Howdy from Washington DC! It occurs to me that it’s been a long time since I’ve last updated the blog, but I’m blessed to lead a busy, fulfilling life teaching, singing, playing, conducting, living, and breathing music. I said earlier tonight that if you make a career out of music, then you have little time for any other hobby, including writing!
I am in Washington DC with the Rhodes Singers on their annual choir tour, and we just finished day one of the tour. We are here until Tuesday afternoon, and our tour coordinators have filled every day with plenty of activities related to our visit to the nation’s capital. The two focal points of our visit are the two main performances. One is on Sunday at the National Cathedral, a free concert from 3:30-4:00 PM that is open to the public. We will perform a wide variety of music, from the gospel arrangements of Moses Hogan to Biebl’s exquisite Ave Maria. Monday brings our other performance, a President’s Day Choral Festival at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, in which the Rhodes Singers will join with other choirs from across the country to perform works by Copland, Barber, and Rene Clausen. It is a concert for peace, and we will sing Clausen’s Memorial, a piece written after the 9/11 attacks. Monday’s concert should prove as one of the most meaningful shows that I have performed. I will save any further comments on those concerts for their appropriate days. For now, let me recap our first day in DC.
We started the day early; by 8:00 AM, we were on our bus from our Alexandria, VA hotel towards the heart of Georgetown. Once we got there, we were given four hours to roam the city, and since we were only a 15 minute walk from the Metro, roam we did. I led a group of Singers to the National Mall to wander about the Smithsonian. A smaller group left to explore the National Gallery of Art while my group went to the National Museum of Natural History where we saw dinosaurs, precious stones including the Hope Diamond, and bugs. My inner five year-old manifested himself; I rushed to any exhibit that had buttons to push with insatiable glee and excitement. Fortunately for me, my group of students – being true Rhodes students –either shared in my enthusiasm or laughed at me along the way. We later regrouped with the smaller band that left for the art gallery to return to our coach in Georgetown. After a quick lunch at La Madeleine, we were on our way to the National Cemetery at Arlington.
The National Cemetery is a sacred space for this country, no matter your creed. It had been years since my previous visit, and I had forgotten the enormity of the place. Seeing history marked in tombstones grand and small made me think of the great sacrifices that men and women have made to insure the freedoms we enjoy today; it also made me think of the sacrifices of soldiers’ wives and children who lost fathers, husbands, and brothers to war. War is ugly, and Arlington cemetery is a beautiful, solemn reminder of the reality of battle. I witnessed a brief portion of the burial ceremonies for a high-ranking Air Force officer. I did not catch the name of the deceased or his rank, but given the pomp and circumstance that surrounded the occasion, it was clear to me that this was an important figure to our country. He received a 21-gun salute, Taps, full military honors; it reminded me of my dad’s funeral, who received similar honors, though on a smaller scale on account of his inferior ranking to the individual being buried today (still a formidable Lt. Col.).
The highlight of today – and perhaps of this trip in regards to extra-musical activities – was joining three students from the Rhodes Singers to participate in a Laying of the Wreath ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. All the elements gathered together to create for me an emotionally intense experience. The wreath we laid boasted the school’s colors, red and black, and a ribbon with “Rhodes Singers” written on it. Will, a baritone in our choir, and I were the ones to physically lay the wreath at the tomb, so we were the two closest civilians to the Honor Guard and the Tomb itself. We were accompanied by two members of the Honor Guard who instructed our every move; their polished shoes, well-pressed uniforms, and solemn demeanor suggested a sense of duty, honor, and discipline that I lies beyond my undestanding. My friends, I cannot begin to describe to you the mix of emotions I felt in those moments. There was within me pride in the military heritage of my family and our country, and it was considerable honor in laying a symbol of Rhodes College at this important national monument. There was sadness as I recalled the passing of my own father, a soldier who was not forgotten yet passed on like all who went before him. There was the weight, the gravitas of the entire ceremony, and I felt an immense burden to perform the ritual with honor and respect. It was, for me, a moment where I set aside my own wants, needs, and feelings in order to represent the entire Rhodes Community as we honored the fallen heroes of our country. To do so at the side of two soldiers was a humbling, transformative moment.
We closed the day with a performance at a local church, and we shared our small concert with the church’s youth choir. They themselves were kicking off a tour, and they gave a home concert first. It was a joy to sing after these talented youth, and it made me think that my entire professional choral career began with New Zion Youth Choir at Alamo Heights UMC.
And now, I crash in bed, and tomorrow promises a full day of rehearsals, a morning performance, a motorcoach tour of the city, and many more stories, jokes, and laughter to be shared.
Until next time,