The Carolina Theatre of Greensboro is proud to sponsor their third annual “This CommUnity Sings” free sing-a-long (non-ticketed) event on March 8 from 3-5 p.m. Participants of all levels are encouraged to arrive by 2 p.m. for the rehearsal. Crumley Roberts, the event’s sponsor, has made a huge difference this year in helping to increase additional resources to reach out to more communities so that everyone is invited to join in on the fun.
Carolina Theatre of Greensboro’s Director of Marketing and PR, Meagan Kopp, said this year’s two warm-up songs are Los Del Rio’s Macarena and Toto’s Africa. She said before learning the sing-a-long tunes, a small ensemble of the Triad Pride Performing Arts Counterpoint Ensemble, Greensboro Tarheel Barbershop Chorus, and Cesar Oviedo Latin Combo (accompanied by vocalist Nishah Dimeo) would be on stage warming up the theatre.
Kopp said that their committee event-planning co-chair and local performing artist, Jessica Mashburn has served on the board for six years, had been a huge part of planning all three years of This CommUnity Sings. Mashburn said they hope to have 1,000 voices singing this year after 600 last year and 500 the first year. The sing-a-long songs will include Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, Aretha Franklin’s Respect, and Bill Withers’ Lean on Me.
“This CommUnity Sings” is led by musical director Wesley McCleary-Small, who teaches choral arts at Rockingham High School and plays for the Bel Canto Company. He received his bachelor’s degree in music education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Mashburn said accompanist Christy Wisuthseriwong would play piano in the rehearsal portion of the show. Wisuthseriwong is an active pianist and collaborator in the Triad, as well as a faculty member of The Music Academy of North Carolina, and she plays for the Bel Canto Company, The Women’s Choir of Greensboro and is a staff accompanist at Elon University.
Mashburn said that while she provides her keyboard, she doesn’t play at these gatherings and that after the planning work is finished, she likes to sing along with everyone in the audience. She said that they actually started working on this year’s event just after they finished the last one.
“We are living in very diverse times, and the whole idea want to nurture is unity,” Mashburn said. “Music is a great binder and a great way to bring everyone together. All of our differences can sound beautiful together. Our wish is that it spreads to other communities. It is open to the whole Triad. Last year, people even drove from Charlotte. Everyone is welcome.”
Mashburn said she gives credit to her fellow committee chair, Ogi Overman, for the original idea. Overman had come to her about how he had been inspired by the Canadian musical group, Choir!Choir!Choir!, and suggested a sing-a-long in Greensboro. Mashburn, who was on the board of The Carolina Theatre at the time, ran it by the executive director Brian Gray, who loved her idea to tie it into their 90th anniversary, as it paralleled to the theatre’s mission.
“I love looking out into the crowd and seeing a snapshot of not only Greensboro but the mosaic of America,” Overman said. “You see the faces of young and old, black and brown and white, male and female, rich and poor. You see the smiles on their faces and realize it is this diversity that is actually what makes America great.”
Mashburn said that choosing the songs are one of the hardest things the T.C.S. committee (composed of eight to 10 people) has to do each year. She said they strive to find a balance in cross-generational songs with cultural significance and are known to multiple demographics. Mashburn said the committee had also learned that on top of there being over 125 different languages spoken in Greensboro, that if a song is in a specific genre, a lot of people won’t know it, so it is a hard balance to find. She said it is always fun when a lot of people know the songs like they did last year with “Y.M.C.A.”
For first-timers, Mashburn said to think of it as a big sing-a-long. There’s no pressure or spotlight on anyone, and no one has to get on stage. Everyone just stands up in the audience and sings together as one voice. She said the words would be projected on a big screen, plus there are songbooks for those who prefer them.
“It’s hard to explain what it feels like to join hundreds of voices in singing these songs that we know so well and love so much,” Kopp said. “There’s a vibration that goes through the theatre, and you know you’re part of something special… Let’s celebrate a little shared joy with our neighbors.”
“This CommUnity Sings!” on March 8 at the Carolina Theatre, located at 310 S. Greene St. Doors open to the public at 2 p.m., and guests are asked to arrive early, especially those with groups if they want to sit together. (These groups are asked to meet in the lobby before going into the theatre together.)
TERRY RADER is a freelance writer/editorial/content/copy, creative consultant/branding strategist, communications outreach messenger, poet and emerging singer/songwriter.