Singing for Communities

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

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 Common Ground

I walked down West 43rd Street and I arrived at a Renaissance-style building and knew I had found the place wherePeace of Heart Choir would be performing an outreach concert later that evening.  I walked in and showed my ID and signed in at the front desk.  The building reminded me of an old-time gleaming movie palace with its high ceilings, its winding staircase and mezzanine lined with holiday lights and garland and various holiday decorations—its architecture reminiscent of a bygone era.

The Times Square Hotel has a rich history. Built by the developer Henry Claman in 1922, it originally catered to single men and then to single women. Throughout the years, this majestic building now on the official National Register of Historic Places in Manhattan, has undergone many incarnations. Today, it is owned by Common Ground as its flagship supportive housing residence whose mission is toprovide affordable housing for the formerly homeless, some of whom live with HIV/AIDS, mental illness, or physical disabilities, and working professionals—many of whom are low-income performing artists including several jazz musicians.

In the center of the lobby were two beautiful Christmas trees with a gold statue of a cherub in between the two Christmas trees. There was a piano in front of the statue and a smaller gold statue of a cherub to the left of the first Christmas tree. Chairs were set up for the audience.  René was rehearsing the songs we would be performing. We ran through several songs in our repertoire. Some people sat in the audience and watched. Soon enough it was time to start.

Gary introduced the choir and its mission to the audience. The audience tricked in as people walked through the lobby and decided to sit down or stop and listen as they had hot cocoa or coffee that was set up on a table in the lobby.

Our first song, Pharrell’s chart-topper, “Happy” was a great way to start the outreach. It was infectiously upbeat and hit just the right note with the audience.  We performed Paul McCartney’s response to racial tensions in the US during the spring of 1968, the classic “Blackbird”, with a lovely solo by Brian.  As the outreach progressed, our audience grew. One man stood in the mezzanine showing his obvious appreciation of the music as he swayed his body to the music. We really had him on his feet.

We sounded pretty on a trio of love songs we performed: the first one, the Indian love song, “Mahi Ve”, the second, the Spanish love song, “Si La Nieve” introduced by Deb who had proposed it, and finally, the Korean love song, “Arirang” introduced by Sheila.

We performed some of our core songs too—the James Taylor standard, “That Lonesome Road” with a beautiful solo by Nancy, our sing-alongs “Peace Like A River”, “Rock-A-My-Soul”, and“Down By the Riverside”. “Peace Like A River” sounded strong and triumphant.   We split up our audience into three sections as is customary for“Rock-A-My Soul” and then went into each section to coach the audience their respective parts. This was such a wonderful exercise in audience participation. They really seemed to enjoy singing along! During “Down By The Riverside”, we went out into the audience to shake hands at the part that prompts us to do so. It was a warm-hearted welcome from a mostly male audience. The audience had grown and now most of the 40 or so seats were now filled.

Another core song, the Matisyahu anthem for peace, “One Day” sounded beautiful with really lovely solos by Gary and Hikari. As René noted, this song has really become part an important part of most of our outreaches. One audience member definitely agreed. He singled out the song and in particular how much he liked Gary’s voice.

We performed three holiday songs: “Deck The Halls”, “Seven Principles”, and “AlHaNissim”. Susie introduced the holiday classic “Deck The Halls” and as she noted, we performed a jazzy rendition of this classic. The man in the mezzanine definitely appreciated our jazzy spin on this traditional song. He swayed to and fro with a smile on his face. The Kwanzaa song “Seven Principles” highlighting each of the principles of each day of the celebration sounded lovely and featured nice vocal support from Gail. The Hebrew celebratory Chanukah song, “Al HaNissim” sounded exuberant and spirited.

René included one of our crowd favorites, the unofficial anthem of Cuba, “Guantanamera” meaning “woman from Guantanamo” whose better known official lyrics are inspired by the poetry of José Martí. Our voices were lively and joyous and the audience definitely appreciated it.  René noted how José Feliciano was performing just down the block at BB King Blues Club and Grill. This inspired René to lead us in an impromptu fun and spirited version of “Feliz Navidad”. 

Charlie introduced “Let There Be Peace On Earth”. He had proposed the song many years ago when Peace of HeartChoir was first formed, and the song has since become the de facto unofficial anthem of our choir and our signature closing song. We sounded magnificent featuring a sublime solo by Charlie.

As René noted, a special thanks to Brian, Ruth, Marv and Gail who added so much to this outreach with their wonderful musical accompaniment.

When the concert was over, René directed us to take our bows to the applause of a very appreciative audience. As we dispersed after the concert and said our goodbyes, I looked around and saw the old black-and-white photos that lined the walls celebrating the building’s history. A sign in the back read“Peace of Heart Choir Performance 6:00PM – Lobby * Coffee, Cocoa, and Cookies* “.  I looked up at the majestic mezzanine with its sweeping staircase and lovely decorations and thought of the wonderful acoustics of the space where we had just performed. This had been such a lovely place to sing--what a wonderful way to end our outreach season!!

Hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season! Wishing everyone a very Happy New Year!  Looking forward to seeing everyone in 2016!

-Carrie, 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 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 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

At The Jewish Community Center

I walked up to the entrance of the Jewish Community Center and found Alex waiting outside. We walked inside to see where we were warming up. I saw the various activities going on as part of the day. I walked up to two women and realized one of them was Gia, who had helped set up our concert. I complimented her on her shiny silver headband and then I took off my hat to reveal my shiny gold one. “It’s obviously ‘Shiny Headband Day’,” she said in solidarity with a smile on her face. Alex and I then went down to the lower level and met Noella and several other choir members along the way. The room where we would rehearse had obviously changed. Back up one flight again. We rehearsed a bit with a little lift from Lily’s delicious homemade sweet potato latkes and then it was time to begin. We were not allowed any musical accompaniment or even a pitch pipe for this performance in respect for the Holidays. In the JCC setting, we definitely included Chiribim as part of our program and included Od Yavo. The day was filled with family activities including face painting and this was obvious from the families and children in attendance.

Our performance began with our signature opening number, Siyahamba. Gail and Lily provided lovely vocal support in our song of welcome, Wanemo. Od Yavo was fun and spirited as we sped up and slowed down at various points and built up momentum towards the end under Rene’s direction. Next was the Gaelic song, Geantri. One of our core repertoire songs, Michael Row the Boat Ashore followed. During this song, an adorable toddler in a navy blue and yellow shirt and overalls kept trying to grab the words we had handed out from his mother’s hand as she was trying to sing the words from the sheet. She eventually walked out with her toddler--guess he wanted to sing too. The Yiddish song, Chiribim, was next with spirited vocals and introduction by Lily. A lovely acapella version of Light One Candle followed. Next was the sing-along Down by the Riverside. Kwanzaa Song was on the original program but as we realized that it was a holiday song, it was excluded from this concert. The sing-along Rock-A-My-Soul was next followed by a lovely acapella Give Us Hope and the Peace of Heart Choir anthem, a lovely Let There Be Peace on Earth.

It was nice to look out into the audience and see several familiar faces from last year’s outreach at the JCC. After the concert, a lady thanked us for an enjoyable concert. I saw a happy child with brightly colored paint decorating their face who had just participated in the face painting activity. It was so nice to have again been part of this annual event.

-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 The Queens Public Library

I walked off the bus and I made my way across the intersection. I could see the Flushing branch of the Queens Public Library from across the way decked out in holiday regalia, a Christmas tree with brightly colored lights with a menorah by its side. The scene stood out in downtown Flushing amidst the endless shops and bus stops and hustle and bustle of this neighborhood—a brief bit of serenity to counteract the hubbub this holiday season. I advanced towards the sparkling lights and found Alex waiting on the steps. I walked in and Gary was there to welcome us and direct us to where we would be warming up. Alex and I joined the other choir members.

We put our belongings in what was essentially a dressing room complete with lighted mirrors.We warmed up a bit. It was a beautiful concert hall. It was most definitely a community concert—families and children filled the seats--around 90 people were in the audience. The lights drowned out most faces beyond the first row. We could clearly see the family sitting in the front row. The mother and father told their daughter to be quiet throughout the performance. She was playful, adorable, dressed in hot pink from head to toe from her top to her winter boots. She put a smile on all of our faces. We began with our signature opening number, a rousing Siyahamba. Next was a melodic Wanemo with lovely solos by Gail and Lily. We followed it up with a different turn, the fun, Ukrainian holiday song, Carol of the Bells.

Next we did a breakneck Geantri. Marv provided spirited musical accompaniment on guitar to Michael Row the Boat Ashore. The concert continued with the James Taylor standard, That Lonesome Road, with fine vocals by Gary. The Carole King classic You’ve Got A Friend had lovely vocal support from Gail and Wilfred and pretty musical accompaniment by Evelyn on violin. Our Maori love ballad, Pokarekare Ana, was next and our sound benefited from the fine musical accompaniment by Marv on guitar and Rene on ukelele.

The anti-war anthem Down by the Riverside was given a nice boost by Marv on guitar. Usually many of us go out into the audience to shake hands at the appropriate part but as this was on a stage and there were side steps leading down into the audience, only a few choir members answered the call and ventured into the audience to shake hands. Kwanzaa Song found the ladies in fine form. Marv provided fine musical support to Rock-A-My Soul. Our voices lifted in song for the Jim Papoulis plea for the future of our children, an acapella Give Us Hope. This song was quite fitting in an audience filled with families and their children. We concluded with the anthem of our choir, a very lovely Let There Be Peace on Earth. As Rob noted, ‘we wish for peace, so desperately needed right now in our world.’

And so, we took our bows as instructed by Rene to enthusiastic applause. Right after the concert, we spoke with Gina, the events coordinator. She thanked us for coming and noted not only the nice size of the audience—around 90—but also the positive reaction. She was very pleased. As we walked out into the lobby, we saw the same couple from the front row with their adorable little girl—a vision of hot pink exuberance and still as playful and active as during the performance. Her parents began to apologize for her. Then Gary smiled and indicated that was nothing he hadn’t seen from his own children in their time or in any little ones of a certain age for that matter. The couple thanked us and told us they had enjoyed the concert. Funny how everything always comes full circle.

The concert over, we all headed out into the crisp night air—some of us taking a fun-filled ride with fellow choir members back to Manhattan and various other points and another small group of us including me taking advantage of the fine Asian cuisine in this Queens enclave, sharing a Vietnamese meal together. It had been a lovely outreach--our only one in Queens this season.

-Carrie, 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 The Advent Lutheran Church

I looked for the red double doors noted in the Peace of Heart Choir email with details for our outreach at Advent Lutheran Church and when I spotted the red doors I knew I had found the right place. I walked through the red double doors on the side of the building and walked down the stairs to the basement past a long line of those in need waiting to be admitted for their monthly luncheon—in this case, a Thanksgiving meal.

When I arrived downstairs, I found preparations underway—volunteers scurrying to get everything ready. There was a room in the back with countless pieces of pumpkin pie. I was very early and so was a small contingent of Peace of Heart Choir singers who were in the middle of it all chatting with Rene. Volunteers cleaned tables and we began to do our vocal warm-up. Our performance area was definitely going to be a tight fit but we adapt easily. There were rows and rows of tables with at least 75 people in attendance. Perhaps that is a low estimate. There easily could have been over a hundred. Sightlines were tricky because there were several poles in the way so not everyone in attendance had an unobstructed view.

Nonetheless, as our audience began their meals and volunteers came around serving food, we opened our outreach with our signature opening piece, Siyahamba. We continued with the lovely sounds of Wanemo with fine vocal support from Gail and Cheryl. The Maori love ballad Pocarekare Ana was next followed by Barry’s impromptu heartfelt version of It Had To Be Youto which several audience members sang along. Next was the sing-along Down By The Riverside with fine musical accompaniment by Dave on guitar.

One minor difference though we did not go into the audience to shake hands as usual. It was clear we did have a cheering section in the lady in the red sweater with a white scarf wrapped around her head. As Lexi declared, “This lady was great!”  I know she definitely put a smile on my face and moved me with her enthusiasm. I can’t agree with Rob more wholeheartedly in his assessment that she embodies what the spirit of outreach is all about. She was most visibly affected by Carole King's You’ve Got A Friend with lovely vocal support from Laura and Wilfred. She sang along, mouthing the words and even began to cry. James Taylor's Lonesome Road was next with another fine vocal turn from Wilfred. Rene looked out to us and at this point signaled we had done enough, yes? And so all was left but one of our core songs, Let There Be Peace on Earth which was introduced by Ruth and was a lovely way to end the afternoon.

- Carrie, 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 the National Sep 11 Memorial

The 9/11 Memorial is a contemplative, park-like outdoor space with lawns, walkways, and rows of trees surrounded by ivy groundcover. POHC was honored to be one of four groups performing there on 9/12. The bagpipes were the first group, while it was still light; when they finished, they graciously posed for pictures with choir members. Next came a string chamber group whose sound was all but lost in the great outdoors until Rene, Brian, and Dave assisted them with POHC amplification equipment brought by Rene. Third was a singer who has sung the “Star Spangled Banner” in all fifty states. When she finished singing it here, she invited her “friend who I just met,” Evelyn, a POHC soprano, up to the podium to read a poem she (the Star Spangled Banner singer) wrote about love of country and flag.

All this took some time, and when the POHC ascended the podium, the light was fast fading. There was still a sizable audience on the grass, though. How many were POHC family and friends, and how many random passers-by, I do not know. We sang ten songs, all well-received. What was more challenging than getting our sound to carry in the open space was the light. From the time we sang our first song, “Senzenia,” to the time we sang our last, “Let There be Peace on Earth,” our sheet music went from visible to invisible. For some songs, that was no problem—most of us knew them by heart. Others, like “Hard Times” and “Cherokee Morning Song,” were not as easy. It was also difficult for Rene to see the pitches on his pitch pipe. Despite all this, we sounded wonderful. I think we all felt very good about our performance—not just for the way we sang, but for our participation in the commemoration.

A note on the attached photo: The memorial park is surrounded by the tall buildings of downtown Manhattan. From our lineup on the podium, before we started singing, I took this picture of the sunset being reflected in one of those buildings. (Sorry it’s a bit fuzzy.)

-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