Uplifting Harmony Project Concert in Store for FunFest Goers

Those who attend the October 6 JCC 100 FunFest and see the Harmony Project’s 200-voice choir perform that day will walk away from FunFest full of the same positive energy, joy, and feeling of connection that motivated Susan Steinman to join the Harmony Project in 2009 and that filled choir member Rabbi Sharon Mars with a desire to give back that has stuck with her to this day.

“It’s just really joyful, celebratory music that sends a message of cultural harmony. It’s very inspirational. People really walk out of that feeling moved to participate. It just seemed like a perfect fit,” said Steinman, a former JCC Board member who sings in the Harmony Project choir and sits on its Board of Trustees, of the partnership between the JCC and the Harmony Project to bring the music and its message to the larger Jewish community audience.

Rabbi Mars, who came to Columbus with her family seven years ago and now serves as Associate Rabbi and Director for Community Engagement at Temple Israel, became hooked after seeing her first Harmony Project choir performance. “It totally lifted me up,” she said. “I was just floating on a different plane. It was so eclectic and spiritually uplifting. And then to see the whole rainbow of faces making up the choir; it was just a really transformative experience.”

After that first concert, Rabbi Mars said she couldn’t imagine being lucky enough to be a part of it. Now, for its fifth season, she is returning to the choir she has been a part of, off and on, for the past three years, and performing at the JCC 100 FunFest. “To take two of the things that I love and that really give me a constant, it’s just fantastic,” Rabbi Mars explained her involvement in celebrating the JCC’s 100th anniversary.

“The JCC has been a constant for me and my family. This is the place where I go to take care of my body and my spirit. So when those two organizations found each other, I just thought, ‘this can only be good for the world,’” said Rabbi Mars.

The partnership began when David Brown, Harmony Project founder and Creative Director, met with JCC Executive Director Carol Folkerth and Past JCC President and JCC 100 Committee Chair Heidi Levey to discuss the One Week, One Neighborhood project that celebrated the shared history between the Jewish and African-American neighborhoods that grew along Livingston Avenue. Neighbors joined together April 22-27, 2013, to beautify the former Streetcar District by planting trees, painting murals, and improving neighborhood parks. Harmony Project volunteers were on-hand at the JCC that week in late April to enliven the mural painting with their beautiful music and to assist in the beautification efforts.

“It emerged that this was the old Jewish neighborhood where many members of the Jewish community and of the JCC had actually grown up. There were synagogues and bakeries; this was a Jewish neighborhood. So the idea that this neighborhood that is now primarily African-American could come together and volunteer to really beautify and uplift and work together for the betterment of the neighborhood was very exciting,” Steinman said.

“It just made sense,” she explained, especially given the Harmony Project’s diverse population and large segment of Jewish members. “It was really a pleasure to bring two of my favorite organizations together and watch the development of a partnership. Aspects of both of their community-building missions really align.”

JCC 100 FunFest, an all-day music, arts, and entertainment celebration of the JCC’s 100th year, is a thank you to the Columbus Jewish community for its century of support. FunFest began as a way for the JCC to give back, much like the Harmony Project.

The Harmony Project is made up of non-professional singers who wanted to sing and do community service. There is no requirement to join, no need to audition, and members need only have a strong desire to serve their community and the ability to commit 100% to the weekly rehearsals and volunteer projects the group participates in throughout the year. “The whole culture of the experience is: if you commit and you give, that’s all that matters,” said Steinman.

JCC member Cheryl Jacobs joined the Harmony Project in 2012 as a way to further her community outreach efforts and give back, fulfilling Jewish values that were very much ingrained in her since early childhood. She looks forward to the opportunity to expose more people to the beauty of the Harmony Project through her FunFest performance.

“I hope audiences see a community coming together to share music, art, and social action. The JCC really serves the community at large; we have members from all over the city, from every background, and the Harmony Project very much mirrors that. There are choir members from the Jewish community, from the African-American community. We sing with everyone from homeless people to CEOs. Nobody knows who you are or what you are; we’re all the same. And I think that is something that the JCC mirrors in its membership and who it serves, as well,” said Jacobs.

The choir began its 2013 season with weekly rehearsals, starting at the beginning of September, and will perform five songs for its 2:30 p.m. concert the JCC FunFest. “Two of the songs the group is performing will be very familiar to audiences, while more of the concert may be a little less familiar but equally inspiring,” hinted the Harmony Project’s director and sole conductor, David Brown.

Like many of the Harmony Project concerts, the JCC FunFest performance will incorporate both music and a video documentary showing Harmony Project members engaged in community action, to deliver a powerful message of common humanity and celebration of the human spirit. Steinman explained, “It’s beautiful, engaging, toe-tapping music, but all the songs have a message that is very emotionally stirring and moving.”

Rabbi Mars added that one of the group’s main objectives, and what moves her most about its impact on the community, is how relentless it is in its pursuit of community empowerment. “We’ve gotta be relentless about making sure that the needs in our community don’t go unfulfilled, because people don’t stop hurting just because we stop thinking about them. That’s one of the greatest achievements of the Harmony Project: it has a serious eye towards social justice and serves as a reprise of that banner, ‘Don’t forget about the people of the community in which you live,’” said Mars.

While the Harmony Project takes on serious subject matter in its activism and social justice efforts, and sometimes even in the subject matter of its songs, Rabbi Mars noted that the choir is the most fun group of people she has ever met. “They are such positive, good feeling people, and they care deeply. There’s nothing like being a part of that sea of voices. It just gives me chills,” she said.

Positive energy and uplifting vibes will surround those who attend FunFest from 10 am to 6 pm October 6 on the outdoor grounds of the JCC at 1125 College Avenue. The Harmony Project is just one of several groups scheduled to perform at FunFest. The Shazzbots, The Conspiracy Band, Friday Night Live Music featuring Ben Gelber, The New Buzz featuring Marc Edelstein and Barry Katz, and a Fiddler on the Roof sing-a-long reunion are just some of the entertainment acts on the day’s schedule.

Admission to FunFest is $5; children 5 and under are free. Tickets are available in advance by calling 614-231-2731 or for purchase at the door. For more information or to find out how you can give back to the community, contact Melanie Butter at mbutter@columbusjcc.org.