Nearly six years ago — on June 21, 2012 — Carpe Diem Arts held its first Community Sing at the Historic Silver Spring B&O Train Station, recalled Busy Graham, founding director of the Silver Spring-based nonprofit organization “dedicated to serving diverse audiences with quality arts experiences.” After a couple of relocations, including the Silver Spring Civic Building and the Washington Revels space, the Community Family Sings, which have been a partnership between Carpe Diem and the Revels since 2013, moved to its current venue.
“As of January 2018,” Graham said, “we began hosting the Carpe Diem-Revels Community Family Sings at our new location: Seekers Church across from the Takoma Metro — for the sake of easier parking and access via public transportation.”
Community Sings take place on the 21st of each month “to coincide with the solstices and equinoxes, and to make it easy to remember,” Graham explained. “Also, to have the day of the week rove around to accommodate everyone’s schedule — at least from time to time.” Children and adult singers of all cultures and traditions are welcome to take part in the experience of singing together in harmony; prior musical experience or training is not required.
The Sings celebrate designated cultural heritage months – like Black History (February), Irish Heritage and Women’s History (March), Arab-American Heritage (April), Asian Pacific Heritage and Jewish American Heritage (May); Hispanic Heritage (September/October), Native American Heritage (November), Graham said, “plus special holidays and birthdays each month, complete with candles and cake.”
For example, Graham said, “In April, we invited Fuad Foty from Palestine and his 12-year-old daughter Yasmine and wife Mona to celebrate Arab-American Heritage Month. They led us in singing several songs in Arabic, along with a wonderful dabka dance accompanied by the doumbek drum.”
Bringing along musical instruments and songs to share is encouraged, Graham added, noting that “several children who attend regularly have been stepping up to lead songs …One of the recent and most memorable highlights is a group of four children, ages 10 to 12, who directed us in a three-part rendering of three partner songs: ‘When the Saints Go Marching In,’ ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ and “I Want to Sing, I Want to Dance.’”
And some families, Graham noted, “have caught on to the fact that the Carpe Diem-Revels Sing is a perfect platform for the celebration of special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries — or just a great excuse to gather together a bunch of friends who we never find time enough to see — and enjoy a shared experience.”
Carpe Diem Arts, “with some help from our regular attendees,” she said, provides the entertainment and refreshments. Each session consists of songs and rounds from 6:30 to 8 p.m. followed by refreshments, social time and celebration of the month’s birthdays from 8 to 8:30 p.m.
“We almost always have a special guest artist and song leader” associated with the specific month’s celebration, Graham said. “And on May 21, we have the great good fortune of having Shizumi Shigeto Manale with us again. (She’s) back by popular demand!”
Manale, an award-winning dancer, performing artist, choreographer, director, author and film producer, was born in Hiroshima, raised in Osaka, Japan and has lived in Silver Spring since 1983. She will lead participants in songs and dances in honor of Asian Pacific Heritage Month. Her theme, she said, will be sakura, the Japanese word for cherry blossom, adding that participants’ ages will determine her final choices for the session.
The experience is fun, Manale observed, but there’s something more valuable to her. “I believe in (fostering) human awareness and understanding different cultures,” she said. “That is why I help Busy’s program.”
In addition, on May 21, Graham and/or her daughter Molly Hickman will lead the group in Israeli songs, rounds and dances to celebrate Jewish American Heritage month as well as “other favorite songs collected over the years of our Community Sings.”
Graham is excited about the group’s Summer Solstice Sing and Potluck Picnic Supper in the Park on Thursday, June 21, that will celebrate Caribbean-American Heritage Month and June birthdays. The annual event will feature “special guest artist Meredith Buck from California, who wrote a gorgeous song, ‘The Eel River Chant,’ that Marika Partridge of Takoma Radio taught at our Jan. 21 Community Sing. And we will also be lining up a Caribbean artist to demonstrate the steel drums.”
The Carpe Diem Arts and the Washington Revels’ Community Sing will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Monday, May 21, in Seekers Church, 276 Carroll St. NW. A donation of $5 or more to offset the cost of renting the space and to fund an honorarium for guest artists is suggested. Sign up in advance to lead a song by contacting Jo Rasi (firstname.lastname@example.org). For information, call 301-466-0183 or visit carpediemarts.org.