Nearly Two Decades of Service through Music
It all started when...
...after September 11, 2001, New York City was flooded with volunteers in one of the most profound shows of support this country has ever seen.
There were so many volunteers there was not enough work for them to do, and many people felt at a loss as to how to contribute to the city's healing efforts.
NYC RECOVERS AND OUR FIRST PERFORMANCE
NYC Recovers, an organization focused on rebuilding and community bonding, emerged as one of the galvanizing forces in the days following 9/11 as it helped diverse neighborhoods heal from the violence and sense of loss stemming from the September 11th World Trade Center attacks.
As part of its work, NYC Recovers organized a community event in support of all who were affected by September 11th. They asked Jeff Becker, one of the founders of the choir, to write a song ("It Takes a Village") and convene a choir for the event.
A call was put out for volunteer singers to sing in a one-deal concert where those who participated would perform in Washington Square Park at a community gathering, one of many organized to help the city recover from its trauma, prevent stress, resolve conflicts and form social ties across diverse groups.
In three days, 28 people signed up to sing. For the people who sang, it was a chance to give something back to the city, as well as an opportunity to heal themselves and others through music.
We suspected the terror attacks could foster a cycle of recrimination, exacerbate division, and engender mistrust of our Arab and Muslim friends, family, co-workers and acquaintances. And, we suspected music could help counter that.
On November 17th, 2001, in our first concert held in Washington Square Park just two months into New York City's September 11th recovery efforts, we performed "It Takes a Village," a song about what it would take to strengthen community bonds, rebuild and heal one another.
PEACE OF HEART CHOIR IS OFFICIALLY FORMED
Well, that one gathering, forged a bond among the nearly 30 volunteer singers who responded. Back then, no one imagined that after just one concert, something more wonderful and engaging could happen. But it did.
Not wanting their mutual vision of healing and community building through music to end, together a subgroup of those volunteers formed the Peace of Heart Choir.
The idea was simple but poignant: Diverse music drawing on cultures, languages and styles from around the world could promote healing, build bridges and thereby foster community.
We shared a vision that music could be a potent way to break down the barriers built and fortified between and among peoples and communities encouraged to be distrustful of each other.
2003: CHOIR HONORED AS "NEW YORKERS OF THE WEEK"
In 2003, the Peace of Heart Choir was honored as the "New Yorkers of the Week" by the popular New York City cable news channel, NY1. It was the second time in less than a year that we were given this honor. As reported by NY1, choir members Charlie Palmer (a founding member) and Vanessa Wilson (a soprano member at the time), recount so well, the choir, and its mission.
"I think we are out there trying to soothe people and give them, a little bit, some kind of uplifting experience, that they might not get otherwise," explained Charlie.
"When people see us, it kind of gives them a different perspective," added Vanessa. She continued, "We can all work together. Things have happened in the city that have been awful. People have been blamed. But, when you look at us, you say, 'Wow! This is what it's about.' This is about sharing and togetherness.
15+ YEARS OF community SERVICE THROUGH SONG
It's hard to believe that what, initially, was an idea for one performance, grew into a commitment where, today, the Peace of Heart Choir, performs 20 community concerts every year, not only for people in hospitals, homeless shelters, domestic violence safe havens, nursing homes, and hospices, but also for a wide range of community and advocacy groups who share our commitment to serve citizens from New York's diverse ethnic, racial, cultural and spiritual traditions.
To date, we have performed more than 300 community concerts for others in need and for those who share a commitment to serve them. Barrier Free Living Shelter, Alianza Dominicana, Bronx Lebanon Hospital, Jewish Community Center, Kittay House Senior Residence, Center Kids at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center, Rivington House, Chinese American Planning Council, P.S. 188 in the Bronx, Arab-American Family Support Center, YAI/National Institute for People with Disabilities, and Ronald McDonald House are a few of the organizations we have serviced through song.
Approaching 18 years of of service, our work grows ever expansive as we continue to perform music that we hope fosters hope, peace, joy, healing and positive change in those for whom we sing.
In addition to our community concerts at various service organizations, we've also performed public concerts open to all New Yorkers at locations such as the Lincoln Center Library, International Peace Day in Central Park, and days of remembrance at the September 11th Memorial, the New York Society for Ethical Culture, the Port Authority via Sing For Hope, for the Staten Island Yankees and for visitors to Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island via Make Music NY.
In the Autumn of 2018, in addition to our regular schedule of outreach performances, for five consecutive nights, October 3-7, 2018, Peace of Heart Choir members will be among 1,000 singers from community choirs across New York who will come together on the High Line for the first-ever public concerts of The Mile-Long Opera: a biography of 7 o’clock—an ambitious, collective, free choral work that shares personal stories from hundreds of New Yorkers about life in our rapidly changing city.
The Mile-Long Opera (MLO) is conceived by composer David Lang and architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Poets Anne Carson and Claudia Rankine wrote the text, inspired by real-life stories, gathered through first-hand interviews with residents throughout the city, asking what 7:00 pm means to them. The choir's Robert René Galván is officially contracted by Mile-Long Opera as one of its conductors, leading Peace of Heart Choir members in this only-in-New-York special event.