Several weeks ago, just as we were all re-emerging from our homes after the Superstorm Sandy, one of the earliest members of the Peace of Heart Choir suggested that an additional outreach performance should be added in support of the hurricane recovery effort. Our schedule was already more than full, but the idea was so wonderfully in concert with our original Choir mission post-9/11 that it was clearly worth pursuing. Three weeks, and about two dozen phone calls later, after an attempt to sing at the Park Slope Armory storm shelter was foiled by its closure, we gathered at the Kings Hotel, deep in the heart of East New York, on a breezy Saturday afternoon, just two days after Thanksgiving.
The Kings Hotel sits on a lonely industrial stretch of Atlantic Avenue, deep in the heart of Brooklyn. An elevated portion of the avenue runs overhead down the middle of the street. It's a plain brick building, next to what looked like a recycling center for collected cans and bottles. Julia, a very polished blond volunteer at the shelter, greeted us in the lobby with her small dog.
We headed downstairs, through a maze of small rooms in the basement being used as social areas where people could sit, talk, play cards, and read. A dozen or more smokers congregated outside on the side of the building. The dining hall in the basement was a simple but decent-sized room. We cleared out the center of the room for the choir, so we were surrounded by chairs and tables on three sides.
During the early part of the warm-up, there were a few minutes of trepidation for Alto Pearl and Soprano Cheryl as they were the only people in their sections. But in the end, we had a full complement of about a dozen singers, with every part covered. We sang for perhaps 30 older folks. Clearly, they'd been through a lot the last few weeks and were tired. Many were wearing their coats. These were mostly residents from Belle Harbor Manor and one or two other assisted living facilities in the Rockaways, who'd been moved to the Kings Hotel when the Armory was closed.
We began with Siyahamba, which is undoubtedly one of the best opening numbers we've done. It welcomes the audience wonderfully, and catches their attention.René got the whole audience trained up to join us as we sang backup on Little Bitty Pretty One, which was fantastic. So glad we simplified the arrangement. It's a great sing-along opportunity, and Tenor Alex did a nice job on the solo. The audience was clearly appreciative, but fairly quietly throughout, applauding each song, but not getting overly excited. Still, as at most Peace of Heart Choir performances, there were a few people who were clearly more touched by the music than others. One older women, with no visible teeth, was singing along and smiling through most of the show.
Afterwards, she complimented Cheryl on her voice. She was there with her friend. She'd lost her walker, her clothes, and almost everything else in the flood, and didn't even know what was left behind to salvage at this point. But she was happy to be alive and well, and had truly enjoyed the concert. Another Kings Hotel resident, a middle-aged man wearing a beret and several layers of clothes, began singing and dancing along for a song or two. Before the show, he had been combing through his music for things he might join us on. Looked like he had a lot of Sinatra-era classics. He said he was performing with his group there on Sunday.
A black man with large glasses, who'd been sitting very quietly as we talked with others after the show, asked when we might see them again, and hoped that we could at least make it out to The Rockaways to sing for them again. At this point, I don't think they're sure if the facility they were living in will reopen, or when. But we'll check, and perhaps try to make the trek out there in a coming season.
After the performance we met Caron, a shelter volunteer who'd helped set up the show. She'd come straight from a bar mitzvah in Park Slope, but caught most of our performance. She was so happy we'd made it. Apparently when this group was at the Park Slope Armory they had a virtual parade of performers coming through. But few have made the trek to East New York. Overall, a lovely performance. We offered our sympathy, our music and the solace it can provide, and offered of ourselves.
- Peace of Heart Tenor
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.