Singing for supper

Posted on 19 Oct 2009 at 6:27pm
By ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

Resounding Harmony was founded on the idea of ‘musical philanthropy,’ which makes the season of giving thanks poignant to many members


FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Resounding Harmony: Songs  of Harvest,
Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora St.
Nov. 22. 8 p.m. $25–$50.
ResoundingHarmony.org.

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SOMETHING’S COOKING | Resounding Harmony members (from left) Gregg Smith, Jan Harrell, Mark Knight, and artistic director Tim Seelig, bottom, plan for Sunday’s benefit concert to be a joyous event of giving. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

When members of the community approached Timothy Seelig last year about starting up a new mixed chorus — men and women, gay and straight — he said he’d agree to lead it on one condition: that every concert be a benefit for a deserving charity.

That was before the economic meltdown hit Great Depression-era levels. And things have only gotten more dire.

Last November, for the inaugural concert, the Seelig-led Resounding Harmony raised enough money and food to feed 65,000 hungry North Texans. The goal this year was 100,000.

And then came word: The need is even greater than they imagined.
"A dollar used to feed six people; now it feeds four," Seelig says, his brow narrowing. Which means they simply need to bump up their efforts.

"The singers have been amazing," Seelig says. "They fund the ongoing operation of the organization themselves so that everything we raise goes to charity. Seldom in my life have I experienced something like this."

Resounding Harmony had selected the North Texas Food Bank as its primary beneficiary before members even knew how desperate the situation has become.
 
"We’ve told so many stories through the years about HIV and breast cancer but not want and need and hunger," Seelig says. "When we first met with them they were just launching their Close the Gap campaign, an effort to increase [over three years] what they were giving to local pantries by 50 percent. And that was before the economy crashed."

The singers with Resounding Harmony are just one example of how members of the community are stepping up to help those in need. But for some of the members, it’s not an abstraction — it is a reality.

Last year and again this Sunday — when Resounding Harmony gives its final benefit concert of the season, this time at the Meyerson Symphony Center — the  chorus’ slate will include food-related songs. "Hunger," written by the company’s composer-in-residence, James Eakin, tells an autobiographical tale of a family forced by circumstances to go hungry.

"When we first passed it out, the chorus was a big sloppy mess," Seelig says. "Following that song is the number of people who come up to me and say, ‘That is my story. I have experienced that hunger or the fear.’"

"[The food pantries] are seeing a type of client we never saw before," says Gregg Smith, a member of the chorus. "People who six months ago had keys and a car and welcome mats on their house now find themselves in an environment they never thought they would have to experience. One in six American children are hungry. There are enormous food deserts in this country."

Smith knows too well from personal experience what it means to be hungry. Earlier this decade, Smith fell into drug addiction and homelessness.

"There was a slow descent that causes you to live in a way you never thought you would, do things you never thought you’d do," Smith recalls. "You go from casual user to functioning addict to a kind of chaos that has no end at all, no order."

Smith knew he hit rock-bottom the day he was robbed on the street, even his car stolen from him, and left with just $20 … which he promptly spent on drugs.

"My power hadn’t been on for six months. I couldn’t pay TXU but I always had a few shekels for drugs," he says. Eventually he walked through the doors of Oak Lawn United Methodist where he was taken in, clothed and fed.

Smith didn’t forget the kindness or generosity of strangers. He went on to work for Crossroads Community Services and the Oak Lawn Community Outreach Center. He knows that generosity pays dividends. He actually ended up being instrumental in getting the chorus off the ground — though at the time he didn’t know it.

Seelig first met Smith around the time he was organizing a concert that brought Maya Angelou to the Meyerson. Smith introduced himself to Seelig in the parking lot of the church were they where rehearsing.

"[The concert] was very touching to me and I told Tim some private things about my situation," Smith says. "I said, ‘If you ever do something like this again, there’s a great benefit where we feed the hungry.’ I didn’t know anything was gonna grow from that."

And grow it has. Resounding Harmony has moved from the 500 seats of Caruth Auditorium to 1,800 at the Meyerson. The goals all around are higher, from the raffle tickets to be sold (2,500) to the distribution points for making donations.
But despite the seriousness of the cause, the concert on Sunday promises not to be too sad. Seelig knew his audience would expect him to inject his trademark humor.

"There will be props — plenty of props," Seelig assures, as well as campy songs with titles like "Boil Your Cabbage Down" and "Brisket and Mashed Potatoes."

There’s even a surprise in the second half that Seelig wants to keep under wraps.

"When you’re doing good, the atmosphere has to feel like one where you are making a difference but it is not depressing," says Smith.

Depressing, no. But definitely thankful. Very thankful.




 

Women’s Chorus glitters with gifts at fundraiser
Resounding Harmony isn’t the only singing group busy this weekend. On Saturday, the Women’s Chorus of Dallas holds its annual Gifts & Glitter fundraiser. The event — which includes casino-style gaming, a silent auction, food and drinks — includes a live performance by TWCD.

In addition to the auction items donated this year (a hand-painted table, theater tickets, spa packages gift baskets and travel packages among them), the casino gaming offers a shot at numerous prizes.

Addison Conference Centre, 15650 Addison Road. Nov. 21 at 6 p.m. Tickets $25 in advance, $35 at the door. TWCD.org. 214-520-7828.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 20, 2009.

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