The Peace of Heart Choir is a community choir based in NYC, formed shortly after 9/11. They provide free performances for communities in need. In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, that community was all of New York.
Across the city, businesses and public places were shutting down. Large social gatherings were being canceled. For a non-profit choir that performs in hospitals, nursing homes, and soup kitchens, the shutdowns meant the choir’s planned events were being benched.
“Our last performance was actually in Port Authority,” said Gary Baker, choir member of 12 years and co-founder of New York Sings Along.
“To people streaming by on their way to what is now an empty place, on their way to and from their home. We very quickly realized that we simply couldn’t do that anymore.”
In early April, the Facebook page for their new initiative, New York Sings Along, went live. On April 16, their first song–Frank Sinatra’s “Theme from New York, New York”–was broadcast city-wide.
“New York Sings Along was really inspired by public singing that we saw around the world,” said Robert Hornsby, fellow choir member, and co-founder. “
There was a group of Italians who were hanging from the terraces of their piazza, and Gary saw that and brought that to my attention. It’s fabulous, but we don’t have piazzas in New York…so we started thinking about what we could do that fits with our mission to bring people together for music.”
The public reception was very positive: across New York City, people were filming themselves singing out their windows, on their balconies, and on the streets of New York.
They continued for five Thursdays in April and May, shortly following the nightly “Clap Because We Care” tribute that honored New York’s essential workers.
By the end of the initiative’s run, the choir saw over 30,000 participants and were provided support from around the world. Their Facebook page reached nearly 500,000 people and has almost 9,000 followers.
“If you look at some of the videos that people have posted after the performances, they’re really amazing,” said Baker.
“They’re very heartwarming. In some cases, they’re heartbreaking because you see a lot of pain, but you also see people coming together. You see people taking joy in music, sharing it with their neighbors with their pets, and tons of people. You can really see the impact of these videos.”
The performances were also broadcast on Columbia University’s campus radio station, WKCR (89.9 FM), as well as independent radio station WBAI (99.5 FM).
Hornsby and Baker were both blown away by the initiative’s impact, and news outlets like NBC, CBS, and Reuters have picked up on the viral sensation. As the choir approaches their 20th anniversary next years, Hornsby hopes that they will be able to perform together again
“It will really depend upon what health experts think is safe and what we’ll be allowed to do,” said Hornsby.
“We’ve had a long relationship With the 9/11 Museum, and we’ve performed there many times for first responder families. Hopefully, in a year’s time, we’ll be able to come together and help the city put the COVID behind us to the extent that we can.”
Be sure to check out their website, for more information on their performances!