Finding Harmony takes community collaboration up an octive

Cast members of the ABC special Finding Harmony found more than the right note. They found comradery. They found compassion. They found community.

David Brown, founder of Columbus-based Harmony Project, was excited when connections with an executive producer first led to conversations with Disney and ABC about the possibility of a TV series featuring the work of his organization - which all started prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Harmony Project strives to "build a more inclusive society by breaking down social barriers, bridging community divides, and empowering the voices of people through arts, education and volunteerism," according to the organization's website. 

The group has used art and song to connect individuals throughout Columbus communities, and encouraged people to come together for a unified purpose, in one way or another, depending on the project. 

When ABC challenged Brown to see if his formula for community-building could work in cities outside Columbus, a tie between the broadcast company and Executive Producer John Legend guided the direction for the show toward Springfield. 

Legend, a Springfield-native, recommended the city, and production crews scouted the site in mid-April 2022, Brown says. 

Quickly - and also fairly quietly with very few details revealed on the front end -  production crews began soliciting for "cast members," which would consist of anyone in the Springfield community interested and able to dedicate a few days to painting a mural, singing in a community choir and volunteering for Second Harvest Food Bank of Clark, Champaign & Logan Counties

"Whereas, in Columbus, we have an extended period of time when we do these projects to delve into people's lives and get to know them, for the show - becasue of the Covid spike at the time and the filming schedule - there was a lot less interaction on my end than there normally would be," Brown says. "But I did have the privilege as the chorus director to see them as they sang and see their body language and read their faces - seeing things that might not be revealed in just sitting down to have a conversation.

"Hearing bits and pieces of different people's stories helped me piece together that there is not some kind of momunmental division in (Springfield's) community that needs to be healed. It's that what is needed is to find way more ways to connect people from across the community."

And the filming of Finding Harmony - which will premier on ABC at 10 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 14, then be available to stream on Hulu - did just that. 

"Every person I met all said, 'We all care about each other, but there aren't enough things that bring us all together,'" Brown says. "To me, this is what it was about - as simple as an opportunity to bring people together."

Brown says he heard a lot about the feeling of divide between the North and South sides of the city and about a desire to feel like more of a unified community. 

"Voices become exponentially more powerful when they are connected with other voices," Brown says. "I'm not sure if these voices would have connected and had the opportunity for paths to cross if it had not been for this show and the three-to-four days it brought people together."

One of those voices, which will be shown as one of the main storylines in the show, is that of Springfield High School graduate Nxy Berry. 

Berry, 18, who is named in the show as Nat, is nonbinary and shared the story of their identity during filming.

"I think this show really changed my life, and I do not say that lightly," Berry says. "I honestly think I know myself so much better after coming out of it."

Berry reflected on a time during the filming when they had an emotional moment with their dad and connected in an important way. 

"That was a huge moment in my life, and I'm so grateful for the show for that," Berry says. 

Berry says they were afraid at first to share about being nonbinary.

"I thought Springfield was way less accepting than it actually is," Berry says. "At one point in the show, I say in front of everybody that I am nonbinary, and they were all so accepting and many people came up to me and hugged me and said they're proud of me. I'm always afraid to tell new people that I'm nonbinary because I'm afraid of how they will react, but this really restored my faith in people becasue I was able to see the best in them."

Mother Stewart's Brewing is hosting a watch party starting at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 14, and Berry says they're excited to reconnect with the cast and watch the premier together with family and friends.

Read more articles by Natalie Driscoll.