Artscape: The Harmony Project

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Just over 10 weeks ago, a group of people from all corners of Columbus filed into a concert hall Downtown. Some knew each other, but most had only one thing in common as they gathered together: They wanted to sing and give back to their community.

Members were black, white and Latino. They were rich and poor, conservative and liberal, young and old. They wanted their voices to be heard, and differences gradually melted under common purpose.

Today, that diverse group of 135 make up the Harmony Project - the chorus that gives back, the choir that has become so much more.

"The common belief in the project is having a belief in something bigger than ourselves," said director David Brown, who came to Columbus for political work several years ago. "The project is a group of everyday people from every corner of Columbus, but they're all working together. We set aside our issues and focus on the issue in front of us."

Now in its second season, the project is unique both in timing and scope. In just over two months, a group gets to know each other, learns to harmonize, performs shows and takes action across the city.

So far, Brown said, the response has been amazing,

"What I was surprised by was the level of passion that I saw," he explained. "Interest is one thing; passion is another. People are hungry for something that makes people feel good."

In this group, feeling good means giving back. Even those who have never sung in public have offered their voices and a helping hand.

"I'm the last person who would be part of a choir," said Randall Greenland, a Downtown screenwriter who returned for his second project this year. "Basically, I sing in the car and the shower. On the first day of choir, I found out I was tenor."

The choir will perform two shows next week at the Lincoln Theatre, offering a mix of pop, blues, jazz and gospel. Local jazz legend Bobby Floyd will lead a 12-piece band complete with strings and brass.

But the music is only one part of the mission. Most of what members do happens behind the scenes, away from the bright lights and shiny marquees.

"They really encourage you to be part of something," Greenland said. "I went out to Berliner Park and planted trees all day. I work in an office, so I like any excuse to work with my hands."

Already this year, the Harmony Project has donated a grand piano to the Lincoln and planted 100 trees on Arbor Day. Their 2010 goals include donating $40,000 to the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, partnering with hundreds of local schools and businesses and cleaning up a city park.

In doing so, the group hopes to show a community how to give back, give thanks and work together.

"Yes, it's a feel-good thing, a heartstring thing," Brown said. "I know some people roll their eyes, but it's a very urban, raw experience. We just say: If you want to give back, we'll find a way for you to be involved."

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, May 26-27

Where: Lincoln Theatre, King-Lincoln District