One of the things I’ll take back with me is the breathtakingly accurate timekeeping of each of the groups so far. I have always been casual about time in my drama and music sessions in London, allowing for the vagaries of London Transport and Dial-a-Ride. There is something very respectful about starting bang on 6pm – and everyone knows it. I may try this when I go back. Hm. Possibly.
Barbara Bailey, co-founder and current president of the NY Labor Chorus is waiting for me anxiously as I arrive at 5.59 at one of their weekly rehearsals in South Manhattan near Wall Street. When I originally emailed her about coming along to the rehearsal she ascertained that I was in a union, as every member of the choir has to be. The chorus has been going since 1991 and began very small but now numbers nearly 100. The average age is 65+ but admits younger members also. Their purpose is to support classic union struggles and their previous concerts have been in a wide range of venues. They have supported folk singer Pete Seeger in the past and have toured widely, to Wales, Sweden and Cuba.
Rehearsal begins. They have a concert coming up in May and Musical Director Jana Ballard is drilling harmonies. Unlike SAGE Singers who sang each song through once and moved on, they spend half an hour on each song, repeating, repeating, getting it right, getting it perfect. Their repertoire is classic union songs like Bread and Roses:
“Yes it is bread we fight for… but we fight for roses too”
About half way through there’s a brief break. March and April birthdays are announced, ticket sales for their May concert. After the break another woman starts conducting. She brings a different quality to the last few songs, conducting wildly and enthusiastically, her white hair flying chaotically about her face and her arms gesticulating madly. She manages to squeeze out the last bit of energy from this exhausted choir and the contrasting styles of the two conductors makes a nice change for everyone.
I introduce myself to the choir and tell them how their songs have warmed me. I explain what I am doing on the Fellowship and about my work in London. They are thrilled. They give me a pin, 2 DVDs, a CD, and a t-shirt. I put on the t-shirt, go back to my digs and pack. It is my last session in New York.