Winston Churchill once said “we make a living by what we get but we make a life by what we give.” David Brown lives out that philosophy daily as Executive Director of the Harmony Project, a community choir that brings together people from all over Columbus to celebrate the universal joys of making music and improving the lives of others.
The group, which is now in its fifth season is over 200 voices strong. It is an experiment in diversity, drawing its membership from a broad cross section of races, religions, ages, political viewpoints and sexual orientations. “The Harmony Project,” says Brown is an opportunity for people whose paths might never have crossed to intersect.” Vocalists from many different walks of life bond through the collective experiences of performing and engaging in meaningful community service together.
"You can show up at a Harmony Project service event in the morning and by noon, when you leave, you can turn around and see what you have done. You can walk away knowing you have accomplished something you could not have done on your own, you did it with strangers and friends who vote, think and believe different from me, but we came together and believed in one thing, something bigger than us, and we got it done for the greater good." David Brown
The project provides access to music and art for kids and teens while teaching them tolerance and acceptance. Members serve at local food banks and shelters and inner city neighborhoods where they do everything from picking up trash and planting trees to building new housing in partnership with organizations like Habitat for Humanity.
Vocalists also raise money and collect much needed supplies for community organizations by placing donation boxes in their workplaces and businesses. Since the group was founded in 2009, members have donated 16,000 meals to the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, donated a $15,000 grand piano to the Lincoln Theatre and collected over 4,000 toys and 100 plus bicycles for underprivileged children in the Columbus community.
"The whole issue of gay, straight, black, white, Christian, Jewish…goes by the wayside when everyone comes together to be part of the mission to make the community better,” says the Louisiana native. Service is considered as critical a component of participation for members as attending rehearsals. “Standing on that stage is a privilege,” says Brown. “You don’t sing if you don’t serve."
This summer the group will continue their community service efforts through a project known as the Livingston Avenue Initiative. In partnership with Alvis House, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, South High School, The Jewish Community Center in Bexley and the City of Columbus, they will plants flowers and 100 trees, paint murals and facilitate a cultural exchange between the Jewish and African American communities that share the neighborhood.
Brown, who studied at Capitol University in the mid-80s, worked in Columbus for a short time before heading to New York City where he founded the New York Metro Mass Choir, a community based organization similar to the Harmony Project. After being profiled in O, the Oprah Magazine, performing at the Apollo Theatre and Carnegie Hall and appearing onstage as backup for Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson, he spent a brief stint in New Orleans and then made his way back to the 614.
“Columbus is clean, it’s gorgeous, the art scene is amazing and there is so much going on,” says Brown of his current hometown. “It’s a melting pot of ideas and creativity.”
Harmony Project concerts consistently sell out and have become one of the highlights of Columbus’ Arts & Entertainment calendar. The group is scheduled to perform May 15th and 16th, 2013 at the Southern Theatre. Visit www. harmonyproject.com for additional details to be announced prior to the shows.