Guest Column: Holiday songs with real heart

Last modified: Friday, December 05, 2014

NORTHAMPTON — In September of 2012, I started my second year at Smith College as an Ada Comstock Scholar. I will always be eternally grateful to Smith professors for giving me a great education in the classroom. But it was often those opportunities presented to me outside of class that gave me a unique, and in some ways more valuable, kind of instruction.

That fall, I had begun my first presidential terms for both the Smith College Chamber Singers and the Smith College Glee Club. In mid-October, the chance arose for those two choral groups to participate in the annual singing-in-the-streets charity event organized to raise money for the homeless.

And that chance started with an email to me from Harriet Rogers.

Rogers, the former owner of the Northampton store SKERA, active BID member and community volunteer extraordinaire, conceived of this event. Working closely with Friends of Hampshire County Homeless Individuals, she coordinated a program that would benefit this nonprofit organization by having local singing and instrumental groups perform in Northampton for shoppers and passersby during the six weeks leading up to Christmas.

The musicians would offer their time and talent in order to help raise money — and awareness — for the services that the Friends of the Homeless provide in Hampshire County. In the fall of 2012, Rogers was hard at work emailing and scheduling a cappella groups to sing in downtown Northampton for this program, now fondly referred to as “Singing for Someone Else’s Supper.”

In her email to me, Rogers asked if members of Smith’s Glee Club would be willing to sing for a half hour at some point between mid-November and winter break. My Glee Club Cabinet agreed that it would be a good community service project and we signed up for a time slot on the afternoon of Dec. 14.

I knew I couldn’t expect everyone to show up that day because that time of the semester is busy and stressful for students — with end-of-semester projects and papers as well as final exams looming. But I was hoping for a respectable number of Glee Clubbers and Chamber Singers to step up as I promoted the idea as an opportunity to sing outside in the fresh air as a pleasant, hour-long study break. As many may remember, Dec. 14, 2012, was a grim day for our nation as we listened to reports about a school shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. I can vividly remember greeting my friends — some looking anxious, others looking angry — as we met in Sage Hall to warm up our voices before heading downtown to sing that afternoon.

There was no doubt that we were all feeling negatively affected in some way by the news as we tried, unsuccessfully, to make sense out of the senseless. As I passed out booklets of Christmas carols, we discussed whether or not singing was even an appropriate activity for us to be doing on such a tragic afternoon.

In the end we decided that by singing familiar holiday songs and carols out on the corner of Main and Pleasant streets, maybe we could help people, in our little corner of the Pioneer Valley, feel better on such an unsettling day.

Plus, here was something we could do to help out directly with another senseless situation in our own backyard — the plight of our area’s homeless.

It was terribly cold and windy outside that afternoon, but what a great feeling of warmth we received. People not only stopped to listen to us, but many told us how much they appreciated our music as we sang our hearts out. Plenty of people showed their support in a tangible way by dropping money into the hat that we had set on the ground in front of where we were singing.

Later, when I turned that money in to the Friends of the Homeless volunteer stationed at SKERA, I was incredibly proud that we — my fellow Smithies and I — had made the decision to sing.

After all, what better way is there than to join voices together and show — through music — that there is still a great deal of beauty and goodness in the world.

Friends of Hampshire County Homeless Individuals is again coordinating the “Singing For Someone Else’s Supper” event in downtown Northampton this year. This year, more than two dozen musical groups will perform through Dec. 22. In the week ahead, the schedule includes the following performances on Main Street: Amandla, Saturday at 4 p.m.; The Amherst College Bluestockings, Sunday, 5 p.m.; The Wise Guys, Wednesday, 2 p.m.; The Amherst College DQ, Thursday, 3 p.m.; and Groove A Cappella, Thursday, 7 p.m.

Please enjoy the music of these talented groups in town and support this worthy cause as they sing for someone else’s supper.

Su Meck is serving this year as a volunteer to coordinate benefit performances, working with Brit Albritton, Yvonne Freccero and Harriet Rogers.


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