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Last Saturday I sang with the MetropoliTones at a memorial service for Natalie.  I did not know Natalie personally — she was a good college friend of another member of the MetropoliTones.  Natalie passed away unexpectedly a little over two years ago.  Recently her family had coordinated with the City of New York to dedicate a bench in Central Park in her name.  Our performance last Saturday was at the official dedication ceremony for Natalie’s bench.

It was a perfect day in the city — a clear blue sky with a warm bright sun.  The park was filled with runners on the paths, sunbathers on the grassy hills, and legions of horse-drawn, tourist-filled carriages.  Natalie’s bench was at the top of one of those grassy hills.

During the ceremony, Natalie’s family and friends shared many wonderful memories, played music and read poems in her honor.  One of her friends read a poem called Dragonfly, a beautifully written allegory about crossing over from life on Earth into the Spirit World.  I was so touched by the poem that tears welled up in my eyes.

We were scheduled to sing “Seasons of Love” (from the musical Rent) at the end of the ceremony.  I was concerned I would not make it through our performance without crying.  I also worried I might get so caught up in emotion that I would forget the words to the song.  I did not want to mess up this very important moment!

Fortunately, “Seasons of Love” went off without a hitch — I remembered the words, and although my eyes were tearing up quite a bit, I managed to keep my throat calm enough so that I could actually sing.  We remembered and celebrated Natalie’s life through song, drawing strength from each other and from the spirit of the music.  As we raised our voices in harmony, I felt our collective celebration of Natalie’s life cut through the sadness and resonate through the park, across the clear blue sky and through the universe.  The horse-drawn carriages stopped and lingered, the runners in the park slowed their pace, and time seemed to stand still for a few short minutes.

The ceremony ended soon after we sang.  Family and friends came over to thank us, but I was the one who felt grateful.  Natalie’s bench dedication was a magical, sacred moment in time, and I was honored to be a part of it.

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Last Sunday, the MetropoliTones participated in the Express Yourself showcase, sponsored by the ArtWorks Foundation.  As described on the Artworks website, “Express Yourself is a creative and performing art exhibition that features the works of children and young adults suffering from chronic and life-threatening illnesses.”  The exhibition was held at the Kimmel Center at NYU.

We sang at the start and the end of the show, with several children performing in between.  The kids sang, danced, rapped and played piano.  A few performed songs that they had written themselves, about how much they loved their moms, what they liked to do at home, and their favorite foods.

Express Yourself was a visual arts exhibition as well.  While we stood in the audience and watched the children perform, we took some time to admire their artwork.  Collages and paintings had been framed and hung on the walls.  There were also a few sculptures displayed on tables nearby.  Next to each piece of artwork was a little placard with the artist’s name, age and a little quote about what inspired the piece of art.

One little boy dressed in a tuxedo sang and played “My Heart Will Go On” on the piano —  from memory!  He was one of the final acts, so at that point we were already backstage waiting for our curtain call.  Still, we could catch glimpses of him as we peered through the cracks in the curtain.

We helped close the show by performing two songs.  At the end, everyone came back up on stage to take a final bow.  The show was amazing in every way — the staff, the sound system, the theater, and of course the children.  The kids really enjoyed themselves, and we did too.

On Friday night, the MetropoliTones (a.k.a. the ‘Tones, my a cappella group) performed in the Union Square subway station in Manhattan. It was part of Music Under New York (MUNY), an audition-only program that allows us to perform throughout NY City’s vast subway system. We try to schedule a MUNY performance about once a month. This is the second time we’ve sung in Union Square, in front of the muraled wall that’s just past the station’s 14th Street entrance.

To be honest, I was a little worried before this performance. I’ve been battling a heavy cough for weeks that’s been straining my voice.  Plus, it was a dark, rainy night in the city, making my drive down the east side of Manhattan more challenging than usual. Fortunately I found free street parking, which always
brings joy and relief to my heart!

I met up with the rest of the ‘Tones a little after 7:00 PM. We set up our sound equipment, tested out all the microphones, and began singing for a small gathering crowd. We performed our hearts out for almost two hours, over the roar of the passing subway cars and loudspeaker announcements.  Some people lingered to listen for a while, as others rushed along to their Friday night engagements.

Towards the end of the night (sometime after 9:00 PM) my cough got the better of me, and my voice became too weak to sing anymore. I put away my microphone and stepped out into the audience, so that I could hear the ‘Tones perform the last few songs of the evening.

As I stood watching, a man who had been sitting on the wooden bench nearby approached me. He was dressed in a patchwork of clothing with a puffy winter coat and cotton hat, and walked slowly with a cane. His eyes looked tired and wistful. In a raspy voice, he told me that he sang in a doo-wop group as a young man, about 40 years ago. His group covered songs by the Temptations and Frankie Valli, and even wrote some tunes of their own. Unfortunately, he had some problems with drugs, which had ended that chapter of his life.  Hearing us harmonize together, he told me, brought back happy memories of when he sang with his doo-wop group. He admitted that he had wiped a little tear from his eye as he listened to us.  It was hard for me not to do the same.

I thanked him for listening to us, and we watched the rest of the performance together. When the ‘Tones finished singing, the man shook my hand and we said goodbye. As we parted, I was reminded of how powerful music is, and how it connects people across time and circumstance. We all have our own special gifts and talents, and it’s so important that we share them with the world. I felt happy that we could share our musical gifts that night, and grateful for the gift of insight I received from a fellow musician.

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