Diverse Voices: Harmonizing Their Way Past Divisive Issues

Jan 6, 2008  •  Post A Comment

At a time when rhetoric and rancor is running high in the Writers Guild of America strike, Hollywood would do well to go back to its roots and remember that the success of any deal depends on the character of those involved.
Many writers say the strike has brought together scribes who have never met, most of whom toil in obscurity, alone on feature scripts or in tight cliques on TV show staffs. The color of money is uniting a membership like nothing else has.
But whatever deal is negotiated, it will last only as long as the next contract runs. Those on both sides of the table could learn from a group of industry folks who have come together over the years for a deeper cause.
Each December, this group strolls through the Motion Picture & Television Fund Home to sing songs of the holiday season, bringing cheer to those who have gone before them in the world of entertainment. The MPTF Home, which offers residential and retirement care to those with 20 or more qualifying years of employment in the industry, prides itself on “taking care of our own,” regardless of their financial resources.
Imagine what would happen if producers and studios thought that way about writers, and vice versa.
The carolers, known as the National In-Choir, were organized by vocalist Rosemary Butler and singer-writer-producer Deborah Pearl (“Designing Women,” “Delta”) in the 1980s. Today, the pickup choir includes a pool of about 200 professional and lay singers who have some tie to the entertainment industry.
Not only does the group go to the MPTF Home, it also sings at Children’s Hospital, Central Juvenile Hall, the Los Angeles Mission and other venues during the holidays. The only requirement is that you have to be able to carry a tune with harmony and not throw anybody off.
“If you give people an opportunity to give back, they really love it,” said Ms. Pearl. “When you sing with any kind of love and spirit, it’s the best use of your voice. It’s the finest thing I do in my life.”
Members often bring their children, making it a multigenerational, multi-ethnic group of many faiths.
“Love has no color, and no ethnicity,” Ms. Pearl said. “We share the commonality of our humanity. I’m Jewish, and nothing gives me greater joy than singing Christmas songs for those who are Christian, because it’s not about me. It’s not about ego. It’s the gift of using your voice in the service of others.”
The singers in the group include composers, actors, editors, sound people, writers—you name it. Like most everything else in Hollywood, people learn about the group because they’re friends of friends. Unlike most Hollywood groups, anyone who wants to join is welcome—even if they can’t make the choir’s one rehearsal a year.
The philosophy Pearl brings to the group is one that all sides with an interest in the writers strike would do well to think about. For regardless of the numbers that are finally negotiated, those who will end up benefiting the most—and hurting the most—are all in the same business.
Giving and receiving are intertwined, for you cannot have one without the other. As a new year begins, it is angels like Pearl who need to step forward with their experience and compassion to lead the way.
On some level, we all are angels, wrapped in the costumes and characters of human beings. Sometimes, that angel may seem like a caring, compassionate soul. Other times, he or she may be the most irritating, thoughtless person imaginable, with “Big Ego” stamped on the forehead.
Angels know how best to get our attention.
We need angelic reminders because it’s so easy to forget that we are not our personalities or our possessions. There are no simple, ordinary lives in this world. We all have hopes and dreams, gifts to share and challenges to meet. And the only way we can make our dreams come true is to share them with others.
Every time we say hello to someone, we could be meeting a new best friend. That’s what keeps us talking to each other. The possibility that a great new job will bring us financial rewards and satisfaction is what keeps us going when times are rough. The possibility of feeling love in our hearts is what keeps us all alive.
There’s a wonderful Hindu greeting that says, “I honor the place in you of love, of light, of peace. I honor the place within you—where if you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me—there is only one of us. Namaste.”
The word “namaste” literally means, “I bow to you”—I bow to the divine in you that is the same as the divine in me.
As we usher in 2008, take time to find that light within.
One day, we’ll all be lucky if we have a place like the MPTF Home to reside in. So listen to the voices of others, share what is in your heart and be the angel in someone’s life. Then open the door even more, and allow goodness to come into yours.
Happy new year!
Dinah Eng is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer who writes a syndicated column for Gannett News Service.


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