by Kathy McAuley
Choral singing has always been a moving experience for me and it’s an honor to sing in Lehigh University’s outstanding choral program. But when Choral Arts Director Steven Sametz invited the aptly named Joyful Noise chorus to sing with us in our spring 2017 concerts, it brought an emotional response even Bach and Brahms couldn’t deliver.
The New Jersey-based Joyful Noise is 50 adults with physical and neurological challenges. It was formed in 2000 by conductor Allison Fromm and her sister Beth, who also sings in the choir, and has made news around the country with its moving performances . The choir is less about musical discipline and more about uninhibited enthusiasm. And the effect on an audience is electric.
After months of rehearsals and hard work, Lehigh’s singers got the Joyful Noise lesson loud and clear: It’s not about the notes but the shared experience of producing magic by doing something you love.
Alice Parker, a conductor and composer who’s been called the dean of American choral music, accompanied Joyful Noise to a pre-concert rehearsal and explained the mystique of this choir: “Music does something different from every other method of communication. It’s literally a bridge to bring us together.
“Singing together is the most approachable of the arts,” she told us. “With so many new ways of communication, we don’t value singing enough. The function of song is to open us up to one another – it’s a big challenge in the world today.”
It was during this rehearsal that I got a preview of the emotional high ahead when we would all join together in an upbeat program of world music and spirituals. When the choirs combined for the second half of the program, Choral Arts singers donned t-shirts that matched those worn by Joyful Noise.
The mother of one of the singers said, “The choir helps us learn to relate to a disabled child as a real person.” The experience brought home to me how easy it is to erase the “otherness” we sometimes feel when we see someone who is differently abled than ourselves.
Conductor Fromm hailed the transformative affect singing can have not only on her choir members but on the audience. Quoted in Harvard Magazine, Fromm said: “We always hope that when people hear us sing, they take away an inspiration to bring music to people in their lives…people with disabilities, people in nursing homes, children who have disadvantages or challenges – to see how meaningful it is to come together and make music.”
Lehigh Valley Arts Council
Credit: Originally published in “Inside Lehigh Valley Arts,” the Lehigh Valley Arts Council’s blog.