I looked for the entrance of Workmen’s Circle Multicare Center. Its turquoise pillars stood out in this residential Bronx neighborhood on a dismal December day and I knew I had found the right place. Workmen’s Circle Multi-Care Center is a 525-bed non-profit rehabilitation center/nursing home. I walked through the front doors and I told someone at the front desk that I was with Peace of Heart Choir and asked where we were rehearsing. He directed me to a room directly across from the desk where I found Rene and several other choir members waiting for guidance as to where we would go next. Apparently, they were not aware we would be performing. But that it is possible on a weekend performance such as this when the director was not there. I joked to fellow choir members we were being sequestered as the glass door was closed, the space was tight, and it was very warm—even warmer than the nursing home itself which is always warm as a rule of thumb.
A lady who was a manager came by and rescued us and brought us upstairs to a chapel where we left our belongings and it was time for the outreach to begin. We lined up and I took notice of the room. A Sunday meal menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner was posted on the wall with a photo of Liberace at the very top. I joked to Howard, “It appears that Liberace presides over the Sunday meal.” Howard laughed. I then noticed the poster of a record that read “Rock and Roll” across it. If you looked to your left, you could see you were in a hospital/nursing home setting. When you looked in the direction of the dining hall, it felt like a combination dining hall/classroom with all of its decorations—a place almost stuck in time meant to probably evoke nostalgia with its posters of Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson, and Liberace as I mentioned before—just to name a few. Rene warned us before we entered of the frail state of the people in attendance. I was prepared for it as I was so familiar with my Dad’s frailty at the end of his life 5 years ago after a battle with lung cancer. Many residents were in wheelchairs and had breathing tubes.
We took our places and it was time for the outreach to begin. From our opening number, Siyahamba, it was evident we had a fan in the front row. She had a breathing tube and was in a wheelchair and she was just as bold and spirited as her red lipstick and the bright red beads she wore around her neck. She was pounding her right fist in the air in response to our music. At the end of the song, in a raspy voice, Jeanette shouted, “Excellent.” We continued with a lovely Wanemo to which Jeanette exclaimed, “Beautiful.” It was also clear we had another fan. He was in a wheelchair on the opposite side in the front row. He wore a drag racing cap and seemed to be a native New Yorker and was very assertive in his approval. A festive Carol of the Bells was next followed by Michael Row the Boat Ashore. There was a lady sitting at the left hand side of the room in the corner. I made eye contact with her a few times. It was during Michael Row Your Boat Ashore, she seemed to become more involved in the outreach. Her eyes lit up. During Down by the Riverside, we went out to shake the hands of the residents which I found really moving and I know my choirmates found especially touching as well.
When I shook the hand of the lady who became involved during Michael Row Your Boat Ashore, she revealed a most gracious and gentle smile as she mouthed, “Beautiful” to me and she said softly, “My throat is sore. I wish I could sing.” That Lonesome Road featured a heartfelt, lovely solo by Nancy. Oye Come Va was a great fun, up tempo number. A pretty Pokarekare Ana, our Maori love ballad and a pensive Light One Candle followed. Next was Happy Xmas(War is Over). I’m so glad that Deb suggested we reinstate the choral refrain War is Over. I know many other choir members have commented what a difference that makes in preserving the integrity of the original meaning of the song as written by John Lennon and Yoko Ono. And what a wonderful vocal quartet we had for this song: Brian, Gail, Gary, and Maryann. Our number one fan, Jeanette, especially appreciated this tune as did several audience members. Rock-a-My-Soul was next followed by our wonderful anthem for our children, Give Us Hope and our signature anthem, Let There Be Peace on Earth. Exemplary musical accompaniment was provided throughout the outreach by Brian and Marv on guitar and Rene on ukelele/cigar box guitar as it was affectionately referenced. Deb, Barbara, and Ellen also provided fine musical support.
We carpooled back to Manhattan and Queens, respectively. It had been a touching outreach—the last outreach of the season. I thought of when I shook Jeanette’s hand during Down by the Riverside. She said, “Bless You.” I felt blessed to have met her and to have been a part of this Peace of Heart Choir outreach. Blessed indeed.
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