I approached the Lenox Hill Neighborhood House, a community center attached to a New York City Housing Authority building for seniors, providing meals and recreation. This would mark Peace of Heart Choir’s first performance at Lenox Hill Community House. One of our altos, Eve, works for this organization, and had suggested this outreach venue.
It was a warm autumn afternoon on Sunday. I got off the F train at the Roosevelt Island stop and I spotted fellow choir members, Howard, and then Wilfred, and then Sheila and Doug. We chatted as we made our way up the seemingly endless escalators in the station. We made our way above ground looking for the red shuttle bus stop that would bring us to our destination—Coler Rehabilitation and Nursing Facility, a government-run, 815-bed nursing home--where Peace of Heart Choir was scheduled to perform an outreach concert later that afternoon.
It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon—one of those days in Indian summer with bright blue skies as far as the eye can see with not a cloud in the sky. There was a slight breeze too, nice and pleasant and refreshing on the skin. Sunday, September 20th, 2015, marked the observance of International Peace Day. September 21st is actually the official day but most events marking the day fell to the weekend day, Sunday, September 20th this year.
Incidentally, it was first observed in 1982 and it was set to be observed September 11, 2001, however, it was changed that year to September 21st instead, in light of the events of 9/11. As Wikipedia states, International Peace Day was declared as a result of a UN resolution sponsored by the United Kingdom and Costa Rica dedicated to promoting and strengthening the ideals of peace.
I walked through Strawberry Fields where there were the usual crowds and tourists taking photos with the Imagine mosaic--one man singing Beatles songs but perhaps a bigger crowd today in observance of International Peace Day. I continued to walk though Central Park until I spotted the iconic Naumberg Bandshell, the park’s only Neo-Classical building and home to many musical performances in the last 100 years including Irving Berlin and Duke Ellington—and the location where Peace of Heart Choir would perform as one of several musical performances throughout the day to mark the annual International Vigil for Peace Concert. I saw several fellow choir members sitting and standing around benches and went to join them. We would soon meet up with Rene. We waited for more members to arrive and we did an abbreviated warm-up at another spot.
Our call time was 1:30PM and we were scheduled to start at 2PM. As it neared 2PM, and another act was still performing, the organizers told Gary that there were still several more performers to take the stage and that we would probably be performing around 3PM. We decided to go perform in another spot. At first, we made our way down the steps to the breathtaking underpass on the way to the Bethesda Fountain with its beautiful architecture and wonderful acoustics and sightings of several brides and their bridesmaids in their colorful attire taking photos. This would be the spot, we thought, for our pop-up concert. Turns out an opera singer had the same idea and had staked the spot out before us.
So on we went until we found the same spot where we had performed encore pop-ups at this event before --the idyllic setting of water and green lush trees as our backdrop. Rene had us go through several key parts of the songs we would perform. Crowds started to gather to listen to us. There was an ebb and flow with some listening to one song or parts of a song and some staying for all of our songs. We performed a rousing “Guantanamera”, an inspiring “Pieces of the World” with vocals by Olga P., Gail, me, and Brian and an introduction by Brian, “One Day” with vocal support from Gary and Olga P., and an uplifting “Give Us Hope”. All of the pieces featured a musical collaboration of Rene and Brian providing instrumentals.
Our pop-up concert performed to a sea of smiles and applause from our audience even exuberant canines. We ventured forth to make our way back to the waiting area as it was getting close to 3PM, our newly scheduled time to perform on the Bandshell stage.
When we arrived back to the waiting area, Gary was told by the organizers that we would have to wait longer to perform. As we waited, that breeze started to fade, and the sun felt strong and many choir members tried to find shade concerned they might burn. We finally got to the stage a little before 3:30PM, as we were invited to join The New York City Street Singers, a group one of our choir members, Cheryl, performs with. The New York City Street Singers were formed by Pete Seeger in 1981. As we waited in the wings, we were offered Poland Spring waters. And then before we knew it, it was time. So, we quickly took the stage, getting into position according to sections. Several of us, realized Brian wasn’t there and so, Rene, announced we would wait a moment for him. And then, he appeared and we were ready to start.
Our first piece, “Guantanamera” was a collaboration with The New York City Street Singers. The next song was “Pieces of the World” with Olga P., Gail, me, and Brian on vocals. The stage was brightly decorated with inflated globes that you were invited to play with lining the front of the stage. As we neared the end of the song, singing the lyrics, “Pieces of this World”, an adorable little dark-haired girl played with the inflatable globe--a tangible representation of the "world" we sing of in this song--pushing it to and fro and ending on perfect time with the music I may add. So fitting, really. Our last song was “One Day” with Gary and Olga P. on vocals. Rene and Brian again continued their musical collaboration throughout. We were supposed to perform a fourth song, “Give Us Hope” but we were told that they were running short on time. They announced us again. There was applause. One of the organizers thanked us as we exited the stage and she said that we did a great job to several of us and thanked us for our patience.
It was a day of waiting and patience and we had passed the test. So we wound up doing our encore first this time—a different order but, no worries, everything happens as it should. Patience is definitely a cornerstone of peaceful discourse and we had passed the test. I thought of the little girl rolling the globe—she was the future we sing of in “Give Us Hope.” As always, it is an honor to be part of an event celebrating peace. I looked up at the sign in front of the stage, ‘May Peace Prevail On Earth’--our sentiments indeed.
Carrie Wesolowski, Alto 1
For an upper-west-sider who rarely ventures into Queens, I felt I was in a foreign country when I got off the #7 train at Main Street. The store signs were in Asian characters, and people on the corner were handing out flyers in Asian characters. A man thrust a flyer toward me, looked at my face, and took it back. Fortunately, the street signs were in the roman alphabet, and I found my way to the library easily.
Summertime, and the living is easy at 6:00 in Central Park. Trees and statues provide shade, and anyway, it’s a bit cooler today. POHC-ers arrive by twos and threes, congregating in their brightly colored tops, new members making the acquaintance of old ones. No lay-lee-la-lo-loo today. Instead, off to the side, Renee and Leslie go over the guitar chords that will accompany us. Rene travels light tonight—no piano.
Three categories. Four hours.
Twenty-three people (not counting Rene’s daughter).
Long conference room with long table, all seats filled.
Captain Deb at the helm, to guide and referee.
According to their website, “there are places to live, and then there’s Kittay House.” It’s for seniors who want more independence than assisted living. They have 295 independent living apartments and “a community of elders that acts like its own social network.”
One of the great things about the YAI audience is that they call out. At other venues, it’s POHC who takes the lead in interacting with the audience. At YAI, they initiate the dialogue. And they keep it going. When we finished “One Day,” someone shouted, “That was beautiful. What’s her name?” Olga, Rene said. There were requests for other choir members’ names, so Rene had us each introduce ourselves.
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.