by Wendy Kagan
Guthrie, who leads two Hudson Valley choirs, now brings her harmony expertise to an international stage: the United Nations. Her neighbor, Susan Coleman, was creating a retreat for world-weary UN workers to have a space to replenish and renew. “Many of these workers come from high conflict areas; the burnout rate is high and the job stressful. [Coleman] was looking for an activity that would be fun, relaxing, and also community-building,” says Guthrie. “So I suggested the harmony workshop.”
Guthrie starts by leading the diplomats in a bit of stretching and a simple melody; then she teaches the group how to sing several songs from different cultures in three or four part harmony. Initially, the workers are often skeptical—but gradually they begin to open up their voices and their hearts.
“Harmony is the great equalizer,” says Guthrie. “Each voice is just as important as any other. It doesn't matter if you work in the mail room, are president of the company, or the Secretary General of the UN.” Teamwork takes on a new meaning altogether when it comes to singing in harmony, explains Guthrie. “We can't just barrel through singing our own part. We have to listen to those people sitting next to us, find a way to blend and meld our voice with those around us, and then also listen to the group as a whole. Ultimately, we find a camaraderie not available to us in our workaday world, and our hearts feel lighter.”
You don’t have to be a UN worker to reap the vocal rewards. On May 12, 2013 (Mother’s Day) at 3pm, Guthrie’s Dream Choir will be performing and leading the audience in harmony-building exercises at the Presbyterian Church on 10 Academy Street in Cold Spring. (Free will donation.)