Sing for Hope

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

Singing for Hope at the NYC Port Authority Bus Terminal on March 8, 2017

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.

In Harmony,
Carrie Wesolowski, Alto 1