When the frail, 92-year-old woman stood up from her wheelchair to rock with Mosaic Harmony’s choir in Alexandria, her son was nearly in tears. It was the first time in three years she had stood on her own, the son explained. Then she wanted “to meet that cute bass in the choir with the thick blond hair.”
At a Washington, D.C., concert, a disheveled man who appeared to be homeless shuffled to the front of the church with his hand outstretched to the assistant choir director. Was he panhandling? No. He dropped a handful of coins on the stairs as a thank you.
These are the kind of scenes that motivate the 50 members of the Oakton-based inspirational chorus to sing up to 20 concerts a year at hospices, nursing homes, church fundraisers and other events. The audience is not allowed to just sit on its hands to listen to an uplifting performance. Director David North urges the crowd to stand, shout and sing along to the uplifting tunes patterned after traditional black gospel music.
At its two spring fundraising concerts in Oakton on May 20 and Alexandria on June 2, North and his chorus also will lead the audience in simple sing-alongs of pieces that most people know: “He’s Got The Whole World in His Hands,” “I’ve Got Peace Like a River” and “This Little Light of Mine.”
After the chorus performs standard gospel-style numbers such as “The Storm Is Passing Over,” “Grateful” and “I See a World,” the group will fan out into the audience and hold hands with many people to sing “Make Us One” with them. The song reflects the choir’s mission of peace and harmony, attempting to change the world “one song at a time.”
On a 2003 tour in Europe, the song brought outpourings of emotions from Slovenians when it was sung in their native language. “When the song was over, a woman continued to grasp my hands, pulled me into a giant bear hug and jabbered away in Slovene with tears streaming down her face,” said Victoria Robinson. “I had no idea what she was saying, but we just held hands and connected.”
Besides making others feel better, choir members say they get a lot in return. “No matter what you come in with in your mind or your heart, you feel better knowing that you made a difference for someone in the audience,” said Nikki Barnett.
Added assistant director Laura Romstedt, “Often an audience member will lock eyes with a choir member communicating an understanding, sharing smiles and even tears. I remember a caregiver at a nursing home telling me that one of the patients had smiled for the first time in months.”
Younger people get into the mood, as well. At an Alexandria concert, a cheering section of children in the front row swayed and sang to the music. North said they didn’t have to sing in tune. “Just be a joyful noise if you’d like,” he said.
Mosaic Harmony has been singing its nondenominational music throughout the Washington area since it was started in 1993 at Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax in Oakton, where it still rehearses.
“It is the Word without necessarily the teachings of Christianity,” North said. “The lyrics could be what anyone of any faith might sing to bring a message of good news to someone else.”
The choir’s music has frequent references to “Lord” but few specifically to Christ, Jesus or the cross. In addition, God is not usually referred to as “He."
Much of the choir’s energy is directed at raising money for charity, backing up its slogan of “service through song.” Among concerts have been fundraisers for Coats for Kids, Capital Hospice, Buganda University and the Brain Tumor Foundation.
This year’s spring concerts will be at 4 p.m. Sunday, May 20, at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax, 2709 Hunter Mill Road in Oakton, and at 7 p.m. Saturday, June 2, at Convergence, 1801 North Quaker Lane, Alexandria.
Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door, with children under 12 free. See http://www.mosaicharmony.com/tickets.php.