Public Concerts

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...


Gail and Renè both mused at the end “what did the audience get from it.”  In a place like Port Authority, with people passing through you will likely never see again, you may never know. About 30 minutes 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.

Take Us Out to the Ballgame: Choir Sings at the Staten Island Yankees on June 25, 2017

I arrived at the Staten Island Ferry Whitehall Terminal to find fellow choir members but Rene was not there. He had taken an unannounced, unanticipated detour to Brooklyn courtesy of the MTA. We lined up with hundreds of ferry passengers and boarded the ferry which would take us to our destination, the Richmond County Ballpark. The day was beautiful—warm and mostly sunny-- and we enjoyed the views of the Lower Manhattan skyline including the Statue of Liberty and we took photos and selfies. There was an air of anticipation—this would be our second appearance singing the national anthem at the Staten Island Yankees game.

We arrived at the Staten Island Ferry St. George Terminal and found our usual route to the stadium was under construction so this outing provided us with a new path lined with a new view of buildings with great architecture. When we reached the front of the ballpark, there was a desk with a red banner with the invitation to “Win a Car” sponsored by the National Automobile Club of America/ Staten Island Region. We perused the antique cars that were part of the raffle and some of us even took photos with them. There was a white Camaro but perhaps the most popular were the antique black Ford circa 1922 and the shiny candy apple red Ford from the 1950s. I said that I loved the red one and Gail agreed adding that her father would have loved that one too.

 

We were so happy Rene was now here. He had just missed the ferry we took because his MTA train had bypassed his stop without any announcement and he had to take the train back to the bypassed Lower Manhattan stop to catch the ferry. It was now time for our first set. A sea of red Peace of Heart Choir caps and assorted Peace of Heart Choir T-shirts and polos, we joined our voices in song for our signature opening number, a spirited “Siyahamba” which transitioned into a rousing “Shosholoza” which featured Rene on vocals. People that were waiting in line to get into the stadium stopped and watched our set enthusiastically—happy to see us.  We continued with a fun “Paz Y Libertad”, the sing-alongs “Peace Like a River” and “Down by the Riverside” and in a twist, we shook each other’s hands during “Down by the Riverside” rather than audience member’s hands. Our voices soared strong and confident throughout “Freedom Is Coming” and “That Lonesome Road” featuring a solo by Nancy. We concluded our set with a resonant, upbeat “Give Us Hope”, the perfect way to end our first set.

We made our way through the stadium to the clubhouse area where we had a short break before we took the field. We were chatting and excited, waiting to take the field. Before we knew it, it was time. This time we would be performing a short set in addition to the national anthem. We took our positions and walked across the grassy ball field. Oh, how I loved the smell of that freshly-cut grass that populated the field. I took a breath before we began with our first song, “Siyahamba”, and I inhaled the sweet smell of that grass and the song felt somehow brand new even though we’d sung it countless times before. We had an unexpected companion for our set—Scooter, the Staten Island Yankees mascot who had taken photos with us last year after we sang the national anthem. This time Scooter danced and hammed it up behind Rene’s back in upstaging fashion as we sang. That’s what mascots do—ham it up. Can’t say I’ve ever seen a mascot take a shot at conducting though—that was a first. We continued with a very heartfelt “Peace Like a River” and a very strong, triumphant “Freedom is Coming”. Extremely enthusiastic applause followed our set and we walked back off the field before we would sing our final song which would be the climactic moment of our visit here--the singing of the national anthem to kick off the game.  

Before long, the announcer introduced us again and that we would sing the national anthem. Everyone rose and we lowered our caps to our hearts as we sang fully, gloriously, and from our hearts to the wonderful complement of Olivia playing the trumpet. There were thousands of spectators in the stadium. I looked at their faces—solemn and moved—I saw one man tearing up. Something spectacular happened before we finished singing—the clouds that had filled the sky in the last hour or so parted and the sun began to shine as if on cue with the trumpet and the music. We left the field feeling euphoric, the audience vigorously applauding our efforts.

Most of us stayed to watch the game and joined our family and friends to eat some food and enjoy each other’s company. The game was fun with many fun-filled activities between innings that made it enjoyable for children and the rest of us who are young-at-heart. Here Scooter was in his element, good-naturedly sparring with a little boy—the little boy won--and having a mock stand-off with one of the hosts. I loved the Staten Island Yankees dance team leading the audience and a group of children in dance moves. They even propelled some of us who are young-at-heart out of our seats. Sheila caught one of the many T-shirts that the on-field hosts/hostesses had thrown out into the crowd. The announcers and the Staten Island Yankees crew made us all feel welcome and at home. Jason, a Staten Island Yankees representative, told us as we watched the game that the Staten Island Yankees manager declared our rendition of the national anthem “the best he had ever heard sung at the stadium”. High praise, indeed.

A group of us stayed until we saw the final play and the game was over, the screen erupting into brightly colored letters that read “YANKEES WIN”. We made our way back to the ferry. I was thankful for this wonderful experience and I thought of how this day had been such an incredible way to cap off such a phenomenal Peace of Heart Choir season.

In Harmony,
Carrie Wesolowski, Alto 1