Airman 1st Class Matthew Acheson, U.S. Air Force Honor Guard ceremonial guardsman, places flags at Arlington National Cemetery headstones May 27 in honor of America's fallen heroes. The flags-in ceremony was held in conjunction with the Memorial Day weekend. (U.S. Air Force photo by Thomas Dennis)
by Master Sgt. Janice E. Carl
The U.S. Air Force Band
6/1/2012 - Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, D.C. -- Memorial Day, one of the most meaningful holidays of our country, has come and gone, but the gratitude I feel for the brave men and women this day commemorates remains in my heart. The National Memorial Day Concert at the U.S. Capitol does a fine job in keeping their memories alive, and as a sixteen-year veteran of the United States Air Force Singing Sergeants, I've participated in this commemoration event many times. I thought it might be a great idea to share with our readers what goes into putting a show like this together, from a participant's standpoint.
Everything started on Friday morning. We filed into a large rehearsal room at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, where members of the Army Soldiers and Mens Choruses, the Navy Sea Chanters and the Air Force Singing Sergeants joined forces for a piano rehearsal. The rehearsal was led by the esteemed pops conductor, Jack Everly, with Hollywood arranger, Jim Kessler, sitting nearby. We sang through each piece, ensuring that all the vocal parts were in fine shape. That was followed by a break, where many of us slipped out to a café next door for a quick cup of coffee, enjoying the chance to reconnect with our colleagues from our sister services.
When break was over, it was off to the Concert Hall in the Kennedy Center to join the National Symphony Orchestra in a combined rehearsal. The guest stars hadn't arrived yet, so we just went over our parts. A cool opportunity was afforded one of our friends in the Navy. Musician 1st Class Mike Webb got up on stage and covered the lead parts on two songs by country artist, Trace Adkins. We all thought he did a great job, and he was visibly thrilled for the opportunity to sing this solo with the NSO.
Friday night, it was off to the big set on the U.S. Capitol lawn. "Backstage" there was an array of holding tents, trailers and trucks where the talent would live for the next couple of days. We ran through all the music from this morning, this time in order to allow the sound production folks to set the microphone levels. We also met with the staging director, and he placed us at the front of the stage set for a couple of the songs.
On Saturday evening, the guest stars arrived for the dress rehearsal. As usual, Joe Mantegna and Gary Sinise hosted the event. Jessica Sanchez, the runner-up on the 2012 American Idol television program, sang a stirring rendition of the National Anthem. Other musical acts, Natalie Cole, Trace Adkins, Russell Watson and the band Daughtry rounded out the program. Actors Ellen Burstyn and Selma Blair recounted the stories of some of our nation's military heroes. Finally, the combined chorus presented a rousing salute to the Armed Forces, as well.
Sunday evening, the night of the broadcast, was a rather hot night, but the sky was clear and blue. The show got off to a start at 8 p.m. As it went along, we in the chorus were able to hear as Selma Blair recounted the story of one of the widows in the audience. Tears filled my eyes, as I saw the widow whose story was being retold sitting in the front row, her daughter next to her, visibly moved. It brought home in a forceful way that there is so much sacrifice, from both the military members and their families, in the defense of freedom and our nation. Here was just one living and breathing example.
Unlike any other year that I've been part of this event, the preciousness of human life was put front and center, as very shortly into the show, the U.S. Park Police issued a call for all to evacuate the premises, as an ominous storm was approaching the city. We all evacuated, the performers to the nearby U.S. Botanical Garden, where we stayed until we hoped we could resume production. That was not to be, and eventually we were released.
It did seem like such a shame, for this large production to be cut short. But I reflected, as I watched all the thousands of people stream out to the metro, or their car or their homes, that, as high as the cost of this cancellation was, it paled in comparison to the price paid by one single serviceman or woman. Memorial Day, the day we remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. They gave their lives. They gave their all. As the words of Laurence Binyon's poem "For the Fallen" says so poignantly, "They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them."
May we never forget.
6/27/2012 8:50:05 PM ET This story is a nice picture of the workings of the program and Janice did a fine job The show is always good but to have here commentary adds depth. Thank you to her and all involved.