Kew Gardens Community Center Chorus
Kew Gardens Community Center Chorus
Kew Gardens Community Center Chorus
Kew Gardens Community Center Chorus
Kew Gardens Community Center Chorus
Kew Gardens Community Center Chorus
Kew Gardens Community Center Chorus


It is Friday morning at 11 a.m. and the Kew Gardens Community Center Chorus under its conductor Rachel Epstein is preparing to rehearse a new selection of spring related songs.

A cold, biting rain hammers outside but by the time the chorus will be ready for its first performance at the end of April, songs like Apple Blossom Time and Will You Remember, whose opening line is “Ah, love is so sweet in the springtime,“ will hopefully be in better tune with the weather.

The group plans to sing its new repertoire at several local assisted living centers and nursing homes-- including the Atria and the Homestead in Kew Gardens--where it performs regularly. In all, it gives about 30 performances a year.

“We have about 18 regular chorus members and the number has been growing,“ said Ms. Epstein who is also the director of the Kew Gardens Community Center. She took over as conductor last September, when a long-time volunteer conductor, Robert Darnell, moved to New Jersey and an interim stint by Richard Geiser also ended.

“It‘s the highlight of my week,“ said Ms. Epstein, who often sings along as she conducts. “Music transcends language and culture and taps into memories,“ she said. “These songs remind people of their childhood.“

Norman Curtis, a professional musician, is the music director and accompanies the chorus on the piano. A graduate of the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago, he has composed several hit songs as well as musicals in collaboration with his wife, Elyse Curtis. His compositions have been featured on CBS-TV and PBS among other venues.

He first heard of the chorus and its need for a volunteer pianist in January 2013, he said. “It just seemed to me that this is what I should be doing in the broader scope of my life,“ he explained. “I felt I was ideally suited for this assignment because I know hundreds of songs and can play them in any key immediately.“

He chooses the repertoire, selecting songs based on a theme. For example, last fall for the theme Smile, songs included When You‘re Smiling, Let a Smile be Your Umbrella and Can‘t Smile Without You .

For Love, a selection earlier this year, he chose an international fare including Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen (Yiddish) and Wey Marie (Italian). For spring songs the medley also includes Easter Parade.

Although his participation is time consuming——rehearsals are once a week and there are several performances a month—“I‘ve never regretted volunteering.“ Mr. Curtis said. “It‘s an amateur group with enthusiasm and I enjoy getting the response that I do. And when they perform for others they create a wonderful harmonious atmosphere.“

The origins of the chorus date almost as far back as the Community Center itself which was established in 1999 and is located at 80-02 Kew Gardens Road where it offers a variety of educational and recreational programs free of charge except for a voluntary $1 donation. The center‘s 4,500 square feet of space on the second floor is provided gratis under a concession won in the early 1990‘s by the community and the then Queens Borough President Claire Shulman, from the original developer who needed a rezoning.

The center has about 40 to 80 daily attendees. Participants come from varied backgrounds and nationalities as well as neighborhoods. Funding for the center, which covers the salary of a full-time director, comes in part from the Queens Borough President and in part from the NYC Department for the Aging. The sponsor of the program is the Queens Community House in Forest Hills.

When the chorus sings to its frail and elderly audiences at nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and assisted living facilities, smiles light up and often members of the audiences start singing along.

“It is so important that people in these homes are not overlooked and forgotten,“ said David Hausman, a chorus member who often sings a solo in his fine baritone. “To see them sit up and look energized when they hear these songs is my reward.“

He is a member of two other chorus groups as well and has sung professionally in such productions as Fiddler on the Roof and with groups performing Gilbert & Sullivan (one with a Yiddish libretto), and also regularly brings a one-man Yiddish show to elderly audiences.

Many others in the chorus have music in their backgrounds. Eileen Sheehan not only has sung with other groups, she also hails from Liverpool, England--but makes haste to add, “I came to the States before the Beatles did.

“My father was a good singer,“ she added, ‘and I have been singing since childhood. It‘s a lovely past-time.“

Ann Whyte, another chorus member, joined in 2008 while looking for a place where she could find “fun and friendship.“ Warmly received by other chorus members, she has attended almost every session since. “It‘s such a positive experience and lifts up my spirits even if I come in feeling a little down,“ she said.

There are no auditions required to join the chorus. “No prior experience necessary,“ a flyer reads. And you don‘t have to know how to read music.

“After all, Irving Berlin couldn‘t read music and neither could he play a song in more than one key,“ noted Mr. Curtis, the music director.

[Instructions:  To play the following audio files, left click on either the Windows Meda Audio or MP3 versions. Each song will open in a new window. Close out the window to return here. If you cannot get a song to play, right click on the link and save it to your hard drive, then play it from there.]

MP3 VERSIONS: (The soloist for Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen, was David Hausman, and the soloist for Wey Marie was William Luciano.)

Earlier Articles:
  •   Snowed Under
  •   A Walk on the Wild Side Just Minutes from Kew Gardens
  •   99th Annual Meeting of the Kew Gardens Civic Association
  •   Kew Gardens Loses a Landmark
  •   Counting Chickens on Beverly Road
  •   In Memory of 9/11
  •   Pictures at an Exhibition
  •   "Surviving" - A Haunting Documentary Examines Growing Up and Growing Old in Kew Gardens
  •   Through the Looking Glass:  Kew Gardens as Seen by a New Generation of Photographers
  •   Spirits come alive in "Spirits Alive" at Maple Grove Cemetery
  •   Killer storm hits Kew Gardens
  •   Jazz at Maple Grove Cemetery
  •   The Blizzard of 2009
  •   Filming in Kew Gardens
  •   The 95th Annual Meeting of the Kew Gardens Civic Association, Inc.
  •   Let It Snow - Scenes from Forest Park
  •   A Community Discovers Its Village Roots
  •   Spirits Alive! (2007) at Maple Grove Cemetery
  •   Day of Remembrance at Maple Grove Honors the Dead with a Celebration of Life
  •   Summer in the City
  •   Concerns Over P.S.99, Post Office, And Impact Of Potential Landmarking Draw Large Crowd To Town Hall Meeting
  •   Kew Gardens Community Day (2007)
  •   A Parking Lot Becomes a Flea Market
  •   A Touch of Soho on Austin Street
  •   Kew Gardens Merchants - The Bliss Café
  •   Kew Gardens Lights Up for the Holidays
  •   Queens Borough Hall Garage in Kew Gardens
  •   The House on 116th Street
  •   New Development in Kew Gardens
  •   Autumn Scenes in Kew Gardens
  •   Lantern Festival at Maple Grove Cemetery (2006)
  •   They Lift Up their Voices Every Friday