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.