Bringing together 50 or more strangers with different beliefs into one room may not seem like a good idea if the purpose is mainly to talk, especially if the conversation includes sensitive topics such as politics and religion. But when the talking is replaced with music and singing, the concept is not about what divides people, but rather what unites them.
This type of musical conspiracy will take place April 6-7, as area residents and visitors experience the magic of classic musicals from the 1940s and ’50s with a “Rodgers and Hammerstein Sing” at the Reynolds Mansion in Bellefonte.
The sing-along will include many Rodgers and Hammerstein songbook favorites such as “Oklahoma,” “Carousel,” “South Pacific,” “The King and I,” “The Sound of Music” and more. During the 90-minute sing, the audience will be provided with lyricsheets. People will be encouraged to step up to the microphone to help lead the singing, read thoughts written by the composers and share individual stories related to the songs.
For a special treat, several Bellefonte Area High School musical theater students will be featured soloists. Leading the singing will be Jessie Barth, formerly a high school choral director at Bellefonte and State College schools. Originally from Pleasant Gap, Barth retired at age 45 and said sometime thereafter she became curious about human harmony.
“I became more interested in how people get together and stay together in a harmonious way; sort of like notes and numbers are harmonious,” she said. “So that sort of began the next phase of my journey.”
Accompanying Barth will be Reynolds Mansion innkeeper and pianist Tricia Andriaccio and local percussionist Carol Lindsay.
“I just love to do these sing-alongs,” Barth said. “I’ve been doing them in Doylestown, where Oscar Hammerstein lived. ... A part of this whole journey of human harmony is to get people together who love the songbook, to sing together.”
Barth said she gets satisfaction with the sing-alongs when she sees the reactions from audience members young and old.
“I see the happiness, the childlikeness, and I also see couples singing to each other,” she said. “It’s just a free and happy activity.”
“The audience is the performers,” Lindsay said. “One woman in North Carolina told me, ‘I haven’t had this much fun in decades!’ People not only know the words to this music but have memories connected with them. The music brings out the full range of emotions. Everyone leaves a sing uplifted and smiling.”
Although she would love to eventually have larger groups singing, Barth said she enjoys thee smaller more intimate venues for now.
“What I’m interested in is the art of the moment,” she said. “How do you bring together 50 strangers who don’t know each other and how do we create a composition of that moment?”
Other songs featured in the sing-along include “Oh What a Beautiful Morning”; “Some Enchanted Evening”; songs from “The Sound of Music,” including “My Favorite Things”; and “I Whistle a Happy Tune” from “The King and I.”
“This is an opportunity for me to teach these songs to people that don’t know about them,” Barth said. “So even if they don’t know the songs they’re at least becoming acquainted with them; so this marvelous American heritage is being preserved.”
Even though she admires many other composers and their works, Barth admits she has a special love in her heart and a fondness for Hammerstein and feels a closeness to his family.
“I like to really focus on Hammerstein because of his positive message,” she said. “Oscar was such a humanitarian, and his daughter told me more than anything he wanted world peace. How do we live harmoniously as people? So it’s about singing, but it’s more about the deeper component of how do we sing together, how do we create art together? It’s like the art of togetherness. I know that it has a unifying effect in the world.”