The New York Choral Society Honors First Responders and Frontline Workers 

by Maria-Cristina Necula | April 6, 2022

The power of a single human voice to uplift and heal is astonishing. Multiply that power by 120, channel it and transmit it through melody, harmony, rhythm, lyrics, phrasing, and dynamics and you find yourself wonderfully overwhelmed by a miraculous vibrational force of nature that soothes, animates, and transports the spirit. This is what happened on April 2nd when the New York Choral Society finally returned to live performance after two years, with Love in Action, a concert to honor first responders and frontline workersThe concert showcased the work of eight contemporary American composers who explore universal themes of love, reflection, action, and resilience, including The Hope of Loving by Jake Runestad, Bar xizam (Upward, I Rise) by Abbie Betinis, Sure on This Shining Night by Morten Lauridsen, My Heart Be Brave by Marques L. A. Garrett, I Dream A World by Rosephanye Powell, Healing Heart by Jacob Narverud, There Will Be Rest by Frank Ticheli, and Jennifer Higdon’s setting of Amazing Grace. The Grammy Award-winning Catalyst Quartet, soprano Chantal Freeman, mezzo-soprano Miastasha Gonzalez-Colón, tenor Bernard Holcomb, and baritone Marcus DeLoach joined the 120-voice chorus and regaled the audience with the beauty and emotional appeal of their artistry. Interspersed throughout the musical selections were testimonials from various first responders and frontline workers, such as Chef Grace Ramirez from World Central Kitchen who distributed 100,000 meals to frontline workers during Covid as well as Oren Barzilay, President of the FDNY Emergency Medical Service (EMS), Local 2507. Some of the frontline workers, such as RN Alaina Smalley, are also members of the chorus.

In the past two years, these heroes have demonstrated extraordinary courage, untiring dedication, and love for New York City, as New York Choral Society Music Director David Hayes stated so beautifully: “Over the last two years, the power of love in action was everywhere… We saw so much kindness, learned more about community and witnessed the depth of perseverance, strength, patience, and love…We are honored to share our stage with these heroes to celebrate the everyday greatness of love in action and to celebrate the caring and resilient spirit of New York.” 

The evening’s musical program was well selected not only because of the universal themes of the works, but also because it gave the audience the opportunity to hear the choir in all its splendor and ability, from impressive vocal power to the softest pianissimo, from perfect legato unison to crisp syncopated rhythmic musical utterances. All works were impressively and movingly sung. Three stood out in particular. Jake Runestead’s The Hope of Loving that brought together the chorus with the Catalyst Quartet, soprano Chantal Freeman, tenor Bernard Holcomb, and baritone Marcus DeLoach was an especially evocative work. The ethereal quality and vibrancy of the strings, Chantal Freeman’s crystal-voiced phrases, Bernard Holcomb’s gleaming tones, and Marcus DeLoach’s warm, generous sound, on their own as in their musical interchanges with the chorus, created an artistic dimension suspended in time, an ideal musical home for hope that is not limited by time or conditions. Hope, like unconditional love, is eternal and timeless.

Bar Xizam (Upward I rise) by Abbie Betinis, sung to text by the 14th century Persian poet Hafez, representing a vision of the soul after death, was absolutely stunning and hypnotic. Miastasha Gonzalez-Colón brought her rich, beautiful mezzo voice to complement Freeman’s bird-like, clear-toned upward incantations, while the chorus voices soared and danced in a kind of rhythmic, mystical freedom, almost like a sacred ritual that held the audience riveted.

Ending with Amazing Grace in the distinctive arrangement by Jennifer Higdon felt like an intimate and heartening sharing of hope between friends and an encouragement to step into the future with that hope. Bernard Holcomb’s voice acquired a sweet and transcendent quality in singing the first stanza, and his face was radiant as the chorus voices poured out around him and to the audience with increasing pathos and force.

This was an evening to remember forever.