An angelic Manhattan hotel

Some guests to the Salisbury Hotel in Manhattan may be lucky enough to to hear a 35-member church choir going through its rehearsals.

Salisbury Hotel (photo credit: GEORGE MEDOVOY)
Salisbury Hotel
(photo credit: GEORGE MEDOVOY)
NEW YORK – Some guests to the Salisbury Hotel in midtown Manhattan may be lucky enough to to hear a 35-member church choir going through its rehearsals.
Walking along West 57th Street to the hotel’s front entrance, I couldn’t help but notice the big red-and-white flag of Calvary Baptist Church fluttering nearby in the breeze.
But even with the flag, the casual observer has no way of knowing that the Salisbury and the church share the same building and that the hotel is owned by the church.
Upon entering the hotel, you walk through a kind of truncated lobby, and from there, an elevator leads upstairs to guest rooms above the sanctuary.
Colin Fowler, Calvary’s assistant director of music and arts, has been rehearsing the choir in the hotel’s second-floor Regency Room Thursday evenings at 7 p.m. and Sunday mornings at 10 a.m. – all surprisingly within hearing range of some of the hotel’s guests.
“You don’t hear (the choir) in the guest rooms,” said long-time hotel general manager Ed Oliva, “but if you’re walking from the second and third floor down to the lobby, you hear them practicing.”
Sometimes Fowler and the choir get some unexpected “drop-in” audiences, too.
“If guests are taking the stairs,” Fowler said, “they basically have to walk right next to the Regency Room. So sometimes they’ll poke their head in if the door is open. People have commented that they heard us and that it made the trip up the stairs more enjoyable.”
Fowler, a graduate of the Julliard School of Music and currently a professor of music at Nyack College, performed for a week and a half in December of 2009 and January of 2010 on the piano in Tel Aviv with the Mark Morris Dance Group.
“We performed two different programs, including Schumann’s Piano Quintet, Mozart’s Eleventh Piano Concerto, and Mozart’s Double Piano Sonata. It was a great experience, and my first time to visit and perform in Israel,” Fowler said.
“The church choir’s participants, Fowler explained, are made up of a wide variety of people with different styles and professional backgrounds – theater people, members of New York City’s famed Met (who sometimes perform solos in the choir), college students, Broadway performers, movie actors, “and then there’s people who just love to sing.”
It’s a mixed bag, too, as far as ages go, with members as young as 19 – and one in her 80s, he said.
The Salisbury Hotel first opened its doors in 1931 and was designed with people in the arts in mind because they obviously needed an address to fit in with their often long performance schedules.
“Almost every (hotel) property in Manhattan that’s more than 30 years old had… long-term, residential guests,” Oliva said.
That’s why the Salisbury’s guestrooms are larger than usual for New York City, he noted, with at least 40 percent of the hotel consisting of suites.
I found the Salisbury’s location in midtown easily accessible to a number of very popular New York City destinations, including the Russian Tea Room and Carnegie Hall (across the street), and, of course, Central Park.
But it’s the choir that gives the venerable Salisbury its unique touch – in Fowler’s own words, “a wonderful spirit and fellowship that I’m privileged to share with (the choir members) and that they all share together.”
And, one might add, sometimes with the hotel’s guests, too.