A Look Back at the Fall/Winter 2018 Season

Here is a recap of
recent outreach performances
from September 2018-January 2019

by Carrie Wesolowski

[All photos by Frank Asencio]

Choir members as they watch clients dance during a performance at YAI in November, 2018.

Choir members as they watch clients dance during a performance at YAI in November, 2018.

"You have travelled to 50 places together,” Facebook recently declared of me and another Peace of Heart Choir member. I later thought to myself that It was considerably more than that.  We may not have logged frequent flyer miles but we have passed the litmus test of all good travel experiences—meeting new people and reaping the rewards that come with human interaction—the experiences that enrich our lives and change us for the better.  We have travelled to spots around the New York City area—averaging around 24 venues each season-- as part of our very special group, Peace of Heart Choir, singing to those who need the music. Our music. Music we select each season. It’s important to look at where we’ve been to know where we’re going. Eleven outreaches this past season together creating new memories while doing what we all love to do—sharing the universal language of music with our audiences. Here's a brief glimpse of our travels.

 

The choir performs “Lift Us Up” on The High Line.

9/12/18 The High Line:  Rain couldn't dampen our spirits as we took refuge in a covered area under the Chelsea Market Passage on the High Line, performing our first outreach of the Fall 2018 season in remembrance of 9/11, to a very enthusiastic audience including a familiar face in the audience, former Peace of Heart Choir soprano Naomi Frerotte. We performed on 9/12 with a foggy NYC skyline as our backdrop. We sang in remembrance of the 9/11 attacks, but we also sang in the spirit of moving forward together that 9/12 has come to symbolize. During the performance, the smiles appeared, and the rain disappeared. One audience member came up to me afterwards to ask me more about our group and tell me how much she loved the music.

 

10/21/18 Mt. Sinai/St. Luke’s: We sang on a locked ward of Mt.Sinai/St.Luke’s to an audience of patients who were battling mental illness and/or drug addiction. At first, it seemed that the staff didn’t expect us, and they were surprised that we were there to sing. Several patients came alive singing along with us--one patient thanked us with a gentle fist bump as we left and said that we had to come back. As for the staff who didn’t know we were coming, it was a pleasant surprise to them as they smiled and grooved to the music and seconded our male audience member’s call for a return visit.  

 

Choir director René Galván, on guitar, leads the choir in “Oye Como Va” at YAI.

Choir director René Galván, on guitar, leads the choir in “Oye Como Va” at YAI.

11/2/18 YAI:  It is always such a great experience singing here—YAI is truly the unofficial Peace of Heart Choir fan club. We have a very special relationship with YAI as they brought us our baritone Anthony. We’ve visited them regularly for many years, and they also staff the snack table at our benefit concerts. They are always so happy to see us and we were so happy to be there and sing for them. This wonderful organization supports people of all ages with developmental disabilities in achieving the fullest life possible by creating new opportunities for them. For those of us who have been here before, we recognized many of our audience members. We visited with our old friends and caught up on special events in their lives including their latest baby photos. At the end, Renè led us in an impromptu “Oye Como Va” that electrified our audience and had them dancing along. 

 

11/14/18 Visions at Selis Manor:  This organization for the blind provides an adapted learning environment and meeting place for youth, adults and seniors which offers support groups, computer training, adapted activities, volunteer and social work services. We have sung here several times before. This time we sang at a weekday lunch program. Our audience was appreciative and many were visibly moved. One woman told us about the choir that she had belonged to in her youth. One man, his voice choked up with emotion, took my hand and thanked us for the music and told me that we sounded beautiful.

 

11/17/18 Village Care:  This is an assisted living facility in Midtown West that provides post-acute care, managed long-term care and community-based services for seniors. We performed during lunch, and our audience was visibly affected by our music—one woman tearing up at one point. We got a chance to speak to the residents afterwards. One man seated in an armchair outside was particularly nostalgic when talking about our concert, how the music brought him back to another time. He recounted stories of the past. It was lovely how the music meant something so personal to him. 

 

12/5/18 Mercy Home: We have a special relationship with this venue, a network of group homes for adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities. The former church where we performed is used as a community center, a place the residents come for recreation and enrichment programs. We have performed here several times before and our soprano Michael Anne used to work here. It is always such a pleasure to sing in their small chapel with its wonderful acoustics and to see our audience members’ smiles and this time was no exception. As we entered, they gave each of us colorful shapes cut out of construction paper for a chance to win sweatshirts with artwork by the residents. They always have a special musical treat for us too—their very own musical group Melodic Soul performed for us, and for a short time we shifted from performers to audience. But this time they had an added treat for us—as they dimmed the lights, the unveiling of an art project amidst the setting of the cavernous chapel. The light show felt almost psychedelic in nature and there was a certain magic with the lights ascending and descending the artwork in the dark until the lights connected from side to side and “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” was revealed in its entirety.

 

The choir at JCC, the Jewish Community Center.

The choir at JCC, the Jewish Community Center.

12/8/18 JCC: We performed in the lobby of the JCC on the Upper West Side, as part of their Shabbat R&R program. The JCC has been a good friend to us over the years. Observing the rules of the Jewish Sabbath, we performed a cappella, without instruments or even a pitch pipe to find our starting notes. Children and their families took in our music engaging in some lively chatter in the background. We gave out Peace of Heart Choir key chains after the performance to a very appreciative audience who thanked us for our music. 

 

12/20/18 Hope Lodge: Amidst the backdrop of a beautiful Christmas tree adorned with New York City-themed ornaments, we sang at a holiday meal for cancer patients and their families who stay at Hope Lodge for days, weeks, or sometimes months while they are in town for treatment at area hospitals. The group sang along with us on sing-alongs, including a young girl singing along to “You Are My Sunshine”. At the end of the concert, a woman in a wheelchair getting off the elevator asked if she had missed the concert. A small POHC group who had been waiting at the elevator that would soon grow a bit larger began to sing an impromptu version of “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” our official theme song. The woman began to sing along and thanked the group as everyone parted wishing each other “Happy Holidays”. There was a tear in many an eye after she parted ways. 

 

12/22 Housing Works: A New York City-based non-profit providing services to those fighting AIDS, drug use, and homelessness, we’ve sung at other Housing Works venues before but this was the first time we ventured to this downtown Brooklyn location. We sang in the basement where the walls were covered with holiday decorations. We performed for a very small but appreciative group that had gathered for lunch. One woman was especially enthusiastic-- not only did she sing along with us but she hugged several of us afterwards. 

 

1/9 Edie Windsor SAGE Center:  Our tenor, Wilfred, has noted that he is no stranger to SAGE as he has attended SAGE socials before. This was our second time performing here but this was my first time that I noticed the picture behind the reception desk as I got off the elevator—a picture of an elderly woman with both arms thrown up in the air triumphantly with a beaming smile across her face and the words SAGE/Advocacy & Services for LGBT Elders with the tagline underneath: We refuse to be invisible. And that is exactly what I saw as we sang for our audience—vibrant, involved individuals who expressed their love for our music—a man in the second row who visibly sang along appreciatively to “Singing for our Lives”. A woman in our audience sang along with me all the lyrics to “You Are My Sunshine”. You could really feel the connection we had made with this audience.

 

1/17 National Council of Jewish Women: We have sung for the lunchtime meetings of this group several times before, and one member here has even become our unofficial booking agent, calling us regularly with ideas and performance opportunities. This year we participated in a program which promotes healthy aging, Council Lifetime Learning’s 2018-2019 Gerson Cultural Arts Season through our music. Naomi gave us a warm introduction as usual. Gary told our audience a bit about our mission and who we are. We sang for an audience of seniors and several caregivers. The Heartbeats (an unofficial girl group created by choir members for our semi-annual cabaret nights) even reprised an arrangement of favorite, “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen”. Gary encouraged our audience by saying that the only thing we like better than singing is our audience singing along with us. As Gary estimated percentages of our audience singing along, I later joked we should coin the term “Garyometer” for this purpose. Again, we gave out Peace of Heart Choir key chains at the end of our performance and received positive feedback from our audience. This performance wrapped up a wonderful outreach season!

 

We look forward to another season of travels--not far in terms of distance--but reaching those who most need it, living alongside us.

 

Come join us for our upcoming public performances:  first up on March 13 at 5PM--Sing for Hope at Port Authority 625 8th Ave (bet 40 & 41 St), our Benefit Concert Performance on June 2 at 4PM--Alvin Ailey Center, 405 W 55th St (9th Ave), and Make Music New York on June 21 at a time/location TBD.

 

Ah, the power of music and the reciprocity of goodwill that keeps our heart beating and reawakens our soul in the affirmation that everything is gonna be alright.

 

Looking Forward to Another Harmonious Outreach Season, 
Carrie Wesolowski
Alto 1 

Each year, on or near the anniversary of the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center, the choir performs a public concert. On September 12, 2018 we performed on the High Line in New York City.

Each year, on or near the anniversary of the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center, the choir performs a public concert. On September 12, 2018 we performed on the High Line in New York City.

Take Us Out to the Ballgame: Choir Sings at the Staten Island Yankees on June 25, 2017

I arrived at the Staten Island Ferry Whitehall Terminal to find fellow choir members but Rene was not there. He had taken an unannounced, unanticipated detour to Brooklyn courtesy of the MTA. We lined up with hundreds of ferry passengers and boarded the ferry which would take us to our destination, the Richmond County Ballpark. The day was beautiful—warm and mostly sunny-- and we enjoyed the views of the Lower Manhattan skyline including the Statue of Liberty and we took photos and selfies. There was an air of anticipation—this would be our second appearance singing the national anthem at the Staten Island Yankees game.

We arrived at the Staten Island Ferry St. George Terminal and found our usual route to the stadium was under construction so this outing provided us with a new path lined with a new view of buildings with great architecture. When we reached the front of the ballpark, there was a desk with a red banner with the invitation to “Win a Car” sponsored by the National Automobile Club of America/ Staten Island Region. We perused the antique cars that were part of the raffle and some of us even took photos with them. There was a white Camaro but perhaps the most popular were the antique black Ford circa 1922 and the shiny candy apple red Ford from the 1950s. I said that I loved the red one and Gail agreed adding that her father would have loved that one too.

 

We were so happy Rene was now here. He had just missed the ferry we took because his MTA train had bypassed his stop without any announcement and he had to take the train back to the bypassed Lower Manhattan stop to catch the ferry. It was now time for our first set. A sea of red Peace of Heart Choir caps and assorted Peace of Heart Choir T-shirts and polos, we joined our voices in song for our signature opening number, a spirited “Siyahamba” which transitioned into a rousing “Shosholoza” which featured Rene on vocals. People that were waiting in line to get into the stadium stopped and watched our set enthusiastically—happy to see us.  We continued with a fun “Paz Y Libertad”, the sing-alongs “Peace Like a River” and “Down by the Riverside” and in a twist, we shook each other’s hands during “Down by the Riverside” rather than audience member’s hands. Our voices soared strong and confident throughout “Freedom Is Coming” and “That Lonesome Road” featuring a solo by Nancy. We concluded our set with a resonant, upbeat “Give Us Hope”, the perfect way to end our first set.

We made our way through the stadium to the clubhouse area where we had a short break before we took the field. We were chatting and excited, waiting to take the field. Before we knew it, it was time. This time we would be performing a short set in addition to the national anthem. We took our positions and walked across the grassy ball field. Oh, how I loved the smell of that freshly-cut grass that populated the field. I took a breath before we began with our first song, “Siyahamba”, and I inhaled the sweet smell of that grass and the song felt somehow brand new even though we’d sung it countless times before. We had an unexpected companion for our set—Scooter, the Staten Island Yankees mascot who had taken photos with us last year after we sang the national anthem. This time Scooter danced and hammed it up behind Rene’s back in upstaging fashion as we sang. That’s what mascots do—ham it up. Can’t say I’ve ever seen a mascot take a shot at conducting though—that was a first. We continued with a very heartfelt “Peace Like a River” and a very strong, triumphant “Freedom is Coming”. Extremely enthusiastic applause followed our set and we walked back off the field before we would sing our final song which would be the climactic moment of our visit here--the singing of the national anthem to kick off the game.  

Before long, the announcer introduced us again and that we would sing the national anthem. Everyone rose and we lowered our caps to our hearts as we sang fully, gloriously, and from our hearts to the wonderful complement of Olivia playing the trumpet. There were thousands of spectators in the stadium. I looked at their faces—solemn and moved—I saw one man tearing up. Something spectacular happened before we finished singing—the clouds that had filled the sky in the last hour or so parted and the sun began to shine as if on cue with the trumpet and the music. We left the field feeling euphoric, the audience vigorously applauding our efforts.

Most of us stayed to watch the game and joined our family and friends to eat some food and enjoy each other’s company. The game was fun with many fun-filled activities between innings that made it enjoyable for children and the rest of us who are young-at-heart. Here Scooter was in his element, good-naturedly sparring with a little boy—the little boy won--and having a mock stand-off with one of the hosts. I loved the Staten Island Yankees dance team leading the audience and a group of children in dance moves. They even propelled some of us who are young-at-heart out of our seats. Sheila caught one of the many T-shirts that the on-field hosts/hostesses had thrown out into the crowd. The announcers and the Staten Island Yankees crew made us all feel welcome and at home. Jason, a Staten Island Yankees representative, told us as we watched the game that the Staten Island Yankees manager declared our rendition of the national anthem “the best he had ever heard sung at the stadium”. High praise, indeed.

A group of us stayed until we saw the final play and the game was over, the screen erupting into brightly colored letters that read “YANKEES WIN”. We made our way back to the ferry. I was thankful for this wonderful experience and I thought of how this day had been such an incredible way to cap off such a phenomenal Peace of Heart Choir season.

In Harmony,
Carrie Wesolowski, Alto 1

 

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

"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