One of the shelter residents was outside having a smoke when I arrived. I told her we were singing at 7:00 and invited her to come. “Is this a religious choir?” she asked. I said no. “That’s good!” she said.
Then down the wet (from the rain) steps to the basement, where I found everyone else. We showed our picture IDs to the guard, got our security stickers, and took the elevator to the fourth floor. There we warmed up in a spacious room with high ceilings while the residents ate in the dining room next door. At 7:10, they came into the room we were in to sit at round tables and along the back and side. We began with Siyahamba – what else? – and I looked around for my resident but didn’t see her. A few people were recording us on their phones, and a few were swaying to the rhythm, when I saw her walk in, just as we got to “We are marching in the light of God.” I was afraid she would leave. She didn’t.
We ran the gamut, from peppy, rhythmic songs to contemplative ones, like Bright Morning Star. This was a receptive, appreciative audience. They liked it when individual choir members stepped forward, introduced themselves by name, and gave a little background about the next song. They even said hello back, 12-step program style. They liked Rene’s demonstration of his instruments – his guitar-ukulele hybrid, which he explained was called a guitalele, and his plain ukulele. And when we did Paz y Libertad, someone shouted something to him in Spanish and he answered in Spanish (sorry I can’t translate, but I heard the word Mexico). They loved the way we stepped out of our group formation to stand among them for the three-part sing-along of Rock-a-My-Soul. For the middle part—So high, So low, So wide—we did a pantomime, and they started to do the pantomime, too, as well as sing the part. “Nice!” someone shouted when it was over.
It’s wonderful when we see that the audience is involved, no matter on what level. The woman I saw smoking outside didn’t sing during any of the singalongs, but she turned to the pages in the handout and followed the words. And while most of the women were enthusiastic and responsive when we went into the audience to “shake hands around the world” as part of Down by the Riverside, a woman I approached in back didn’t move or smile when I offered her my hand. I was about to retreat when she tentatively extended hand, and we brushed fingers.
We had done eight numbers and just started to wrap up by telling them that our last one would be Let There Be Peace On Earth, when a woman looked at the singalong handouts we had placed on every table and said, “What about If I Had a Hammer?” So we did that one, too—with Marv on guitar—then closed with Let There Be Peace “Amen,” someone said when we finished, and another said “That was very sweet.”
We will probably never know each woman’s individual story and how she came to be at the armory shelter. But we do know that we made a difference to them tonight.
-Peace of Heart 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.