Choir performs at Split Rock Rehabilitation Center, Goddard Riverside Community Center and the Sundays at JASA Program
by Carrie Wesolowski
[all photos by Frank Asencio]
March ushered in a new outreach season and just like Emily Dickinson’s poem heralding it “the month of expectation,” we were welcome visitors bringing color back to the dreary world of late winter blues. Our first outreach reminded us that we were wedged somewhere between winter and the official start of spring. An impressive turn-out of choir members had traveled by public transportation on as many as three or four trains to Split Rock Rehabilitation Center in the Bronx neighborhood of Baychester amidst the remnants of a late winter storm. The weather gods obliged to some extent when the inclement weather finally abated late Saturday morning signaling that it was time for us to sing. After all, we had been trying to secure this outreach for several years and our persistence finally paid off when Lis booked it. It was well worth the wait! Rene’s former student, Vivian Rivera, who is now a resident at the rehab center, was thrilled that we were finally able to sing at the center and it was truly a beautiful moment when Vivian and Lis performed a duet of Sull’ aria during the program.
Six days later, we all had such a wonderful time on a sunny but chilly afternoon, singing at the Goddard Riverside Community Center.
The smells of cooking drew us in, and as we entered, some of us wondered, "Was it seafood?” We all convened in the lobby area and Renè warmed us up a bit.
We sang in their cafeteria surrounded by brightly colored artwork—some perhaps self-portraits, some abstract pieces, and some artwork that featured women in sunglasses with words representing opposing emotions on each of their lenses. There was a piano in the center of the room which Renè played throughout our outreach. We sang to a very enthusiastic crowd of about sixty seniors who loved our music, many visibly singing along.
It was alto Brooke’s first outreach and as she noted, “I felt this sense of community and ease. There was so much joy from choir and audience alike. Everyone there was so engaged. I looked up from my music as much as I could and saw smiles, singing, someone playing air piano on the table, and even dancing from the audience.”
At the end of our outreach, our audience shouted, "Encore.” And we gave them what they wanted. We responded with a rousing impromptu "Let the Sun Shine in" which featured Johnny singing and running out into the audience, hugging a few ladies in the front row.
The month’s last marvelous outreach was at John Jay College on St. Patrick’s Day—thus, the smattering of green shirts here and there that you’ll notice in the photos. We provided the entertainment for the lunchtime Sundays at JASA program, a continuing education program for adults 55 years of age and older.
One of our biggest supporters, Norma introduced us amid much fanfare as the "one and only Peace of Heart Choir.” We sang on a stage in a classroom setting with blackboards at our backs as Renè, Andy, and Marv accompanied us on guitar throughout our concert. We had such a joyous time performing sing-alongs such as “This Land is Your Land,” “Singing for Our Lives,” and “Peace Like a River.” We did our special rendition of “Fragile” driven by Andy’s vocals and René and Andy on guitar with the choir singing the chorus refrain.
As I walked out, I noticed John Jay’s 9/11 Memorial Sculpture, the twisted steel beam that had once supported one of the towers of the World Trade Center until that fateful day which now bears the names of 67 people from the John Jay community who lost their lives on 9/11 etched on the granite’s outer pathway.
I thought of our connection to 9/11—how Peace of Heart Choir was formed after the tragic events of that day to promote healing, diversity, and mutual understanding through music. And we continue to bring that healing through music nearly twenty years later.
March indeed was a month of expectation blossoming with three wonderful outreaches and one delightful public performance on the Sing for Hope Performing Arts Stage at Port Authority. (For a more in-depth account of our public performance on the Sing for Hope Performing Arts Stage at Port Authority, here is the link to check out our blog post: “Port Authority Rush Hour Commuters Transported by Our Rainbow of Music”.
After Brooke’s first outreach, she exclaimed, “I can’t wait for my next outreach!” I second that emotion. Spring has arrived with more outreaches in April at The New Jewish Home, Fountain House, and The New York State Veterans’ Home.
Carrie Wesolowski, Alto 1