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Greenfield Harmony to offer mix of African, Gospel, Bosnian, Arabic, other traditions

  • Anico Abshilava rehearses her solo with the Greenfield Harmony choir while Mary Cay Brass plays accordion at St. James' Episcopal Church Monday, April 24, 2017. Their spring concert takes place Sunday, May 14, at Wesley Methodist Church in Hadley. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Sue Kranz, of Charlemont, sings with the Greenfield Harmony choir while recording on her phone during a rehearsal at St. James' Episcopal Church in Greenfield Monday, April 24, 2017. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Mary Cay Brass plays keyboard, singing along with the Greenfield Harmony choir during a rehearsal at St. James' Episcopal Church in Greenfield Monday, April 24, 2017. Their spring concert takes place Sunday, May 14, at Wesley Methodist Church in Hadley. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Mary Cay Brass leads the Greenfield Harmony choir in a rehearsal at St. James' Episcopal Church in Greenfield Monday, April 24, 2017. Their spring concert takes place Sunday, May 14, at Wesley Methodist Church in Hadley. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Mary Cay Brass plays accordion, leading the Greenfield Harmony choir in a rehearsal with Anico Abshilava at St. James' Episcopal Church Monday, April 24, 2017. Their spring concert takes place Sunday, May 14, at Wesley Methodist Church in Hadley. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • The Greenfield Harmony choir rehearses at St. James' Episcopal Church in Greenfield Monday, April 24, 2017. Their spring concert takes place Sunday, May 14, at Wesley Methodist Church in Hadley. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Mary Cay Brass plays accordion, leading the Greenfield Harmony choir in a rehearsal at St. James' Episcopal Church Monday, April 24, 2017. Their spring concert takes place Sunday, May 14, at Wesley Methodist Church in Hadley. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Mary Cay Brass leads the Greenfield Harmony choir in a rehearsal at St. James' Episcopal Church in Greenfield Monday, April 24, 2017. Their spring concert takes place Sunday, May 14, at Wesley Methodist Church in Hadley. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • The Greenfield Harmony choir rehearses at St. James' Episcopal Church in Greenfield Monday, April 24, 2017. Their spring concert takes place Sunday, May 14, at Wesley Methodist Church in Hadley. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Mary Cay Brass leads the Greenfield Harmony choir in a rehearsal at St. James' Episcopal Church in Greenfield Monday, April 24, 2017. Their spring concert takes place Sunday, May 14, at Wesley Methodist Church in Hadley. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Sue Kranz, of Charlemont sings with the Greenfield Harmony choir during a rehearsal at St. James' Episcopal Church in Greenfield Monday, April 24, 2017. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt



For the Gazette
Thursday, May 11, 2017

You may have never heard any of the songs on Greenfield Harmony’s upcoming May 14 concert program, but that shouldn’t stop you from joining in by stamping your feet, clapping your hands and — in some cases — singing along.

The 75-voice, Greenfield-based choir’s eclectic mix of songs from Macedonia, South Africa, Afghanistan and Russia, as well as the African-American gospel, Sufi, Hebrew and Shaped Note traditions, mark the spring concert for the multigenerational, multicultural group, now in its 17th year.

The Mother’s Day concert, which will be at 7 p.m. at Wesley Methodist Church, 98 North Maple St. in Hadley, will also feature Berea College gospel music specialist Kathy Bullock as guest conductor, along with Greenfield Harmony chorus director Mary Cay Brass.

The chorus, which began about 15 years ago in Montague Center, consists of singers who come from as far away as Williamstown, Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire — as well as Hampshire County — to sing songs that are mostly traditional and intended to be sung in community.

Brass, who accompanies the group on accordion and piano, is backed up by instrumentalists who are also members of the chorus or its sister southern Vermont chorus, The River Singers.

Bullock, who teaches ethnomusicology and African American music and leads the 80-voice Black Music ensemble at the Berea, Kentucky, college, served as this season’s guest workshop leader with the Greenfield chorus. She’s worked with Greenfield Harmony since 2006.

The gospel specialist, who’s taught workshops in Scotland, Ireland, England, Czechoslovakia, West Africa and Jamaica, describes that style of music as “a celebration of life, about building and uplifting community.

“It’s about space, about making connections of spirit,” Bullock adds, “about a God that’s greater than you, and about being a part of this bigger-than-self thing, but also [about] valuing individual connections and the things that shape it.”

“My desire [in leading gospel music] is simply to let people leave better than before they came, so there’s a sense of hope, and a sense of an appreciation of the basics of life — like breathing and walking — and energizing that part of our existence, those positives, in a way that helps fuel us in a way as we move forward in a world that can be often difficult, hurtful, confusing, disappointing, scary and challenging.”

Greenfield Harmony’s repertoire is drawn from around the world, including inspirational songs like the Bosnian “Samo Allah Istina Je,” a Hebrew “Blessing,” and the South African “Thabacheue,” which is complemented by an elaborate dance performed by the entire chorus.

Ray Sebold of Montague, who has sung tenor with Greenfield Harmony from the beginning, says part of his enjoyment is experiencing the cultural traditions the music is drawn from.

“A lot like the Village Harmony groups, we’re singing from the traditions of countries that have really strong singing traditions,” says Sebold, who has traveled twice to Bosnia with Brass’s Village Harmony summer singing camp.

“It gives us insight into the culture of the country by singing some of their songs,” said Sebold. “There, we sang some of their songs and some of our songs, and it gave me so much appreciation for how rich their culture is.”

There’s also a timeliness to the music selected for Sunday’s program, said Brass.

In any time, singing can be “healing, leaving people uplifted and energized, in any time,” said Brass, who’s led community choruses for 25 years in southern Vermont and western Massachusetts.

But at a time when “there are these dramas and crises happening in this country and in the world,” Brass says she was especially focused for this concert on choosing songs like Ysae Barnwell’s “Keep Hope Alive” and “Blue, Green Hills of Earth” from Paul Winter’s “Missa Gaia.”

Songs such as these “speak to what a lot of us are feeling right now,” Brass added. “We stand for diversity, for inclusiveness, for celebrating one another’s traditions and honoring each other’s spiritual paths. While we’re doing it, we’re bringing our own community together, and creating new relationships … I think a lot of us need that right now.”

Brass received a Fulbright Scholarship to work with fellow ethnomusicologists in Croatia and Serbia and has been a teacher and leader with the Village Harmony singing camp program since its inception in the early 1990s.

“I just find it bridge-building for us when we sing the songs of another people,” she noted. “It piques people’s interest in that culture, and it brings another level of consciousness to the people who are singing those songs and celebrates their life. This is what we can do to honor, to recognize, to celebrate these cultures.”

The May 14 concert will be a benefit for the Conflict Transformation Across Cultures (CONTACT) program at the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont.

Greenfield Harmony performs May 14 at 7 p.m. at the Wesley Methodist Church, 98 N. Maple St. in Hadley. Tickets are $15/$12 for seniors and students.

More information is available at marycaybrass.com.