, I saw Jeanette and Anthony sitting on the benches outside. I chatted with them a bit and then walked inside. This was my first time inside the Staten Island Ferry terminal and this would not only be my first time taking the Staten Island Ferry but my first visit to Staten Island as well. I took the escalator upstairs and saw Larry with his official clipboard listing all of the choir members who had signed up and those who bought tickets for the game and needed to pick them up first. I checked in with Larry and received my red Peace of Heart Choir baseball cap—a perfect complement to my Yankees Baseball T-Shirt.  Peace of Heart Choir was going to be doing a short set and then performing The National Anthem at the season opener of the Staten Island Yankees game. One by one choir members arrived and Larry crossed their names off his list and John and Larry distributed tickets as needed. Family and friends of choir members were also part of the POHC contingent. 

The call to board the ferry came soon enough. It was rush hour and there were perhaps a thousand people who boarded. I marveled at how many people the ferry accommodated. We took the steps up to the second level and went out on deck to take in the breathtaking views of New York Harbor, particularly of The Statue of Liberty. As Michael Anne commented, “The Staten Island Ferry is still the best free way to see the Statue of Liberty and the skyline from the harbor.”  We alternated between taking photos and then taking a break and enjoying the view.

Before we knew it, we had arrived. We got off the ferry and walked through a small transit hub with shops and a food court and then walked past a restaurant outside and then a short distance to the ballpark.  We organized outside the ballpark for a short set. Rene set up his speakers, mic, and other equipment.  Rene gave us the signal and we began with our opening number, a spirited “Siyahamba”. As we sang, I looked out towards the stadium and noticed the sign at the top “Ballpark At St. George”. To our left was an ESPN booth set up where people threw bean bags at a target in order to win prizes. We continued with a powerful “That Lonesome Road” featuring a solo by Nancy.  The highlights for the crowd seemed to be the choir with Rene and his guitar on the crowd favorite, “Guantanamera” and the Jamaican mento/Calypso folk song, “The Banana Boat Song” which Rene signaled us to do “straight” –this time we wouldn’t have a leader. Leigh who was our contact from the ballpark excitedly commented that “The Banana Boat Song” was her favorite song and this was the best version she had ever heard. We concluded our set with our signature closing song, a sublime “Let There Be Peace on Earth” featuring a solo by Deb. 

After our short set, we entered the stadium.  Our holding area before our performance was a long hallway where we saw some of the ball players.  There we ran through “The Star Spangled Banner” with Rene. Excitement building, it felt like the longest wait to take the field and then it was time. We lined up and took the field one by one as we walked through the gate that opened onto the field. As I walked out onto the field, I was struck by the smell of freshly cut grass—so fragrant, it permeated my nostrils. We took our positions and the PA announced that Peace of Heart Choir would be performing The National Anthem. That was our cue—we all took off our red Peace of Heart Choir caps and lowered them to our chests.  It was a surreal moment. The music started and Rene began to direct us. I looked up at the spectators in the stands and the rapt looks on their faces. We sounded triumphant, strong, and inspiring and we had performed with heart. Before we knew it, we had gotten to the end of “The Star Spangled Banner.” The announcer directed the audience to give a warm round of applause for Peace of Heart Choir. The audience reaction was enthusiastic, Rene directed us to take a bow and we began to make our way off the field. If I could bottle the smell of the fragrant grass tickling my nostrils; I would, and if I could bottle that feeling as I left the field; I would too. I was on a high and I know every one of my fellow choir members was too. As we made our way off the field, it was a magical blur as I heard Leigh tell us how wonderful we all sounded, how a ball player said that it was the best version of The National Anthem he had ever heard and thanked us.

We then got to take pictures with the Staten Island Yankees mascot, Scooter, named after Phil Rizzuto in his honor.  It was fun posing with him. Now, it was time to get some cold beer and some stadium fare and enjoy the season opener. A Peace of Heart Choir contingent made themselves at home in the stands, watching the game. When I sat down, that cold beer hit the spot on this warm summer day.  Gwyn was in the danger zone--she narrowly escaped getting hit by foul balls countless times but she wound up with a new T-shirt that looked great. It got quite chilly as the game rolled on and I needed a sweatshirt more than that cold beer now. I went to the clubhouse store where I got a tie-dye sweatshirt and a compliment. The cashier asked, “Did you perform The National Anthem before?”

“Yes, with Peace of Heart Choir,” I replied.

“It was absolutely beautiful,” she exclaimed.

Yes, it was—I thought to myself as I walked back to my seat--an absolutely beautiful way to cap off a glorious Peace of Heart Choir season.

Have a very Happy Fourth of July, everyone!! See you next season.

In Harmony,
Carrie Wesolowski, Alto 1

"9/11 After 15 Years: A Reflection" at the New York Society for Ethical Culture

It was an early Sunday morning—the city hadn’t totally woken up yet. As I got out of the subway station at Columbus Circle, I spotted some morning joggers--street traffic was still light. I walked down Broadway until I reached West 64th Street and I made a right. I sauntered along until I reached a sign bearing the words "Ethical Platform" at the very top, and in smaller white letters an invitation to step inside this Sunday morning and I knew I had reached my destination: The New York Society For Ethical Culture. This was the place Peace of Heart Choir would be singing on this morning as part of a collaboration between the two groups marking the 15th Anniversary of 9/11 as part of a program entitled "9/11: 15 Years Later, A Reflection".  For those not familiar with The New York Society For Ethical Culture, it is a humanist community dedicated to ethics, social justice, and education since 1876. Their mission is to celebrate life’s joys, support each other through life’s crises, and work to make the world a better place.  One of our Peace of Heart Choir members, Larry, is a member of The New York Society of Ethical Culture. 

As I reached the front steps, I spotted my fellow choir member Maryann. We chatted a bit and we walked through the front door and found our Peace of Heart Choir banner in the hallway. We made our way into the concert hall where Rene was warming us up and fine tuning elements of our repertoire. It is a grand concert hall indeed--the landmarked space, one of the few NYC buildings constructed in the Art Noveau style features palatial ceilings and magnificent arches. We took the stage—a good-sized stage featuring a Steinway and Sons piano, a lectern to the center and a table with a vase of flowers on the left hand side. We sounded lovely in this breathtaking space with its marvelous acoustics.

After running through our morning’s repertoire, we waited in the numbered benches to the side of the stage. The program began with pianist David Garcia's piano renditions of   9/11 tribute songs, “In Memoriam”, “All They Wanted To Say” and most notably, an absolutely gorgeous piano rendition of the classic “Imagine”, by one of Garcia’s favorite composers, John Lennon. One of Peace of Heart Choir’s favorites as well, we performed “Imagine” in one of our fall concerts a few seasons back. Garcia noted that while he was not here on 9/11, what always stood out to him in people’s accounts was that amidst the negative, tragic elements, there was a ray of hope in people uniting together and getting stronger through uniting together.

One of the leaders of The New York Society of Ethical Culture, Dr. Anne Klaeysen, welcomed Peace of Heart Choir to the stage. She said that one of their members, Larry, had spoken often of the group he enjoyed singing with so much--Peace of Heart Choir-- and suggested that Peace of Heart Choir sing here and Dr. Klaeysen said that she readily agreed. So the time had come. Peace of Heart Choir took the stage.

It was time to sing. Rene gave us the nod and we lifted our music folders from our sides, opened them, and we began our first set with our first song selected for this occasion, the reflective Appalachian folk tune, a glorious a cappella “Bright Morning Star”. We had performed this song many times before and yet there was something different this time. In this venue on this occasion, I felt an extra sense of solemnity, of emotion. During the song, the room was so silent; you could hear a pin drop. When we reached the end, we held our stances and did not move a muscle as Rene had instructed which was extremely effective.  And then as we moved from our fixed stances, the very appreciative applause began. We continued with our next song selected for this occasion: the Hebrew celebratory song, “Bashana  Haba’ah” brilliantly featuring Amanda on clarinet and Marv on accordion. “Bashana Haba’ah” lived up to its description in the program: ‘offering moments of simple joy'. This lively song did offer moments of simple joy—I felt a sense of joy and freedom as I sang, I felt that sense of joy in other choir members, and I knew the audience felt that joy as well.  

At this point, Dr. Klaeysen took the stage again and she said something very lovely--that it made her feel better hearing us sing.  This is definitely one of the reasons I love singing with the choir—making our audience happy. She then led a reflection on 9/11 and invited two young leaders at The New York Society For Ethical Culture to speak. One of the young leaders, a young man who is in a new class for citizenship, was the first to speak. The second speaker, a young woman who was only a toddler during 9/11 spoke of the legacy of the post-9/11 world in which she grew up—this world of tighter controls that is the only world she has ever known. Most importantly, she expressed her hope for peace and her desire for the stabilization of nations necessary to ensure that peace will one day come.

At this point, Dr. Klaeysen welcomed us back to the stage and invited us to talk about the choir and our mission. Gary spoke from the heart in introducing Peace Of Heart Choir and our mission. With a warm smile on his face, he even invited members of the audience to audition for our choir next season if they had Thursday evenings free. We had two more songs selected for this occasion. Our second set was now about to begin. Our voices soared in a sense of community on our one of our core songs, the Jim Papoulis anthem for our children, an a cappella “Give Us Hope”. This song spoke beautifully to one of the main themes of this day and many of the speeches: hope. Our last song was Matisyahu’s call for peace in our troubled world, “One Day” featuring lovely solos by Gwyn and Gary and splendid instrumental accompaniment featuring Rene on piano and Brian on guitar.  It was a truly beautiful way to end our program for the day. Dr. Klaeysen agreed. In Dr. Klaeysen’s closing comments,  she thanked us for singing and said of our songs, “We will be adding them to our repertoire.” I was so thankful for their invitation for us to perform here and I thought to myself that would be nice. We had collaborated with the New York Society of Ethical Culture on the community songs, “I’ve Got Peace Like A River” and “A Song of Peace”. This is such a lovely, wonderful place and a future collaboration would be delightful. 

At one point, Dr. Anne Klaeysen cited one of my favorite quotes by Martin Luther King Jr.: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” In her closing comments, she also said something very important, “Until everyone feels they are economically stable and has a living wage, that they can put food on their table, have a roof over their head, and have healthcare around the world—only then will we have peace.” (Incidentally, you can see the words “LIVING WAGE FOR ALL” on The New York Society for Ethical Culture’s latest banner so all passersby can see their public declaration of support for a living wage. They were among the first congregations to strike alongside fast-food workers and join the “Fight for $15 & a Union”. Since it began almost five years ago, this movement, started in New York City has spread to 300 cities on six continents.)

Dr. Klaeysen stressed that peace is quite a challenge but pointed out that there was a lot that each one of us can do until then in helping each other from not losing hope and keeping peace in our hearts.  She sent us back out into the world with this directive: “Let each of us be the voices to bring peace into the world.” And so we answered that directive by gathering together later in Central Park for a picnic and for reflection. Rene led us in song as we performed our encore, “Let There Be Peace On Earth” and sing-alongs such as “This Land Is Your Land” and “This Little Light of Mine”.  As we sang  "Let There Be Peace on Earth" and the other sing-alongs, I felt such a sense of community, of unity, of hope for the future. It was truly a special day of friendship and song that I will never forget. We each had spread that ray of hope that Dr. Klaeysen had alluded to earlier in her speech —each of us had let our little light shine in our corner of the world.

In Harmony,
Carrie Wesolowski,  Alto 1

At Common Ground

I walked down West 43rd Street and I arrived at a Renaissance-style building and knew I had found the place wherePeace of Heart Choir would be performing an outreach concert later that evening.  I walked in and showed my ID and signed in at the front desk.  The building reminded me of an old-time gleaming movie palace with its high ceilings, its winding staircase and mezzanine lined with holiday lights and garland and various holiday decorations—its architecture reminiscent of a bygone era.

The Times Square Hotel has a rich history. Built by the developer Henry Claman in 1922, it originally catered to single men and then to single women. Throughout the years, this majestic building now on the official National Register of Historic Places in Manhattan, has undergone many incarnations. Today, it is owned by Common Ground as its flagship supportive housing residence whose mission is toprovide affordable housing for the formerly homeless, some of whom live with HIV/AIDS, mental illness, or physical disabilities, and working professionals—many of whom are low-income performing artists including several jazz musicians.

In the center of the lobby were two beautiful Christmas trees with a gold statue of a cherub in between the two Christmas trees. There was a piano in front of the statue and a smaller gold statue of a cherub to the left of the first Christmas tree. Chairs were set up for the audience.  René was rehearsing the songs we would be performing. We ran through several songs in our repertoire. Some people sat in the audience and watched. Soon enough it was time to start.

Gary introduced the choir and its mission to the audience. The audience tricked in as people walked through the lobby and decided to sit down or stop and listen as they had hot cocoa or coffee that was set up on a table in the lobby.

Our first song, Pharrell’s chart-topper, “Happy” was a great way to start the outreach. It was infectiously upbeat and hit just the right note with the audience.  We performed Paul McCartney’s response to racial tensions in the US during the spring of 1968, the classic “Blackbird”, with a lovely solo by Brian.  As the outreach progressed, our audience grew. One man stood in the mezzanine showing his obvious appreciation of the music as he swayed his body to the music. We really had him on his feet.

We sounded pretty on a trio of love songs we performed: the first one, the Indian love song, “Mahi Ve”, the second, the Spanish love song, “Si La Nieve” introduced by Deb who had proposed it, and finally, the Korean love song, “Arirang” introduced by Sheila.

We performed some of our core songs too—the James Taylor standard, “That Lonesome Road” with a beautiful solo by Nancy, our sing-alongs “Peace Like A River”, “Rock-A-My-Soul”, and“Down By the Riverside”. “Peace Like A River” sounded strong and triumphant.   We split up our audience into three sections as is customary for“Rock-A-My Soul” and then went into each section to coach the audience their respective parts. This was such a wonderful exercise in audience participation. They really seemed to enjoy singing along! During “Down By The Riverside”, we went out into the audience to shake hands at the part that prompts us to do so. It was a warm-hearted welcome from a mostly male audience. The audience had grown and now most of the 40 or so seats were now filled.

Another core song, the Matisyahu anthem for peace, “One Day” sounded beautiful with really lovely solos by Gary and Hikari. As René noted, this song has really become part an important part of most of our outreaches. One audience member definitely agreed. He singled out the song and in particular how much he liked Gary’s voice.

We performed three holiday songs: “Deck The Halls”, “Seven Principles”, and “AlHaNissim”. Susie introduced the holiday classic “Deck The Halls” and as she noted, we performed a jazzy rendition of this classic. The man in the mezzanine definitely appreciated our jazzy spin on this traditional song. He swayed to and fro with a smile on his face. The Kwanzaa song “Seven Principles” highlighting each of the principles of each day of the celebration sounded lovely and featured nice vocal support from Gail. The Hebrew celebratory Chanukah song, “Al HaNissim” sounded exuberant and spirited.

René included one of our crowd favorites, the unofficial anthem of Cuba, “Guantanamera” meaning “woman from Guantanamo” whose better known official lyrics are inspired by the poetry of José Martí. Our voices were lively and joyous and the audience definitely appreciated it.  René noted how José Feliciano was performing just down the block at BB King Blues Club and Grill. This inspired René to lead us in an impromptu fun and spirited version of “Feliz Navidad”. 

Charlie introduced “Let There Be Peace On Earth”. He had proposed the song many years ago when Peace of HeartChoir was first formed, and the song has since become the de facto unofficial anthem of our choir and our signature closing song. We sounded magnificent featuring a sublime solo by Charlie.

As René noted, a special thanks to Brian, Ruth, Marv and Gail who added so much to this outreach with their wonderful musical accompaniment.

When the concert was over, René directed us to take our bows to the applause of a very appreciative audience. As we dispersed after the concert and said our goodbyes, I looked around and saw the old black-and-white photos that lined the walls celebrating the building’s history. A sign in the back read“Peace of Heart Choir Performance 6:00PM – Lobby * Coffee, Cocoa, and Cookies* “.  I looked up at the majestic mezzanine with its sweeping staircase and lovely decorations and thought of the wonderful acoustics of the space where we had just performed. This had been such a lovely place to sing--what a wonderful way to end our outreach season!!

Hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season! Wishing everyone a very Happy New Year!  Looking forward to seeing everyone in 2016!

-Carrie, Choir Singer

It has become a tradition for a member of POHC to do a post-concert write-up. It started when our Sign-up Coordinator began emailing her summaries to the other members in order to entice newer members to sign-up to sing at community concerts held early in the season. It didn’t take long for Concert Write-ups to become greatly anticipated amongst our members, so we share them here in hopes that you’ll join us at a future concert

At The MetLife Building

I walked through Grand Central Terminal and spotted the long escalator on the main floor that would take me up to the MetLife Building. I took the escalator up and looked for my fellow choir members. I walked a bit and I saw a stage with risers and a piano. In the front of the stage was a Peace of Heart Choir banner with our logo heralding our public concert later that evening.  As I looked around for our rehearsal room, a security guard complimented my festive brightly colored clothing and asked if I was with the choir and directed me down the hallway. I saw a room at the end—a glass door bearing the familiar Peace of Heart Choir sign with our logo.

I walked in to the rehearsal room. There were refreshments including Cucina and Co. hot chocolate and I found Rene discussing which songs we would do. We ran through bits of each and then it was time to take the stage. We lined up and made our way onto the risers. There were about 50 chairs set up for the audience. To our left, was a Godiva shop, to our right a Cucina & Co. shop.  Our backdrop was a Swarovski store. You could find even more sparkle in the center of the lobby behind the audience with a majestic Christmas tree perhaps 15 feet tall with dazzling ornaments of red and green and silver and gold.

Our host, Judith Kaplan, thanked us for coming to perform and it was clear how important this MetLife Building holiday music program was to her. Her husband, Bernard, who had a great love for music and for the holiday season, had started the program and when he passed away, she decided to continue the program in his loving memory. For nearly 40 years, Bernard Kaplan was the inspiration and organizing force behind the choral program, the toy drive and many other initiatives at the building.  She spoke at length about this and how grateful she was to have us here today for our public concert as part of the MetLife Building Bernard Kaplan Memorial Holiday Concert Series.

Gary introduced the choir and it was time for the music to start.  Barry introduced our first song highlighting each of the principles of the seven days of Kwanzaa, “Seven Principles”, with nice vocal support from Gail. The MetLife Building lobby is a very busy corridor with the hustle and bustle of people leaving work and rushing to catch their train in Grand Central, others perhaps going back to work after a break trying to tie up some loose ends before the end of the workday.  As soon as we took the stage, passersby looked at us. It was obvious that to many the music was a much-needed respite from a busy workday.  Many people smiled as they passed by. One woman smiled at me and I smiled back and we waved at each other. Some people stopped for a while and sat down to catch some of the music before they moved along. Some passersby took video on their cell phones--one woman recording several songs with her cell phone.  From a distance, I could see her cell phone cover with the shiny star in the center catching the light. While others on the mezzanine level, stopped to watch the performance below.

We were off to a great start. We continued with the Spanish love song, “Si La Nieve” with an introduction by Deb who had proposed the song.  We sounded quite lovely and the audience started to grow a bit.  I introduced the #1 hit single by Pharrell, the alto-driven, “Happy” and as I said in my introduction, “It makes us happy to sing it and I hope it makes you happy to hear it too.” It was exuberant and fun and obviously recognizable to many audience members and others passing through and brought smiles to many faces.

The traditional Hebrew holiday song, “Al Hanissim” sounded lovely with Amanda on clarinet and Marv on accordion.  We did two sing-alongs,  “Peace Like A River” and “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore” with Andrea and Rene providing musical accompaniment and lending itself to the energy and the exuberance of the pieces. The Korean love song, “Arirang” was lyrical and pretty with lovely musical support from Gail and Marv, both on flutes.

We did a wonderfully jazzy and lively choral rendition of the holiday classic, “Deck the Halls” with several passersby singing along and smiling.  We performed several core songs from our repertoire. “That Lonesome Road” featured a sublime solo by Nancy.  Gary introduced the Matisyahu call for peace, “One Day”, highlighted by lovely solos from Gwyn and Gary.  The song really resonated with the audience as many passersby stopped to listen and watch.   And of course, we performed the unofficial anthem of Cuba—always a crowd favorite—“Guantanamera”--with a wonderful introduction and musical accompaniment by Rene.

Vivian introduced the signature closing of our choir, “Let There Be Peace On Earth” and explained the significance of the song in our times and how vital that peace begin with each of us.  The song sounded great with a pretty solo from Deb.  Rene directed us to take our bows. Our host, Judith Kaplan, effusively thanked us for performing and asked the audience if they would love to have Peace of Heart Choir back to which there was resounding applause—an affirmation of a lively and fun public concert where for a short time The MetLife Building was transformed by the energy of Peace of Heart Choir and the healing power of music that transported passersby to another plane devoid of the troubles of an average workday.

-Carrie, Choir Singer

It has become a tradition for a member of POHC to do a post-concert write-up. It started when our Sign-up Coordinator began emailing her summaries to the other members in order to entice newer members to sign-up to sing at community concerts held early in the season. It didn’t take long for Concert Write-ups to become greatly anticipated amongst our members, so we share them here in hopes that you’ll join us at a future concert

At The JCC

I opened the door of the Jewish Community Center (JCC) and checked in. I spotted Brian checking in as well and we chatted as we took the elevator down to the lower level where the rest of our fellow Peace of Heart Choir members had gathered to rehearse for our outreach.  There would be no instruments during this outreach and so our outreach concert would be performed a capella as it was part of a Shabbat R & R program.

We ran through various songs of our repertoire and before each song, Rene consulted Wilfred several times confirming pitches as we were performing a capella. We sounded good in our rehearsal room. We took a short break while chairs were being set up in the JCC lobby where we were to perform, and before we knew it, we were performing our first song, “Happy” with effervescence and verve and an infectious spirit that drew in our audience. There were about 60 people in attendance in the audience of various ages, particularly many young children and their parents. There was also some hustle and bustle with people passing through to get refreshments and children running about and playing as we sang. We performed with a colorful, cosmic-looking backdrop as our landscape standing out amidst the wood paneling—a series of artwork entitled ”Labscapes: Views Through the Microscope”.

At this point, Lily took the opportunity to introduce the choir and talk to the audience about who we are and our mission. Our second song, a traditional Hebrew song we have performed before, the upbeat “Od Yavo” was performed with energy to an enthusiastic crowd who truly appreciated it. 

We continued with the James Taylor standard, “That Lonesome Road”. The song sounded lovely and was enriched by a wonderfully expressive solo by Nancy.  The sing-along “Peace Like A River” was next. One of the highlights of the outreach, we were lively and strong and joyous as several choir members were clapping their hands and many appreciative audience members were clapping right along with us.  Sheila introduced our next song, one of our core songs--the Korean love song, “Arirang”. We sounded lovely and melodic even without the usual musical accompaniment of the flutes.

Deb introduced the beautiful Spanish love song, “Si La Nieve”. All choral sections blended so well together to make the song so full and colorful. Lily introduced our next song, the traditional Hebrew prayer for peace, “Ose Shalom”. The crowd followed along as the tempo gradually increased. 

During the anti-war sing-along, “Down By the Riverside”, we went into the audience as we customarily do to shake hands with audience members.  We shook hands with many small children and their parents as well. One man sitting in the front row shook my hand. The man’s daughter who had been eating an apple as we sang, stopped eating and shook my hand too.

Barry introduced the Kwaanza song, “Seven Principles” with a lovely solo by Gail. The popular Hebrew song, “Al Hanissim” was next with an introduction by Lily who spoke of its significance as we approach the holiday season of Hanukkah. Our next song, the sing-along “Rock-A-My-Soul” was lively as we broke into three parts, coaching the audience their respective descants. I was part of the second descant and I particularly enjoyed the physical simulation of it as we raised and lower our arms and I know the audience agreed, particularly the children.

The Jim Papoulis anthem proclaiming children as our future, “Give Us Hope” was next. We have performed it countless times before and this time was no different. We sounded especially lovely as our voices truly became one and the feeling of the music was carried forth to our audience.

Lily closed out our outreach with an introduction of our signature closing song, “Let There Be Peace On Earth” with an emphasis on the words, ‘Let Peace Begin With Me’.  “Let There Be Peace On Earth” sounded first-rate, featuring a lovely duet between Lily and Deb. The outreach over, Rene instructed us to take our bows to the applause of an appreciative audience.

It had been a great outreach—lovely music, smiling children and receptive audience. It was so great an outreach that Rene who had not been feeling well earlier in the day, declared that by the third song he had been healed--thus, a true testament to the healing power of music.

-Carrie, Choir Singer

It has become a tradition for a member of POHC to do a post-concert write-up. It started when our Sign-up Coordinator began emailing her summaries to the other members in order to entice newer members to sign-up to sing at community concerts held early in the season. It didn’t take long for Concert Write-ups to become greatly anticipated amongst our members, so we share them here in hopes that you’ll join us at a future concert

At PS 188X Bronx

I walked into PS188x@H790 in the Bronx and I checked in with the security guard who directed me to the auditorium downstairs where Peace of Heart Choir would be performing later that afternoon. I opened the door to find a beautiful space—a gleaming auditorium with perhaps 200 seats equipped with a lovely stage, a beautiful baby grand piano and sound system. I joined the choir on stage. Brian was singing and playing guitar—running through his solo on “Blackbird.”  Rene then directed us through several other pieces in our repertoire.

There was definitely an excitement in the air. This school is the school where Peace of Heart Choir member, Brian Muni, works as an occupational therapist and runs a music program. We would be performing for about 50 students. Half of the school’s students have special needs. It was a good rehearsal but even more glorious was the outreach.

When our rehearsal was over, we exited the stage and Brian, our host, introduced his students. They took the stage--about 10-15 students--ready to sing a song of Thanksgiving.  In their song of gratitude, I heard the word “happy” several times and thought of our own opening song, the Pharrell Williams single, “Happy.” Barry and I watched in the wings and we looked at each other and commented how wonderful they were. We were all touched and now it was time for our outreach to begin. We took the stage and Rene said a few words.  I then introduced our opening song, “Happy”, noting how grateful we were for the students’ performance, how this song makes us happy and we hope it makes them happy too. We performed “Happy” with an indefatigable exhilaration and the students responded in kind.  The students were following along and clapping--they were clearly happy to see us and we were happy to see them.

Gail introduced our next song, the James Taylor standard, “That Lonesome Road” and invited the students to look up James Taylor if they weren’t familiar with him.  The song was in sharp contrast to our opening song, “Happy”—both in content and tone. “That Lonesome Road” was solemn punctuated by fine vocal support from Gail.  Our next song was the sing-along, “Peace Like A River”.  We sang energetically and joyously. Some students clapped along with us here as well.  

It was now time for one of our crowd favorites, “Guantanamera”.  But first, Brian called upon his students for volunteers. Brian’s original request was actually for six volunteers. About 15 students enthusiastically raised their hands and Brian graciously obliged all of them. “Well, that’s more than six but you can all come up here,” Brian said as he waved his hand gesturing them to step forward.  His rapport with his students was evident and their enthusiasm was a clear sign.

Rene then ran an impromptu workshop for the students before we performed “Guantanamera”.  The students were going to provide part of our musical accompaniment . Rene starting pulling objects from his treasure trove or his “magic bag” as he affectionately referred to it. He had shown us the “magic bag” earlier during rehearsal. Rene handed out some musical instruments including POM bottles and coconut water bottles “magically” transformed into musical instruments by blending rice and most importantly, water. He explained this to the students and they were transfixed and excited at the same time. After Rene’s instruction, the moment had arrived for “Guantanamera” to start with Brian and Rene on musical accompaniment--both on guitars--the students wholeheartedly playing their newly acquired “magic” instruments and our choir singing our hearts out with joy and a sense of fun. Our audience was obviously enjoying it.

Next was our sing-along, “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore” with Brian and Rene providing musical accompaniment. We followed it up with a song popularized by the Beatles, “Blackbird” with our host, Brian, providing lovely vocals and musical accompaniment on guitar and Olga P. providing lovely vocal support. Olga T. was the embodiment of the blackbird, breathing life into the small blue plastic birdie discovered by Rene among the treasures of a small store in Beacon, NY.

At this point, Ruth took the opportunity to introduce the choir and our mission.  Gary introduced our next song, Matisyahu’s call for peace, “One Day” with lovely solos by Gwyn and Gary.  Gail and Marv, both on flutes, provided perfectly whimsical musical accompaniment for the lyrical Korean love song, “Arirang” with an introduction by Sheila.

Our next song was the sing-along, “Down By the Riverside”. We usually go into the audience and shake hands at the respective parts. Instead, we simulated the motion of shaking hands directed towards the audience and then we proceeded to shake each other’s hands.

Barry introduced our next song that highlights the principles of each of the seven days of Kwaanza--“Seven Principles”—which featured a lovely solo by Gail.

Next was Brian Muni’s “Pieces of the World”.  As Brian explained in his intro, he was inspired to write this song by some of his students. The song sounded beautiful with solos by Olga P., Gail, me, and Gary.

We concluded with our signature closing song, “Let There Be Peace On Earth” with an introduction by Larry who stressed the importance of peace, especially in the strife-ridden world of today and emphasized the words, ‘and let it begin with me’. Our voices soared in the auditorium. Brian invited the audience to have a round of applause for ThePeace of Heart Choir. We took a bow to very appreciative applause from the audience.

But we would remain on stage. The students joined us on stage to perform their final song, “Lean on Me” and they invited us to sing along and so we did, smiling and moved by their efforts.  

The choir had been in fine form this afternoon. Brian had been a wonderful host and Brian and Rene had been a great team providing musical accompaniment and working with the students. Rene jumped on and off the stage at various times during rehearsal and during the outreach. We all worried a bit at times for his safety but it definitely added to the spontaneity of the outreach. There had been moments of joy and laughter—an afternoon of great music and great emotion.

After the concert, I interviewed several students who had been part of the outreach. One student said the outreach made her happy because she loves music. Another student said that it made him happy too. She started to dance because she was happy and then another student started and then so did I. It shouldn’t be surprising that when I asked each of the students to identify their favorite song of the outreach, they replied “Happy” in unison with big smiles on their faces.

As I walked through the corridors of the school, I felt very touched and I felt very fortunate to have been part of this very special outreach.  I took note of the hallways with their inspirational messages, and the emphasis on the arts, drama, and music.  I noticed one message in particular that struck me on one of the rugs in one office. It read: “When one student graduates, we all succeed.”  Yes, indeed.

It had been an inspiring and heartfelt afternoon. Mr. H., one audience member, said that from where he had sat in the audience, it was as if our two great choirs—Peace of Heart Choir and the students’ choir--had melded together as one and you would think we had practiced together all of our lives.  He then asked when we were coming back and added, “We definitely need more of this here.”

-Carrie, Choir Singer

It has become a tradition for a member of POHC to do a post-concert write-up. It started when our Sign-up Coordinator began emailing her summaries to the other members in order to entice newer members to sign-up to sing at community concerts held early in the season. It didn’t take long for Concert Write-ups to become greatly anticipated amongst our members, so we share them here in hopes that you’ll join us at a future concert

At The Coler Rehabilitation and Nursing Facility

At The Coler Rehabilitation and Nursing Facility

It was a warm autumn afternoon on Sunday. I got off the F train at the Roosevelt Island stop and I spotted fellow choir members, Howard, and then Wilfred, and then Sheila and Doug. We chatted as we made our way up the seemingly endless escalators in the station. We made our way above ground looking for the red shuttle bus stop that would bring us to our destination—Coler Rehabilitation and Nursing Facility, a government-run, 815-bed nursing home--where Peace of Heart Choir was scheduled to perform an outreach concert later that afternoon. 

At the International Peace Vigil

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon—one of those days in Indian summer with bright blue skies as far as the eye can see with not a cloud in the sky.  There was a slight breeze too, nice and pleasant and refreshing on the skin.  Sunday, September 20th, 2015, marked the observance of International Peace Day. September 21st is actually the official day but most events marking the day fell to the weekend day, Sunday, September 20th this year.

Incidentally, it was first observed in 1982 and it was set to be observed September 11, 2001, however, it was changed that year to September 21st instead, in light of the events of 9/11. As Wikipedia states, International Peace Day was declared as a result of a UN resolution sponsored by the United Kingdom and Costa Rica dedicated to promoting and strengthening the ideals of peace.

I walked through Strawberry Fields where there were the usual crowds and tourists taking photos with the Imagine mosaic--one man singing Beatles songs but perhaps a bigger crowd today in observance of International Peace Day.  I continued to walk though Central Park until I spotted the iconic Naumberg Bandshell, the park’s only Neo-Classical building and home to many musical performances in the last 100 years including Irving Berlin and Duke Ellington—and the location where Peace of Heart Choir would perform as one of several musical performances throughout the day to mark the annual International Vigil for Peace Concert. I saw several fellow choir members sitting and standing around benches and went to join them. We would soon meet up with Rene.  We waited for more members to arrive and we did an abbreviated warm-up at another spot.

Our call time was 1:30PM and we were scheduled to start at 2PM.  As it neared 2PM, and another act was still performing, the organizers told Gary that there were still several more performers to take the stage and that we would probably be performing around 3PM. We decided to go perform in another spot.  At first, we made our way down the steps to the breathtaking underpass on the way to the Bethesda Fountain with its beautiful architecture and wonderful acoustics and sightings of several brides and their bridesmaids in their colorful attire taking photos. This would be the spot, we thought, for our pop-up concert. Turns out an opera singer had the same idea and had staked the spot out before us.

So on we went until we found the same spot where we had performed encore pop-ups at this event before --the idyllic setting of water and green lush trees as our backdrop. Rene had us go through several key parts of the songs we would perform. Crowds started to gather to listen to us. There was an ebb and flow with some listening to one song or parts of a song and some staying for all of our songs. We performed a rousing “Guantanamera”,  an inspiring “Pieces of the World” with vocals by Olga P., Gail, me, and Brian and an introduction by Brian,  “One Day” with vocal support from Gary and Olga P., and an uplifting “Give Us Hope”.  All of the pieces featured a musical collaboration of Rene and Brian providing instrumentals.

Our pop-up concert performed to a sea of smiles and applause from our audience even exuberant canines. We ventured forth to make our way back to the waiting area as it was getting close to 3PM, our newly scheduled time to perform on the Bandshell stage.

When we arrived back to the waiting area, Gary was told by the organizers that we would have to wait longer to perform. As we waited, that breeze started to fade, and the sun felt strong and many choir members tried to find shade concerned they might burn. We finally got to the stage a little before 3:30PM, as we were invited to join The New York City Street Singers, a group one of our choir members, Cheryl, performs with.  The New York City Street Singers were formed by Pete Seeger in 1981.  As we waited in the wings, we were offered Poland Spring waters. And then before we knew it, it was time. So, we quickly took the stage, getting into position according to sections. Several of us, realized Brian wasn’t there and so, Rene, announced we would wait a moment for him. And then, he appeared and we were ready to start.

Our first piece, “Guantanamera” was a collaboration with The New York City Street Singers. The next song was “Pieces of the World” with Olga P., Gail, me, and Brian on vocals. The stage was brightly decorated with inflated globes that you were invited to play with lining the front of the stage. As we neared the end of the song, singing the lyrics, “Pieces of this World”, an adorable little dark-haired girl played with the inflatable globe--a tangible representation of the "world" we sing of in this song--pushing it to and fro and ending on perfect time with the music I may add. So fitting, really. Our last song was “One Day” with Gary and Olga P. on vocals. Rene and Brian again continued their musical collaboration throughout.  We were supposed to perform a fourth song, “Give Us Hope” but we were told that they were running short on time. They announced us again. There was applause. One of the organizers thanked us as we exited the stage and she said that we did a great job to several of us and thanked us for our patience.

It was a day of waiting and patience and we had passed the test.  So we wound up doing our encore first this time—a different order but, no worries, everything happens as it should.  Patience is definitely a cornerstone of peaceful discourse and we had passed the test. I thought of the little girl rolling the globe—she was the future we sing of in “Give Us Hope.” As always, it is an honor to be part of an event celebrating peace. I looked up at the sign in front of the stage, ‘May Peace Prevail On Earth’--our sentiments indeed. 

In Harmony,

Carrie Wesolowski, Alto 1

At Queens Library

For an upper-west-sider who rarely ventures into Queens, I felt I was in a foreign country when I got off the #7 train at Main Street.  The store signs were in Asian characters, and people on the corner were handing out flyers in Asian characters.  A man thrust a flyer toward me, looked at my face, and took it back. Fortunately, the street signs were in the roman alphabet, and I found my way to the library easily.

At Central Park

Summertime, and the living is easy at 6:00 in Central Park.  Trees and statues provide shade, and anyway, it’s a bit cooler today. POHC-ers arrive by twos and threes, congregating in their brightly colored tops, new members making the acquaintance of old ones.  No lay-lee-la-lo-loo today.  Instead, off to the side, Renee and Leslie go over the guitar chords that will accompany us.  Rene travels light tonight—no piano.

At the YAI

One of the great things about the YAI audience is that they call out. At other venues, it’s POHC who takes the lead in interacting with the audience.  At YAI, they initiate the dialogue.  And they keep it going. When we finished “One Day,” someone shouted, “That was beautiful.  What’s her name?” Olga, Rene said.  There were requests for other choir members’ names, so Rene had us each introduce ourselves.

At The Lincoln Center

We’ve sung in public venues before, usually in places like the High Line, where people happen upon us as they stroll by. Today, the audience came specifically to hear us. In Lincoln Center. In an auditorium named for Bruno Walter. We all felt the awe of that. Backstage hummed, with Rob giving out POHC mugs, shirts, and totes, and Evelyn, our deportment guru, lining us up so we could practice walking onstage in formation, closed books in our left hands. The warm-up was long, more like a dress rehearsal, where, for the first time, we got to work on the transition between Mood Indigo and Satin Doll. Like cramming in the moments before a final exam. Amazingly, it worked.

At The National Council of Jewish Women

The NCJW has a sister senior center in Brooklyn that my mother was a member of for many years. She had lunch there, acted in plays, sang in the chorus, and brought her broken appliances to the retired fix-it man who set up shop in the lobby. The Council Center, as she called it, definitely lives up to the mission stated on its website: to address the social, intellectual, and creative needs of seniors. 

At Foutain House

Fountain House is a community center in the West Forties dedicated to the recovery of men and women with mental illness. Run by members and staff, it provides employment, housing, education, and wellness programs. Members can also hang out in the elegant town-house to play chess, learn a craft, or eat. In the past we sang upstairs in the cafeteria, but tonight we were in the parlor on the ground floor, with couches, armchairs, a baby grand piano, and bottles of water put out for us on a table

After our usual warmups—vocalizing and trying out bits of songs to synchronize guitar, mandolin, and ukulele—one of the early-bird audience members called out, “You sound beautiful.” Then, in the few minutes before the start of the concert, some of us walked through the audience giving out pamphlets to people who asked about auditions and the fundraiser. There was an old-home-week kind feeling: one woman knew Lenore and Bill from her church; another woman knew Anthony from YAI; and a man asked whether I was Marv’s sister (it turns out he had once come to a POHC rehearsal).

We opened with “Siyhamba”—no surprise there—but this time it was “Siyhamba” with a twist. When we finished it, a woman in the back asked whether we ever tried to sing both languages at once. So Rene had half of us sing Zulu while the other half sung English, and it sounded pretty good. “You’re hired!” we told her.

They liked the whole concert and really did look at the singalong sheets, because when it came time for “This Little Light of Mine,” they said the same thing our last audience said: “It’s not on the sheet.” No matter, they sang it anyway.

After the concert, at Wilfred’s request, we posed for a group picture, taken the old fashioned way, by a photographer not in the picture (Anthony’s mom and his coach). Then another picture, this one a selfie by Brian—if a selfie can have 20 people in it. The audience watched the photo shoot, too. When it was over, as we were walking out, many told us how much they enjoyed the concert. “Come back,” one said, and another called, “God bless you all.”

-Choir Singer

It has become a tradition for a member of POHC to do a post-concert write-up. It started when our Sign-up Coordinator began emailing her summaries to the other members in order to entice newer members to sign-up to sing at community concerts held early in the season. It didn’t take long for Concert Write-ups to become greatly anticipated amongst our members, so we share them here in hopes that you’ll join us at a future concert