By Bonnie F. Sirower, past district governor of District 7490 (New Jersey, USA)
A lot of Rotary members are not aware of the opportunities they have to dramatically increase their friendships and connections through a Rotary Fellowship.
I first joined the International Fellowship of Rotarian Musicians (IFRM) at the 2005 Rotary International Convention in Chicago. I was drawn to their booth in the House of Friendship by the number of people having fun singing to the accompaniment of a pianist. I joined the fellowship right then and there and for several years, participated in the Rotary World Choir at conventions during the Interfaith Service on Sunday mornings. What a beautiful way to be together – making gorgeous music with people who had previously been strangers.
Once the COVID-19 pandemic hit and we lost our opportunity to sing together at the Honolulu convention, the leaders of our fellowship decided to start a new Zoom project to engage members through music. With social distancing, Rotarians were looking for ways to connect during social distancing.
In early April, the fellowship decided to perform music together in a virtual choir. Our Virtual Rotary World Choir, under the direction of John Ackenhusen, a musician who lives near Seattle, Washington, USA, now meets online every Saturday morning. Our members receive rehearsal material in advance, and then converge via Zoom to listen to the accompaniment and sing their parts. We then email our voice memos to John, who uses digital audio and video work stations to put the four-part harmony pieces together so that they are synced perfectly.
We have already engaged more than 25 Rotarian musicians in at least 12 countries. Over our brief history, we have recorded 13 songs, all of which have been posted on Facebook. The songs have ranged from hymns to popular music like Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” and sillier songs like “All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir.” On off-weekends, when we are not recording, we sing songs from the Rotary Song Book, composed mostly of popular pieces, such as “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.” (That was the first song ever sung at a Rotary meeting.)
Our Fellowship began in 1972 “to promote and encourage the use and appreciation of music in Rotary clubs by Rotarians in our society, and thereby, to encourage world understanding.” In addition to the World Rotary Choir and our virtual choir, we also put out a monthly publication called “Staccato.” It sponsors a convention talent bank, providing musicians for the many special events that accompany Rotary conventions. Our foundation helps to re-equip school music departments, provides instruments to community groups, and contributes to global grants through a Donor Advised Fund.
Any Rotarian, Rotaractor, or spouse of a Rotarian can join, by signing up on our website The Rotary Virtual World Choir has become like a second Rotary club to me; I look forward to seeing my new friends every week. It continues to engage Rotarians as more musicians discover the group. Some of my fellow singers have even appeared as presenters at my own Fair Lawn Sunrise Rotary Club, sharing their experiences with this fellowship and others. You can listen to our songs on the IFRM YouTube Channel.