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.
Carrie Wesolowski, Alto 1