|SOMERSET HILLS HARMONY AND PLUCKEMIN PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH PARTNER TO SPREAD MUSICAL HOLIDAY CHEER|
The glory of choirs singing and music playing is often a taken for granted aspect of church services. As the pandemic took hold and impacted the religious world, the connection between community and spoken word was interrupted. Churches were forced to go dark and lay fallow as indoor gatherings, and especially singing, were forbidden due to the risk of superspreading the virus. Churchgoers and pastors flocked online to virtual pews and pulpits and relied on “off the shelf” recordings of hymns to instill the spirit of church and community.
Similarly, Somerset Hills Harmony, an a cappella chorus in northern-central New Jersey, spent the first few months of the pandemic online. The “virtual rehearsals” became an oasis from the deluge of hardships being faced. Yet, this newfound approach could not deliver the true choral experience.
As the summer sun rose, the group discovered a new approach to sing together, in person, safely – the drive-in rehearsal. By using simple audio technology, such as handheld microphones, an audio mixing console and an FM transmitter, each singer could attend in the safety of their own car and find their voice blending with the chorus. Thus was born “Hot Rods and Harmony” and they became one of the few choruses in the world that could sing together safely and effectively, all in the parking lot of the Pluckemin Presbyterian Church.
This musical salvation brought with it an opportunity. SHH (as the members refer to the group) discovered that they could record each voice separately as if in a studio. The group’s host church has many connections in the chorus, including Don and Chris Staffin. The couple participates in Pluckemin Presbyterian’s music ministry which has formed a close bond with SHH. Although not affiliated, SHH has often appeared in the church’s summer and Christmas musical programs for the community.
In the fall, the Staffins had the foresight to capitalize on these new mobile audio capabilities to record music that the church could use in services throughout the season of advent. A pop-up choir of dozens of singers from SHH, the church and community raised their voices in their sedans and SUVs to create a series of recordings. Ten hymns were recorded in all, each a cappella featuring just the beautiful blend of human voices. Don Staffin spent countless hours applying a newfound expertise in audio engineering to create a wonderful compilation of music.
This “Christmas Hymn Project” has been shared with the music ministry of the Pluckemin Presbyterian Church and has resurrected the authentic choral component for church services. The return of this simple element again amplified the connection among the church community even though it is through a computer or phone screen.
The impact, however, has gone far beyond the quiet town of Pluckemin, New Jersey. The songs have been shared throughout music ministry networks in a flash. The songs have been played over a thousand times throughout America and as far as Scotland. Somerset Hills Harmony wishes to share this gift with others as well. The hymns are available to the public on YouTube, either as individual songs to be used or enjoyed on their own, or as a continuous stream of songs like you would find on a CD. The warmth of the choir provides a bit of harmony for all, whether part of a religious gathering or in the peaceful calm of one’s home.
For more information or to experience the music of the Christmas Hymn Project, go to Somerset Hills Harmony’s website, www.shhchorus.org.
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|For more information, see:||https://www.shhchorus.org/CHP|
|This year has been full of unexpected, wonderful surprises for Somerset Hills Harmony – and opportunities. While the world faced uncertainty, stress and concern, the chorus in northern-central New Jersey pressed forward with an innovative way to keep singing – the drive in rehearsal we call “Hot Rods and Harmony”. And then SHH’s leadership spread word about it through seminars and social media.|
In our very first webinar we met a remarkable person – Dr. Gillian Velmer. Turns out she is a catalyst in creating an avenue for people living with aphasia to sing in a loving, nurturing and warm environment. In Sing Aphasia’s words, aphasia is “a communication disorder that results from brain injury in the left hemisphere in the brain.” The simple act of singing together connects people living with aphasia in a community and provides countless therapeutic benefits. Sing Aphasia in on the cusp of great international growth even during a pandemic!
Dr. Velmer was intrigued and impressed with the Hot Rods and Harmony presentation but struggled with the technical and financial investment it would take for her to bring the concept to her in-person Sing Aphasia gatherings, the ones that used to happen before the pandemic took hold. So we asked, “where in the world are you, maybe we can connect you with another group to collaborate.” “Bridgewater, New Jersey” she replied. A mere ten minutes or so from the parking lot where SHH was innovating the drive in rehearsals in partnership with the Hunterdon Harmonizers. It was a no-brainer – Sing Aphasia was invited to rehearse in the parking lot using the equipment and technical team that SHH and the Harmonizers use, free of charge.
Of all the things that SHH and the Hunterdon Harmonizers appeared to lose in the early days of the pandemic, outreach to our community was a hard one to accept. There would be no concerts, no performances for people in need of some harmony in their life, no fundraisers for deserving groups. The simple email from Dr. Velmer changed all of that and opened a brilliant new way of sharing harmony with people that thrive on singing as a core element of their being. This newfound partnership will certainly outlast the pandemic and these three singing organizations will continue to find new ways to share in the joy and healing power of music, no matter what the world has in store. Music and harmony will prevail over all obstacles.
Sing Aphasia recently shared a video of heartfelt thanks for the gesture of outreach – it was all of the appreciation anyone could hope for. Hearing the voices and seeing the faces of the Sing Aphasia choir fills our hearts to overflowing. Please enjoy this video, as well as their amazing international collaboration “What a Wonderful World” and please share the message of Sing Aphasia’s mission to connect people with aphasia in a wonderful world of singing.
Watch Sing Aphasia’s “Just Sing A Song” video of thanks here: https://fb.watch/2rnzdzmPqy/
Watch the AMAZING “What a Wonderful World” video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ty93jpQ2UCo
Learn more about Somerset Hills Harmony: www.shhchorus.org
Learn more about Sing Aphasia: www.singaphasia.com
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|For more information, see:||https://singaphasia.com/|
|Just before the world shuttered in response to a global pandemic, the barbershop world was noticing this little, but growing, chorus in the shadows of New York City. The Barbershop Harmony Society chose Somerset Hills Harmony to be featured in their "Everyone In Harmony Stories" series. The set of videos were produced to showcase groups that had embraced the BHS's vision of radical inclusion, and SHH certainly fit the bill. SHH was featured at the end of May 2020, a time when many choruses were losing hope about singing during the pandemic. Soon after the video was aired SHH launched a viral initiative to get fellow choruses singing using the drive-in rehearsal approach. In doing so SHH embodied the spirit of "Everyone in Harmony"..|
As we give thanks in the US, SHH gives thanks to the BHS for the incredible feature, and gives thanks to its leaders and member family for pressing the choral arts forward even when times seem bleak.
Harmony, in its purest form, means "the combination of simutaneously sounded musical notes to produce chords and chord progressions having a pleasing effect". "Harmony" means so much more to SHH - it is the deeply rooted connection between humans to make something beautiful occur regardless of the world around them. Somerset Hills Harmony looks forward to building more and more connections as it finds new audiences, singers and ventures in the years to come.
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|It all started in July when Don Staffiin watched a YouTube video of Bryce and Kathryn Denney about their crazy idea of having a church choir rehearsal in their driveway, safely, by giving each singer their own mic and piping the sound back to them via FM. SHH's leadership was inspired and within a week had a makeshift set up wired together in Christian Hunter's front yard in Flemington, NJ. Six singers and a director. Countless shivers, smiles and tears of joy. One week later 12 singers, and more joy and harmony for the first time in some five months. In only took one more week and an ever improving set up of equipment and sound technicians and the Somerset Hills Harmony chorus was back - two dozen singers and a heavenly reunion of the SHH family.|
From that first night in the front yard, SHH knew that this drive-in rehearsal approach would be a success and provide a safe singing environment for one of the most concerning activities in a pandemic - sustained exhalation while singing. But with each participant in their cocoon of a car they were shielding their fellow crooners while keeping themselves safe. And SHH knew it had to spread the word, just like the Denneys did.
So SHH leadership reached out to the Denneys and instantly bonded in the jubilation of bringing voices back to choirs. They dialed in their team of experts to teach choirs around the world how they could follow their lead. The Barbershop Harmony Society provided a venue to host a series of webinars created by SHH to demistify the novel approach and teach chorus leaders how to succeed with this "Hot Rods and Harmony". The webinar series was attended by representatives of hundreds of ensembles and choruses. The Denneys online resources include a constantly updated guide to equipment and process for starting a drive in rehearsal space. SHH, the Denneys and a growing legion of followers have enticed choruses in four countries to emerge from their involuntary hibernation to join their voices in song again.
Words cannot express the pride and joy in not only reuniting the SHH family, but to see similar experiences being shared by so many other choruses. However, the words of Bob Morris impressively captured the story in The New York Times on October 7, 2020 with a surprising nod to the efforts of Somerset Hills Harmony. You can give it a read here: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/07/arts/music/coronavirus-choir.html
The Times inspired a producer of The TODAY Show (Sunday TODAY with Willie Geist) to prepare a fantastic feature piece on the drive-in rehearsals, the Denneys and a shout out to Somerset Hills Harmony in New Jersey. The piece timely aired on November 22nd following a landmark "Open Sing" event where SHH welcomed new friends to the parking lot to share in the joy of Harmony. The Sunday TODAY feature can be viewed online here: https://www.today.com/video/this-choir-sings-in-harmony-from-their-cars-to-keep-everyone-safe-96400453971
The road that led the chorus this far has many more miles to be traveled, including a first of its kind drive-in a cappella concert with holiday light spectacular, including a community sing along of holiday favorites and concert performance - all from the parked studio settings of sedans and SUVs. The December 5th event will be held at Pluckemin Presbyterian Church at approximately 5pm and is open to the public - where participants just need to set their FM dial and sing along from the comfort of their car.
"SHH" is an incredibly ironic acronymn for the chorus, because they are anything but quiet. And the world is a more harmonious place during one of the darkest times for performing arts because this group has been ever so vocal.
|For more information, see:||https://www.today.com/video/this-choir-sings-in-harmony-from-their-cars-to-keep-everyone-safe-96400453971|
|Zoom rehearsals have been a bright spot for Somerset Hills Harmony as our members enjoy time together working on skills, learning new songs and making new friends. All the while, there was still the void of close harmony - blending your voice with others in real time and in real company. The SHH leadership came across a novel solution for singing together during the novel coronavirus - the drive in rehearsal. SHH's "Hot Rods and Harmony" went through a few iterations and led to a new dawn for singing together this past August. A steady diet of drive in rehearsals wtih Zoom rehearsals in between is just what the chorus doctor ordered. And now the SHH leadership is sharing their story and lessons learned with choruses nationwide. They are joined in their webinar series by Bryce Denney of Massachusetts, who brought the drive in rehearsal concept to the world through social media.|
Tori Cook of Chorus Connections penned a fantastic article about the drive in rehearsal, including great comments about SHH's approach. It's a great read, and don't be shy contacting SHH leadership to learn more (including to attend a free webinar).
|For more information, see:||https://blog.chorusconnection.com/could-drive-in-choirs-be-the-solution-choruses-have-been-waiting-for|
|In 2020 the Barbershop Harmony Society embarked on a new way to celebrate the major accomplishments of groups and individuals impacting the barbershop world - the "Barbershop Harmony Society Awards". The first annual ceremony was slated for a black tie gala at the 2020 International Convention scheduled for Los Angeles this past July. While the pandemic put a damper on the convention, the BHS adapted and will be presenting the awards online with all the pomp and circumstance such a fine event should feature. Hosted by BHS personality Alex Morris, the awards will be presented Monday, September 14th at 8 pm Eastern on YouTube.|
Somerset Hills Harmony and the Gold Dynamic are honored to have been selected as a finalist for "Innovator of the Year". The merger of the Gold Dynamic with SHH made headlines for uniting two different a cappella worlds - barbershop and contemporary a cappella. The partnership resulted in a boost to both groups with fresh voices joining both ensembles and the sharing of talents to benefit all.
As only befitting a Virtual Awards Gala, SHH and Gold Dynamic will be dialed in to the awards show. Regardless of the outcome, the lustre of being chosen as a finalist is magnificent. And fear not, SHH and the Gold Dynamic aren't done innovating. Check out a Hot Rods and Harmony Drive-In Rehearsal and judge for yourself!
Tune into the BHS channel on YouTube to watch all of the BHS Awards: https://www.youtube.com/user/BarbershopHarmony38
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|For more information, see:||https://www.barbershop.org/events/virtual-society-awards|
|Virtual Gold, the Choral Quarantine version of The Gold Dynamic, is pleased to present our first full length recording: "I'll Be There for You", the theme from "Friends".|
If you would like to learn more about opportunities with Virtual Gold, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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|Somerset Hills Harmony presents our first virtual recording: Clouds on Fire Tag, arranged by Terry S. Chapman, directed by Colleen Grzywacz.|
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|Five SHH members participated in the Global Chorus Online production of Coldplay's "When I Need a Friend". Christian and Tracey Hunter were featured in close-up spots. Mike Keegan, Don and Chris Staffin also participated. SHH friend Peter "Nooj" Nugent did the learning tracks and is also featured as well.|
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|As part of our partnership with Bridgewater-Raritan High School, SHH members and students participated together in the Rahway Novice Quartet Contest which took place February 22, 2020,|
|Somerset Hills Harmony VP Membership/Marketing, Christian Hunter welcomes 11 new members and honors several longtime BHS members on 10-February.|
|Somerset Hills Harmony participated as volunteers in the 2020 Jersey Harmony Explosion in Caldwell, NJ. More than 250 students, ages 10-25, spent the day in workshops, clinics, and an evening performance hosted by the legendary Deke Sharon. Pictured: SHH members David Fernandes and Ariel Staffin teach a class on vocal percussion.|
|Somerset Hills Harmony participated as volunteers in the 2020 Jersey Harmony Explosion in Caldwell, NJ. More than 250 students, ages 10-25, spent the day in workshops, clinics, and an evening performance hosted by the legendary Deke Sharon. |
Pictured: Deke Sharon teaching the entire ensemble the show finale.
|Oh what a night! The chorus was joined by TEN guests who sang their hearts out on October 14th! The full sound of the nearly 40 voices was electrifying as we sang the classic choral classic piece, "Annie Laurie" and three holiday songs including "Keep Me Warm", an arrangement custom made for Somerset Hills Harmony. The chorus took a moment to serenade the guests with the 80's synth-pop classic "Only You" with a chill a cappella vibe, and we enjoyed a little Beatles moment with Gold Dynamic. The next Open Sing Night on October 28th is shaping up to be even bigger and better!|
|We are excited to announce that The Gold Dynamic A Cappella is now an ensemble within Somerset Hills Harmony! The Gold Dynamic was founded three years ago and has performed contemporary pop and rock hits across the Greater New York area. With this partnership, we are making history. We are the first co-ed members of the Barbershop Harmony Society and Contemporary A Cappella League to have both a large chorus and small ensemble.Whether you are a recent college graduate, have decades of vocal/choral experience, or anything in between, stay tuned for updates on our Open Sings in October when you can explore membership in the Somerset Hills Harmony ensembles!#acappella #barbershopfamily #CALfam #nj|
|The carolers of Somerset Hills Harmony had a fantastic time strolling and singing along the stories of Somerville last Saturday! Tough to pick a favorite song. It it sure seems the little ones never grown tired of our friend Rudolph! I guess Veni Veni Emmanuel was just a little too much Latin for their young ears. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all and we can’t wait for a harmonious 2019!|