The New Yorker Magazine Feature: Finding Light This December

Sing for Hope artist partner Ben Bogen performing at Hudson Yards, NYC, December 2020 (Photo credit: The New Yorker)

We hope you’ll enjoy this free virtual mini-concert created by The New Yorker magazine to showcase our SFH Pianos and the resilience of creatives everywhere.

(Article reprinted with permission from The New Yorker.) 

This year, New York’s myriad creative industries have grappled with the existential threat posed by COVID-19, which has forced the shuttering of so many of its iconic institutions. Broadway? Gone dark, for the foreseeable future. Live music? Consigned to live streams accessed from your laptop. But the changed circumstances haven’t winnowed the city’s potential altogether—it’s only forced those creative souls to adjust.

In previous years, the nonprofit Sing for Hope would have placed pianos designed by local artists throughout the five boroughs, for passersby to encounter and play during their daily routines. This year, with the partnership of the global business software company SAP, Hudson Yards has enlisted Sing for Hope to place its pianos inside The Shops and Restaurants to spread joy and cheer. Throughout the month of December, a rotation of Broadway and Juilliard-trained musicians have performed on those pianos, creating a welcoming holiday environment for New Yorkers venturing out into the city. Visitors can also sign up to play, as the pianos are cleaned between performances.

“The Sing for Hope Pianos represent this idea that the arts can help us rebuild a sense of normalcy,” said the soprano Camille Zamora, one of Sing for Hope’s co-founders. Born in Texas, Zamora was attending Juilliard on September 11, 2001, where the school shared a block with a fire house. In the weeks following the attacks, she and fellow soprano Monica Yunus helped organize groups of musicians to perform at fire houses across the city. Those initial performances formed the germ of what would eventually become Sing for Hope, which launched in 2006.

Since then, Sing for Hope has placed over 500 pianos throughout the city, all of which are eventually donated to community organizations, nonprofits, and schools. “They embody the incredible creativity and democratization of the arts that’s kind of a New York flavor,” she said.

For the pianist Mun-Tzung Wong, a Hong Kong native who’s lived in New York since 2008, performing at Hudson Yards was a way to celebrate the diversity and spontaneity of city life. Wong chose George Gershwin’s “Prelude #1,” which debuted at the iconic Roosevelt Hotel in 1926, and honors “the collage of stories” that New York offers whenever you walk down the street. “You can almost hear the car horns from the taxi cabs in the music; you can hear the very lively vibes from the people all over the world,” she said. “That’s what I remember about New York City, and I really wanted to share it with everyone.”

“There’s something beautiful about the way that this city has responded to the pandemic,” said Christina Maxwell, who recently appeared in the musical Chasing Rainbows. Though she moved here after graduating college, Maxwell said she didn’t fully fall in love with New York until this year, when she witnessed the resilience displayed by its citizens. “The magic is still there, and the reason that we’re celebrating is still there.” Alongside singer Ben Bogen and pianist Evan Zavada, Maxwell performed a medley of holiday songs featuring classics such as “Jingle Bells.”

The pianist Harold O’Neal, who performed a medley of original compositions and works by celebrated composers from the early 20th century, emphasized the power of music to provide a sense of connection in such trying times. “Not to get super dramatic, but I was summoned to do this performance,” he said. “It means so much to me to be able to touch people’s lives through music. It’s a strange thing—we’re by ourselves, and at the same time, we’re alone together.”

“SAP is proud to partner with Hudson Yards and Sing for Hope in support of the local NYC community this holiday season,” SAP CMO Alicia Tillman shared. “Giving back is the cornerstone of the holiday season and facilitating this through the gift of music is a beautiful way to promote joy and inspiration at a time when we need it most.”

“This program is about driving the joy of holidays in a public space in Hudson Yards, in a year where we are having a hard time feeling that,” Zamora said. She pointed out how Sing for Hope’s pianos have been placed as near as the Bronx, and as far away as a refugee camp in Athens, Greece. “One of the great things about the pianos is they provide a spontaneous moment of connection between strangers. Employing artists literally and metaphorically to do the work of bringing joy to communities—I think it’s imperative.”

Next year, the country will have hopefully recovered from this crisis. How our communities managed to find light amidst the darkness will remain with us forever. To help bring hope to communities and employment to artists while the world’s stages are dark, please donate here

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