Saturday, February 19, 2011

Washington Tour Day 2: Jesus with Machine Guns

Howdy from Washington DC! Today is the close of Day 2 of our tour in the capital, and I promise that my abs have received a great workout from the non-stop laughter that we share on the bus. I’ll share more on that later, but for now, a brief synopsis.

We left our homestays in Vienna, VA to sing a pre-Mass concert at St. Patrick’s Church, the oldest church in Washington DC. This church was built in the early 1800’s to provide a place to worship for the city’s growing Irish Catholic population, so when you walk in the narthex of the church, you see a large shamrock on the floor. The acoustics of this church were phenomenal, and most of our music for this tour is a capella. We had a small audience, but this was a concert where the joy was found not in performing for people but rather for the space. The music itself was the joy – as it almost always is – but the space provided an extra boost to an already beautiful selection of music. As my choral tastes lean towards smaller a capella  anthems, performing in spaces like St. Patrick’s brings sheer joy to my ears and heart. I could tell that the ensemble loved the sound and space as well.

Following the concert, we stayed for a brief Mass, and the minister’s homily centered on the role and character of the Virgin Mary. You may recall from some of my Advent posts last December that she is a figure that very much interests me, and her role in the Christian salvation narrative seems to divide the Protestant faithful. While we are happy to admit that she gave birth to Jesus, Protestants as a whole are reluctant to call her Mother of God or an especially blessed woman. The minister reminded the audience – and especially our mostly Protestant choir – that the Catholic Church does not worship Mary, but rather the Church gives her proper respect and honor. They ask her to pray on their behalf as we ask people we see as spiritual giants to pray for us.

Afterwards, we ate lunch at the Post Office Pavilion, and then we had another tour of the Smithsonian. Today, we poked around the National Museum of American History. For me, it wasn’t as interested as the Natural History museum, but it’s hard to compete with galleries of dinosaurs and diamonds. That said, I did see the original American flag that Francis Scott Key saw when he penned “The Star-Spanged Banner.” What a cool part of our American story! We also looked at galleries of valuable musical instruments, American pop culture, and the history of the American presidency.

Tonight we had a three-hour rehearsal in preparation for Monday’s concert at the Kennedy Center. We are pairing up with two high school choirs, one from Memphis and the other from Jacksonville, FL, and both choirs sounded terrific! As I listened to the combined ensemble, it was difficult to distinguish high-school voices from college voices. We have much work to do in the following 9 hours of rehearsal, but I am confident that the show we give on Monday will be musically exquisite and poignant for our place in American history.

And finally, if there is one thing about choir tours, it is generally accepted as a universal truth that the best moments are shared not on the stage but rather on the bus. The boredom of the road, that Limbo in which you dwell as your travel from one place to another, is the nurturing place for so many unexplainable dialogues, monologues, and one-liners. For those of you who have been on tour, then you know the feeling. For the rest of you, if I say either, “This is my pew, and you can’t have it” or “I’m Jesus, and I have machine guns. Pyu. Pyu. Pyu,” then you as my reader will shake your head. If you were a member of the Rhodes Singers, then you would understand. Oh, and my name is now Jaws. Don’t bother in asking; it’s pointless. Rar. Rar. Rar. Rar. Rar.

Performance tomorrow at the National Cathedral, 3:30 PM, free and open to the public. Come on and hear some good music!

Pyu, pyu, pyu, and until next time,

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