Outreach

Springing into Summer with a Tuneful June

Peace of Heart Choir Sings at Bryant Park,
The 9/11 Memorial, and Astoria Park

by Carrie Wesolowski
all photos by Frank Asencio

How do you keep the music playing?

If you’re Peace of Heart Choir and you’ve just performed another successful Spring Benefit Concert, you usher in summer by taking to the streets of New York City and serving up musical nirvana for audiences at three very special public performances.

Bryant Park

The choir sings near Patience, one of the famed lion statues, outside the NY Public Library on 5th Avenue.

The choir sings near Patience, one of the famed lion statues, outside the NY Public Library on 5th Avenue.

Our Sing for Hope concert at Bryant Park—not even a week after our Spring Benefit Concert—was a shining example of what happens when you mix music, the outdoors, New York City, and a brightly colored Sing for Hope piano: You achieve this harmonious synchronicity that makes New York City special.

As we sang at the bottom of the steps of the New York Public Library with the Library Lions—Patience and Fortitude—as our mascots, song lyrics we have sung countless times took on a different meaning.

For example, as we sang the lyric, “I’ve got joy like a fountain,” the library’s two recently restored fountains, named Beauty and Truth, flowed freely, as if with joy, near us. We might have had to dodge pigeons as they flew low on occasion, but we had friends of the choir in charge of pigeon patrol.

As René played the beatific rainbow piano throughout the concert, friends and family of choir members gathered along with passersby who stood or sat on the steps to take in the music.

Choir member Nancy Gross leads the crowd in song near Bryant Park.

Choir member Nancy Gross leads the crowd in song near Bryant Park.

During the Harry Chapin song, “Circle,” a couple who had just gotten married—the bride in a white dress carrying a small bouquet of flowers and the groom in a suit—sat on the stairs of the library and took in some music before moving on again.

“The music inspires me.”
— Audience member

René wasn’t sure we should do “Happy,” but he decided we should give it a go and our audience was obviously glad he did. By the time I introduced our closing song, “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” it felt we had come full circle like it says in the Chapin song we sing.

One of our regular audience members came up to me after our performance and shared, “The music inspires me.”

The 9/11 Memorial

Our second public performance in June was only days later at the 9/11 Memorial. We have sung inside the museum portion of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum on several solemn occasions. This is only the second time we have sung outdoors, and it was a gloriously beautiful day—nothing but magnificent blue skies.

Maestro    René Galván    leads the choir as the Freedom Tower overlooks the choir at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.

Maestro René Galván leads the choir as the Freedom Tower overlooks the choir at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.

Once again, we were marking a solemn occasion. Our performance was a special musical tribute in remembrance of the third anniversary of the attack that killed 49 people at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, and in observance of both WorldPride 2019 and Stonewall 50, that latter of which commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York City that marked the start of the modern LGBTQ rights movement.

On the left, a child sits near rainbow-colored ribbons used as a symbol of hope to honor and remember.

On the left, a child sits near rainbow-colored ribbons used as a symbol of hope to honor and remember.

We sang not far from the 9/11 reflecting pools near the Survivor Tree where a sign invited anyone who stopped by to tie a ribbon around the railing of the tree as a symbol of hope, love, and resilience.

We did a five-song set including “Hard Times,” “Singing for Our Lives,” “Lift Us Up,” and “One Day,” as passersby, including young children, tied brightly colored ribbons chosen from one of six buckets, each containing a color of the Pride Flag’s six rainbow stripes.

A small audience formed—one woman sitting on a cement step, a man wearing a “RESIST” t-shirt bearing the Pride Flag, and a few others who sang along to “Singing For our Lives.”

By the time we finished our closing song, “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” and took our bows, we felt a deep sense of harmony with others who gathered as this day of reflection brought to bear a unifying spirit that made us so honored to have been part of this moving ceremony.

Astoria Park 

Our last public performance of June was on Summer Solstice as part of Make Music NY.

On this first official day of summer, we sang with a cool breeze at our backs in Astoria Park amidst the landscape of the East River and its two adjacent bridges, the Triborough and the Hell Gate.  In so doing, when we sang “Peace Like a River” and “River of Dreams,” it’s as if the East River personified the river in each of the songs.

Singing near the East River beneath the Hell Gate Bridge in Astoria Park.

Singing near the East River beneath the Hell Gate Bridge in Astoria Park.

Our outdoor location had everything you would expect, including ambient sounds in the form of ice cream trucks and Acela trains.  Still, we were up to the challenge. Indeed, no Acela train could stop our rendition of “One Day.”

Our audience grew as the concert progressed. It included many families, some with small children, babies with their parents, and, since it was an outdoor park, also an array of dogs. I’d swear even the dogs loved the music.  One, in a most comfortable happy position—lying on its back with its belly exposed—seemed to be even enjoying the cool breeze as well. Many in the audience clapped along to “Happy” as well as our encore, “Let the Sun Shine In.”

Post-concert, choir members gather for a group photo.

Post-concert, choir members gather for a group photo.

As our performance neared its end, sundown approached on this longest day of the year. As we exited the park, I saw a young mother with her newborn tucked in her pouch sling baby carrier who had been watching our concert. I thanked her for listening, and she replied, “Thank you for the beautiful music,” as she smiled and walked into her house.

What a glorious musical celebration of Summer Solstice 2019 and the end of a harmoniously magical June to remember! This month, we hit it out of the park, so to speak.  

Next at bat:  Peace of Heart Choir sings at the Richmond County Bank Ballpark—first a musical set and then the National Anthem at a Staten Island Yankees game.

In Harmony,
Carrie Wesolowski, Alto 1

 

Serving Those Who Served

Peace of Heart Choir Sings
at the New York State Veterans’ Home

by Carrie Wesolowski
(all photos by Frank Asencio)

Serving Those Who Served.” You can find these words—this motto—on various signs and throughout the New York State Veterans Home, a 250-bed facility owned and operated by the New York State Department of Health. The Home has been serving veterans of the New York City region and their dependents since 1993. As the nation celebrates the Fourth of July Independence Day holiday, our recent visit here comes to mind.

The choir sang in the home’s New York State Women Veterans Memorial Community Room

The choir sang in the home’s New York State Women Veterans Memorial Community Room

 

What a joyous afternoon we had singing here for the first time with a patio breeze at our backs in the New York State Women Veterans Memorial Community Room as a wonderfully vocal audience applauded and sang with us, including one woman who exclaimed "Amen" as I introduced the song, "One Day," as an anthem for peace in our world.

Maestro René Galván leads the choir in song

Maestro René Galván leads the choir in song

The choir gathered behind the piano with René at the helm, a Bingo board at the far left behind us, and veterans' memorabilia display cases and floral prints lining the room. We premiered our new sing-along for seniors, "Young at Heart," as one man nodded his head as he sang the words softly to himself. Our encore, "Oye Como Va," was especially well-received. Several audience members shook hands with choir members and talked with us a bit before we bade them farewell till next time.

After our concert, an audience member, introducing himself, smiled at me and told me how beautiful our concert was. You could see his enthusiasm and the joy the music had brought him as he was grinning from ear to ear as he spoke.

 

Finally, "America the Beautiful"—beautifully voiced by Lis during our concert, hitting all the high notes—inspired one woman to sing along. A man in a Stars and Stripes USA cap was visibly touched as tears filled his eyes.

After the concert, we walked back out amidst spacious blue skies where the scenic grounds of the Veterans' home reflected a tranquil beautiful Americana, its greenery resplendent with Canadian geese. As we ventured back to the St. Albans Long Island Rail Road station, we passed a soul food restaurant and an unexpected hidden treasure underneath the train trestle: a brightly colored mural dedicated to jazz legends Billie Holliday and Count Basie.

This outreach concert was so nice, we’re going to do it twice. We are returning for another outreach this fall. We look forward to our next visit to The New York State Veterans’ Home, and, hopefully many more. As part of our our overall mission to bring joy through music, we are honored to be “serving those who served.”

 

In Harmony,

Carrie Wesolowski, Alto 1

March Gladness

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.

I felt this sense of community and ease. There was so much joy from choir and audience alike.
— Brooke M., alto
The choir at   Goddard Riverside Community Center

The choir at Goddard Riverside Community Center

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 “one and only Peace of Heart Choir.”
— Norma, one of the choir's biggest supporters
Three guitarists accompany the choir on the song,  Fragile ,   performed at  Sundays at JASA  .  JASA stands for the Jewish Association Serving the Aging .

Three guitarists accompany the choir on the song, Fragile, performed at Sundays at JASA. JASA stands for the Jewish Association Serving the Aging.

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.  

9/11 Memorial at John Jay College

9/11 Memorial at John Jay College

 
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

  

In Harmony,

Carrie Wesolowski, Alto 1

Port Authority Rush Hour Commuters Transported by Our Rainbow of Music

Choir performs at Sing for Hope’s balcony performance space

by Carrie Wesolowski

[All photos by Frank Asencio]

Port Authority Bus Terminal during rush hour: scurrying commuters, patrolling National Guard soldiers, and on this Wednesday evening—the harmonious Peace of Heart Choir. Every Wednesday during rush hour on the Sing for Hope Performing Arts Stage just above the concourse level Au Bon Pain and wedged between steps and sets of escalators, the terminal is transformed by the sounds of music.

Located on a platform that was once the terminal’s operations control center, the glass-enclosed stage seems tucked away at the very center of Port Authority, almost an entity unto itself that majestically rises up from the street level with its official Sing for Hope logos on the front of the glass, Sing for Hope banners as the backdrop and of course, front and center, the artist-designed Sing for Hope rainbow piano jazzed up in marvelously whimsical swirls of color that would make Pucci proud. Our Peace of Heart Choir banner was featured too--at the far-right corner.    



We gathered in a semicircle around the piano with Renè at the helm. There was an “only in Port Authority irony” when as we sang “Save the Country”, the flashing LED sign on the opposite mezzanine read “God Bless America” followed by a flashing message heralding “Quick and Easy Hair Removal”. But that’s just the flavor of the ever-moving New York City—what makes it so unique, rich, and full-of-life. 

There was some blood—Renè cut his thumb playing—with Nancy quickly coming to the rescue with a Band-Aid, maybe a little sweat under the stage lights which produced some interesting optical illusions at times—a small group of baritones standing together looked as if they were part of Blue Man Group. There were no tears though, unless someone listening was choked up by one of our songs which has happened before.

Maestro Renè Galvan conducts the choir at New York’s Port Authority


There was a lot of joy as all of us sang, sharing our music with the audience. We were clapping enthusiastically and dancing during sing-alongs such as "Peace Like a River" and "This Little Light of Mine”. Some of us waved to commuters below as a greeting and an invitation to stay and watch the music which some of them did. Perhaps for one song, perhaps two, before moving along again. Lis had her own fan club--friends from Texas who had come to see her sing her solo in the Billy Joel classic “River of Dreams”.

She smiled enthusiastically, exclaiming how beautiful we sounded, how much she loved our music...


In a place like the Port Authority, it’s hard to tell whether people are listening, and with most of them passing through on their way home during rush hour, one may never know. However, later walking through the terminal, a Port Authority cleaning lady approached me to let me know that she had seen all of us sing earlier. She smiled enthusiastically, exclaiming how beautiful we sounded, how much she loved our music, how she had loved seeing us sing here two years ago, and how glad she was to see us again. She had remembered us, remembered our music and made sure she saw us when we came back. After a mutual expression of gratitude and a hug, we were back on our way. I walked back into the anonymity of Port Authority with a smile on my face.

Ah, the power of music… Helping to make your time spent at Port Authority sound a whole lot better….

In Harmony,
Carrie Wesolowski, Alto 1

 

For more information on the non-profit Sing for Hope; visit their website at www.singforhope.org

A Look Back at the Fall/Winter 2018 Season

Here is a recap of
recent outreach performances
from September 2018-January 2019

by Carrie Wesolowski

[All photos by Frank Asencio]

Choir members as they watch clients dance during a performance at YAI in November, 2018.

Choir members as they watch clients dance during a performance at YAI in November, 2018.

"You have travelled to 50 places together,” Facebook recently declared of me and another Peace of Heart Choir member. I later thought to myself that It was considerably more than that.  We may not have logged frequent flyer miles but we have passed the litmus test of all good travel experiences—meeting new people and reaping the rewards that come with human interaction—the experiences that enrich our lives and change us for the better.  We have travelled to spots around the New York City area—averaging around 24 venues each season-- as part of our very special group, Peace of Heart Choir, singing to those who need the music. Our music. Music we select each season. It’s important to look at where we’ve been to know where we’re going. Eleven outreaches this past season together creating new memories while doing what we all love to do—sharing the universal language of music with our audiences. Here's a brief glimpse of our travels.

 

The choir performs “Lift Us Up” on The High Line.

9/12/18 The High Line:  Rain couldn't dampen our spirits as we took refuge in a covered area under the Chelsea Market Passage on the High Line, performing our first outreach of the Fall 2018 season in remembrance of 9/11, to a very enthusiastic audience including a familiar face in the audience, former Peace of Heart Choir soprano Naomi Frerotte. We performed on 9/12 with a foggy NYC skyline as our backdrop. We sang in remembrance of the 9/11 attacks, but we also sang in the spirit of moving forward together that 9/12 has come to symbolize. During the performance, the smiles appeared, and the rain disappeared. One audience member came up to me afterwards to ask me more about our group and tell me how much she loved the music.

 

10/21/18 Mt. Sinai/St. Luke’s: We sang on a locked ward of Mt.Sinai/St.Luke’s to an audience of patients who were battling mental illness and/or drug addiction. At first, it seemed that the staff didn’t expect us, and they were surprised that we were there to sing. Several patients came alive singing along with us--one patient thanked us with a gentle fist bump as we left and said that we had to come back. As for the staff who didn’t know we were coming, it was a pleasant surprise to them as they smiled and grooved to the music and seconded our male audience member’s call for a return visit.  

 

Choir director René Galván, on guitar, leads the choir in “Oye Como Va” at YAI.

Choir director René Galván, on guitar, leads the choir in “Oye Como Va” at YAI.

11/2/18 YAI:  It is always such a great experience singing here—YAI is truly the unofficial Peace of Heart Choir fan club. We have a very special relationship with YAI as they brought us our baritone Anthony. We’ve visited them regularly for many years, and they also staff the snack table at our benefit concerts. They are always so happy to see us and we were so happy to be there and sing for them. This wonderful organization supports people of all ages with developmental disabilities in achieving the fullest life possible by creating new opportunities for them. For those of us who have been here before, we recognized many of our audience members. We visited with our old friends and caught up on special events in their lives including their latest baby photos. At the end, Renè led us in an impromptu “Oye Como Va” that electrified our audience and had them dancing along. 

 

11/14/18 Visions at Selis Manor:  This organization for the blind provides an adapted learning environment and meeting place for youth, adults and seniors which offers support groups, computer training, adapted activities, volunteer and social work services. We have sung here several times before. This time we sang at a weekday lunch program. Our audience was appreciative and many were visibly moved. One woman told us about the choir that she had belonged to in her youth. One man, his voice choked up with emotion, took my hand and thanked us for the music and told me that we sounded beautiful.

 

11/17/18 Village Care:  This is an assisted living facility in Midtown West that provides post-acute care, managed long-term care and community-based services for seniors. We performed during lunch, and our audience was visibly affected by our music—one woman tearing up at one point. We got a chance to speak to the residents afterwards. One man seated in an armchair outside was particularly nostalgic when talking about our concert, how the music brought him back to another time. He recounted stories of the past. It was lovely how the music meant something so personal to him. 

 

12/5/18 Mercy Home: We have a special relationship with this venue, a network of group homes for adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities. The former church where we performed is used as a community center, a place the residents come for recreation and enrichment programs. We have performed here several times before and our soprano Michael Anne used to work here. It is always such a pleasure to sing in their small chapel with its wonderful acoustics and to see our audience members’ smiles and this time was no exception. As we entered, they gave each of us colorful shapes cut out of construction paper for a chance to win sweatshirts with artwork by the residents. They always have a special musical treat for us too—their very own musical group Melodic Soul performed for us, and for a short time we shifted from performers to audience. But this time they had an added treat for us—as they dimmed the lights, the unveiling of an art project amidst the setting of the cavernous chapel. The light show felt almost psychedelic in nature and there was a certain magic with the lights ascending and descending the artwork in the dark until the lights connected from side to side and “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” was revealed in its entirety.

 

The choir at JCC, the Jewish Community Center.

The choir at JCC, the Jewish Community Center.

12/8/18 JCC: We performed in the lobby of the JCC on the Upper West Side, as part of their Shabbat R&R program. The JCC has been a good friend to us over the years. Observing the rules of the Jewish Sabbath, we performed a cappella, without instruments or even a pitch pipe to find our starting notes. Children and their families took in our music engaging in some lively chatter in the background. We gave out Peace of Heart Choir key chains after the performance to a very appreciative audience who thanked us for our music. 

 

12/20/18 Hope Lodge: Amidst the backdrop of a beautiful Christmas tree adorned with New York City-themed ornaments, we sang at a holiday meal for cancer patients and their families who stay at Hope Lodge for days, weeks, or sometimes months while they are in town for treatment at area hospitals. The group sang along with us on sing-alongs, including a young girl singing along to “You Are My Sunshine”. At the end of the concert, a woman in a wheelchair getting off the elevator asked if she had missed the concert. A small POHC group who had been waiting at the elevator that would soon grow a bit larger began to sing an impromptu version of “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” our official theme song. The woman began to sing along and thanked the group as everyone parted wishing each other “Happy Holidays”. There was a tear in many an eye after she parted ways. 

 

12/22 Housing Works: A New York City-based non-profit providing services to those fighting AIDS, drug use, and homelessness, we’ve sung at other Housing Works venues before but this was the first time we ventured to this downtown Brooklyn location. We sang in the basement where the walls were covered with holiday decorations. We performed for a very small but appreciative group that had gathered for lunch. One woman was especially enthusiastic-- not only did she sing along with us but she hugged several of us afterwards. 

 

1/9 Edie Windsor SAGE Center:  Our tenor, Wilfred, has noted that he is no stranger to SAGE as he has attended SAGE socials before. This was our second time performing here but this was my first time that I noticed the picture behind the reception desk as I got off the elevator—a picture of an elderly woman with both arms thrown up in the air triumphantly with a beaming smile across her face and the words SAGE/Advocacy & Services for LGBT Elders with the tagline underneath: We refuse to be invisible. And that is exactly what I saw as we sang for our audience—vibrant, involved individuals who expressed their love for our music—a man in the second row who visibly sang along appreciatively to “Singing for our Lives”. A woman in our audience sang along with me all the lyrics to “You Are My Sunshine”. You could really feel the connection we had made with this audience.

 

1/17 National Council of Jewish Women: We have sung for the lunchtime meetings of this group several times before, and one member here, Norma, has even become our unofficial booking agent, calling us regularly with ideas and performance opportunities. This year we participated in a program which promotes healthy aging, Council Lifetime Learning’s 2018-2019 Gerson Cultural Arts Season through our music. Norma gave us a warm introduction as usual. Gary told our audience a bit about our mission and who we are. We sang for an audience of seniors and several caregivers. The Heartbeats (an unofficial girl group created by choir members for our semi-annual cabaret nights) even reprised an arrangement of favorite, “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen”. Gary encouraged our audience by saying that the only thing we like better than singing is our audience singing along with us. As Gary estimated percentages of our audience singing along, I later joked we should coin the term “Garyometer” for this purpose. Again, we gave out Peace of Heart Choir key chains at the end of our performance and received positive feedback from our audience. This performance wrapped up a wonderful outreach season!

 

We look forward to another season of travels--not far in terms of distance--but reaching those who most need it, living alongside us.

 

Come join us for our upcoming public performances:  first up on March 13 at 5PM--Sing for Hope at Port Authority 625 8th Ave (bet 40 & 41 St), our Benefit Concert Performance on June 2 at 4PM--Alvin Ailey Center, 405 W 55th St (9th Ave), and Make Music New York on June 21 at a time/location TBD.

 

Ah, the power of music and the reciprocity of goodwill that keeps our heart beating and reawakens our soul in the affirmation that everything is gonna be alright.

 

Looking Forward to Another Harmonious Outreach Season, 
Carrie Wesolowski
Alto 1 

Each year, on or near the anniversary of the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center, the choir performs a public concert. On September 12, 2018 we performed on the High Line in New York City.

Each year, on or near the anniversary of the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center, the choir performs a public concert. On September 12, 2018 we performed on the High Line in New York City.

At The Lincoln Center

We’ve sung in public venues before, usually in places like the High Line, where people happen upon us as they stroll by. Today, the audience came specifically to hear us. In Lincoln Center. In an auditorium named for Bruno Walter. We all felt the awe of that. Backstage hummed, with Rob giving out POHC mugs, shirts, and totes, and Evelyn, our deportment guru, lining us up so we could practice walking onstage in formation, closed books in our left hands. The warm-up was long, more like a dress rehearsal, where, for the first time, we got to work on the transition between Mood Indigo and Satin Doll. Like cramming in the moments before a final exam. Amazingly, it worked.

At The National Council of Jewish Women

The NCJW has a sister senior center in Brooklyn that my mother was a member of for many years. She had lunch there, acted in plays, sang in the chorus, and brought her broken appliances to the retired fix-it man who set up shop in the lobby. The Council Center, as she called it, definitely lives up to the mission stated on its website: to address the social, intellectual, and creative needs of seniors. 

At Foutain House

Fountain House is a community center in the West Forties dedicated to the recovery of men and women with mental illness. Run by members and staff, it provides employment, housing, education, and wellness programs. Members can also hang out in the elegant town-house to play chess, learn a craft, or eat. In the past we sang upstairs in the cafeteria, but tonight we were in the parlor on the ground floor, with couches, armchairs, a baby grand piano, and bottles of water put out for us on a table

After our usual warmups—vocalizing and trying out bits of songs to synchronize guitar, mandolin, and ukulele—one of the early-bird audience members called out, “You sound beautiful.” Then, in the few minutes before the start of the concert, some of us walked through the audience giving out pamphlets to people who asked about auditions and the fundraiser. There was an old-home-week kind feeling: one woman knew Lenore and Bill from her church; another woman knew Anthony from YAI; and a man asked whether I was Marv’s sister (it turns out he had once come to a POHC rehearsal).

We opened with “Siyhamba”—no surprise there—but this time it was “Siyhamba” with a twist. When we finished it, a woman in the back asked whether we ever tried to sing both languages at once. So Rene had half of us sing Zulu while the other half sung English, and it sounded pretty good. “You’re hired!” we told her.

They liked the whole concert and really did look at the singalong sheets, because when it came time for “This Little Light of Mine,” they said the same thing our last audience said: “It’s not on the sheet.” No matter, they sang it anyway.

After the concert, at Wilfred’s request, we posed for a group picture, taken the old fashioned way, by a photographer not in the picture (Anthony’s mom and his coach). Then another picture, this one a selfie by Brian—if a selfie can have 20 people in it. The audience watched the photo shoot, too. When it was over, as we were walking out, many told us how much they enjoyed the concert. “Come back,” one said, and another called, “God bless you all.”

-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

At Clyde Burton House

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 Sixteen performers, and twelve audience members in a very small room. Chamber music. Up close and personal.

Clyde Burton House, at the end of Alphabet City (between C-D, but feels more like Z when you’re walking there), has 33 SRO units of supportive, permanent housing for formerly homeless seniors or seniors with mental health issues. (A senior is someone over 55.) It’s one of the facilities run by the Bowery Residents Committee (BRC), and our own Soprano Olga does volunteer work there. The crafts her seniors made were hanging on the bulletin board.

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We warmed up by running through several numbers, mainly so the various stringed instruments (Rene’s, Brian’s, Marv’s) could coordinate. A few audience members were already seated during this time, and we explained that they would be hearing these songs again. One of the men said that was fine: “Y’all good at what you do, from what I heard.” One of the women sang along with “Pieces of the World,” even though there was no way she could have heard the song before. After Carrie introduced the choir, when we officially started with “Siyahamba,” she sang along with that, too. 

 These men and women joined in enthusiastically on the singalongs, and the ones who didn’t sing had smiles on their faces. Wilfred was the Jack of all soloists, doing both “Lonesome Road” and “Let There Be Peace On Earth.” And Rene livened the show by explaining things about his instruments, especially the wooden sticks he was using during “Siyahamba” instead of drums—though the song was Zulu, he said, from Africa, and the sticks were from Mexico, they went well together. Rene also told them that this wasn’t the whole choir, and they wanted to know when we were going to come back with the rest. (There’s no way we could all fit in that room.)

One of the woman who was singing along with gusto told me after the performance that her mother was a music teacher, and she was a singer. She asked whether we were performing anywhere that she could come to. I told her about the fundraiser at Baruch and gave her a pamphlet. She doesn’t have a computer but uses the ones at the public library and said she was going to check for when our auditions were “now that things are settling down.”

When I got home, before writing this, I looked at the BRC and clicked on a video called “Grace’s Story” (see below for link). It turned out to be the story of the woman who was singing “Siyahamba” and “Pieces of the World.” The subtitle of the video is “Every Homeless Person Has a Story. This is Grace’s.” It’s not often that we get to know the personal histories of the people we sing for. It adds another dimension to what we do.

-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

At Mercy Home

The Sisters of Mercy closed their Willoughby Avenue convent in 2008, after 146 years of ministering to the homeless, orphans, and the sick. The beautiful building now serves as the administrative office for Mercy Home, the order’s network of thirteen group homes for adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities. The building is also used as a community center, a place the residents come for recreation and enrichment programs. It was POHC’s privilege to be the recreation for this evening, both on the giving and receiving end.

The door of our small warmup room was open, and people stopped by to introduce themselves and shake hands on their way to the former chapel, now the auditorium. Many of them knew Michael Anne, the POHC Soprano who works for Mercy Home and arranged this gig. When it was time to begin, we marched down the center aisle to the stage area in front, with people waving and smiling as we passed. Ruth introduced the choir, and then we opened with—you guessed it—“Siyahamba.” It’s always a hit, but this time, when it was over, someone shouted Encore! above the applause.

Encores we did. Ten. By pre-arrangement, most were singalongs, with POHC members mingling with the very receptive audience during Rock-a-My Soul. The rest of our numbers were sung on stage, which we shared with one of the residents and his full set of drums. Occasionally he helped us keep the beat, but otherwise he just sat and listened. This audience was dressed up for an event, and they all had big smiles on their faces. They moved. They swayed. They Clapped. A few even stood up to bounce in place while we sang and Rene, Ruth, and Marv played—not all at once—two guitars, a mandolin, and a ukulele. Thanks to Wilfred and Deb for beautiful solos.

After our closing “Let There Be Peace On Earth,” we got to sit in the audience and hear their band, The Melodic Souls. The drum guy on stage came to life, and so did a keyboard player and a guitar player. Other members of the band were in the first two rows of the audience, turned around to face the rest of the audience while they shook maracas and tambourines. Each member of the band was introduced by the drummer and got up to take a bow while the audience whooped and hollered. Then came an original song, “On Our Way Home,” and a standard, “I Can See Clearly Now.” One of the staff members passed a microphone around to give each of the band members a solo moment. Now it was our turn to clap.

On my way to the reception that followed—pastries, fruit salad, and beverages—another staff members stopped me to say, “You guys are great! So in sync and in harmony. You gave me the chills.”

Tonight, we did, indeed, sing joy. Furaha!

-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