Memorial Day

This was my Facebook status for a short time: “Memorial Day is a day we reflect on the sacrifices American men and women have made to secure the freedoms we all enjoy. It is also a day to have our pictures taken with superstars.”

And superstars there were at the national Memorial Day concert given by the National Symphony on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol.  Among the performers were Laurence Fishburne, Gary Sinise, Lang Lang, Trace Adkins, and Katie Holmes.

The actual performing demands for the Chorus were pretty minimal, and frankly, once we arrived on site there wasn’t that much for me to do.  Erich Kunzel was conducting the orchestra so I just made sure the military folks were treated well.  Apparently, they hadn’t in years past.

On the day of the dress rehearsal, some of our guys had the opportunity to speak with Trace Adkins after his sound check.  Yikes, this is a BIG guy.  And what a voice!


And onto more stars…how about Laurence Fishburne…


…and Katharine McPhee…


…and Gary Sinise…


But here’s the big one…where you find Katie Holmes you’re sure to find Tom Cruise!


Both of them were very kind to stop for photographs after the show…



A brief observation on movie stars, having not spent much time around them: these people know how to pose for a picture.  It seems like not much of a talent or skill, but point a camera in their direction and ask for a photo and they’re instantly poised to be on the cover of People.  That was actually a fascinating thing to watch.

Dr. Tim Sharp visits

A few weeks ago I attended my first American Choral Directors Association convention in Oklahoma City.  It was a terrific experience allowing me, the accidental chorus conductor the opportunity to network and learn from those in the choral music world.

As I ventured from workshops to concerts, I kept thinking to myself the Army Chorus should be here.  The Air Force Singing Sergeants and the Navy Sea Chanters were there in the exhibit hall with booths, and we had a handful of guys from our organization, but there were no performances by military vocalists.

Perhaps because I had no scruples, I went to the ACDA website and fearlessly fired off an email to the Executive Director, Dr. Tim Sharp (going straight to the top–shameless!).  The jist of the message: we’d love to be a part of a future ACDA event.

FIVE MINUTES LATER comes the response: he’s coming into DC anyway and would love to see a performance.  Well, rats, we didn’t have one during his visit, so I offered a rehearsal as a consolation prize, and he agreed!

The bottom line is that he did come visit, but the bummer was that I couldn’t meet him.  My new daughter Allie was born and I was suddenly not so interested in anything but her (I hope no one would fault me for that).  But I was delighted to see that Dr. Sharp not only came to see the Army Chorus, but he also brought his family along for some sightseeing, and even did some conducting of the group!

So thank you Dr. Sharp for visiting us in Washington, and I sincerely hope that I will get to meet you in the future!

Chain of Command

The official picture from my first trip to the White House:


A couple of nights after this picture was taken, we went to sing at the Chairman of the Joint Chief’s quarters for a holiday party.  Here’s me and the Chorus with Admiral Mullen and his wife:


And although I don’t have a picture of it, a few nights after that we performed for General Casey, the Army Chief of Staff.  So I basically began at the top of the chain of command and worked my way down.  Since then, there have been two more White House jobs but we’re still waiting for those pictures.  I’ll post them when I get them.

This morning was our dress rehearsal for the Inaugural Parade.  As I type, I’m still thawing a bit, but I’m coming along.  I shouldn’t complain, because the weather could be A LOT worse.  Early reports expect the actual day of the event will likely be comparable to today’s weather.  Even if it’s really cold, it is going to be an AMAZING event to be a part of.  The Army Band supports the 3d U.S. Infantry Division (The Old Guard) which is the official escort for the President, so we render honors at the Capitol, then lead the official party to the reviewing stand at the White House.  This morning there were a few onlookers who saw the rehearsal, but I can imaging what those streets are going to look like lined with thousands of people.  I am thrilled to participate in this incredible historic event!

Great pictures

I have a couple of neat pictures to post here tonight.  The first one is THE BEST picture of me conducting, ever.  How great is it that it’s from the Army Band’s concert in Avery Fisher Hall?


The other picture was taken tonight while we were waiting to perform for the President in the White House.  It was my first time visiting; I’ve never even taken the regular tour!  President Bush stood with us for a picture after our performance which I’ll post when I get it.  In the meantime, here’s a shot of me and a couple of the guys in the East Room taken with an iPhone.  That’s SGM Andy Patterson, first tenor and Chorus group leader on the left, and MSG Al Maly, bass section leader on the right.


Just another day at the office!

The Big Apple

It has been a big weekend.  Hardly anyone I talked to could believe it, but it was the truth: I had never before been to New York City.  I hear that if I can make it there, I can make it anywhere.

And what a heckuva way to see New York for the first time…conducting performances in Trinity Church, Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, and at the Liederkranz!  All of them went very well, of course.

Hopefully, I’ll have more pictures of those performances to post later, but as of this writing all I have is this photo from the Liederkranz.  Our brush with fame for the evening: Charles Osgood was in attendance (and I would be remiss in not mentioning our special guest singer for that performance, feature soloist from the United States Marine Band, SSgt Sara Dell’Omo).


Since this was my first trip to New York, I did as many touristy things as I could manage in my off-time.  First things first–I walked south toward Times Square, since it was only a few blocks away:


But taking a glance down a side street, I saw Radio City Music Hall, so Times Square was no longer interesting to me.  I’m fickle like that.


But the next morning was really fun; I decided to go see The Today Show live.


Who is that riding in on the big flatbed truck with the Rockefeller Christmas tree?  Why it’s none other than Al Roker!


Ooh, Al, can you hold still so I can focus for a picture?




Oh, well.  Anyway, after the Concert at Trininy, I walked over to see Ground Zero and then south to see the Statue of Liberty.  And here she is, in all her glory and splendor…


Well, you could see all the splendor if it weren’t so hazy.  And if she’d turn around.  This is interesting–if you turn around from this position, you’ll see this:


I don’t know exactly what this abstract piece is supposed to be, but I find it…stimulating.

Here’s a poster I saw.  This is what we conductors look like on the inside.


Feel free to comment with your proposed captions to this picture (Here’s mine: “The Maestro wished the brass had played with a little less volume.”)

More to follow…

Aspen Music Festival

The Army Chorus and I performed at the Aspen Music Festival this past weekend.  Yes, even I sang.  I travelled there on your (the American taxpayer’s) dollar, so I thought it appropriate that I do something other than walk around feeling self-important.  Plus, it was an opportunity to put myself back into a singing ensemble to see first hand what I would want from a conductor.  It’s good to get back on the other side of the podium (baton?).

Let me take a moment to welcome those of you who are reading this only because “Army Chorus” set off your Google alert.  Hello!  By the way, the Chorus is the most manly, masculine musical force ever to walk the face of the Earth.  So there.

The Chorus was on hand to supplement the Colorado Symphony Chorus in Schoenberg’s Gurre-lieder, his beyond-massive magnum opus for three men’s choruses, gigantic mixed chorus, and a ludicrously-sized orchestra.

The score calls for seven, count ’em, seven harps.  Because six simply wasn’t enough, I guess.  (There’s only six in this picture, but the seventh would come later.)  You can also see a few of the ten required horns, some of which doubled on Wagner tubas.

And here’s the huge bassoon section, complete with two contras.

All in all, it was a 160-piece orchestra squished into the music tent.  The venue itself was quite beautiful.

And here’s a shot of the choruses in rehearsal with Duain Wolfe, conductor of the Chicago Symphony Chorus.  He came and worked with the Army Chorus a few weeks ago to prep us for this performance.  He is quite brilliant.

He sneaked in behind me the evening of the performance and it turned out to be a pretty nice shot.

Overall, it was a tremendous experience.  I don’t know exactly how much I contributed vocally (hopefully, not too much), but it was a rare treat to sing with such a huge ensemble…on a piece that is rarely performed…under the baton of David Zinman…at scenic Aspen, Colorado.

This is an interesting job

Music and the military sounds like a bizarre marriage, and it is.  It often surprises me, however, that when it’s done well, music serves the military.  It keeps soldiers in step, makes them march a little taller, makes them feel good and proud about what they do, and picks them up when they’re feeling down.  Music is usually a centerpiece when the Army (or any branch of the military) celebrates long-standing traditions in ceremonies.  A military parade or review without music just isn’t the same, and most high-ranking people recognize this fact.  They might not necessarily be great listeners, but they see how music effects the people they command and recognize music’s power to build bridges across cultures, to soothe, and to excite.

But even after 8-1/2 years in the Army, I still have to laugh sometimes at what I do.  It takes a different kind of artistically-minded musician to accept the grind of military life.  For example: This morning I go for a run around Washington as I do nearly every week.  I’m out for about an hour and cover probably six miles.  Running by Arlington National Cemetery always makes me run just a little faster than I would somewhere else.  I figure those thousands of servicemen and women buried there gave everything for their country; maybe I can give a little more running near them.  I cool down in the shadows of the Iwo Jima memorial, and I look at those Marines hoisting the American flag as I stretch.  Then after a shower, what do I do?  I sit down to study Shoenberg.

Well, of course!  Because the Gurrelieder has everything to do with winning the War On Terror!  This makes perfect sense!

This ranks up there with a command inventory at the 82d Airborne Division Band, where nylon straps in O.D. green designed to hold combat packs at the knees of a fully loaded paratrooper are counted in the same breath as sousaphones and clarinet reeds.

Also funny how military terminology invades (see, there’s another one) the musical vernacular.  Sometimes if the ensemble doesn’t stop immediately after I cut them in rehearsal I will show the hand signal and call out “cease fire” as if we’re at the rifle range.  No one thinks twice about this.  Using the right kind of language is important because we have to be able to articulate what we do to people for whom the military is the only life they know.  So when speaking outside of the band building, we don’t rehearse, we train.  We don’t work with people, we coordinate with them.  And we definitely don’t perform concerts, we conduct band operations. 

It’s a strange clash of cultures, but it’s also a lot of fun.

Sunset with a Soundtrack

I have just a few photos from the concert with The US Army Band on the steps of the Capitol–my debut with the band!  It was a busy day: spent the morning and early afternoon listening to auditions for a new bass for the chorus.  There were several excellent candidates, but we ended up hiring one from the Soldiers’ Chorus of the Army Field Band.  When I got home mid-afternoon, we had a little barbeque at our house.  Lots of family and friends came out to support me and enjoy an evening of great music.

Here I am:

This is me with my old college band director and overall swell guy, Dave McKee!  Thanks, Dave (and wife Charlotte) for coming up to DC for this special day!


The Supremes

Okay, this post is way late and I’m going to backdate it, if WordPress will let me.  It’s my blog and I can do what I want.  No one’s reading anyway.

How surreal is it that only the second performance with a new ensemble is in front of the members of the highest court of the land, and that you’ve programmed your own music for it?  People will think I’m a raging egomaniac.  I’m really not, but why not be proud of what you do?

We sang my new arrangement of ‘America the Beautiful’ among other things at a dinner in the great hall of the Supreme Court building.  This in celebration of the end of the court session.  Wish I had pictures but didn’t have the opportunity.  Or a camera for that matter.

No worries, there are pictures of me conducting the band on the steps of the capital!  Those come soon!

Army Chorus on CNN

Here’s a great little video CNN did on us and our diplomatic mission. Hopefully this link will be good for a little while. Too bad I’m so new to the group that I had no part in the story, but I will have plenty of opportunities to do neat things in the future.

Here is the link!