There I was, just lucky to be along for the ride, thinking I might get to live vicariously through some choir members who would be up above the stage. Suddenly, all of us were up there together. I was seated in the gap on the bleachers between our choir, PS22 Elementary School Choir and the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.
I don’t ever expect an event of this magnitude to occur again for me, and I mean that in the sense of how many people, not just famous, but leaders of the free world, were right smack in front of us, 50 feet away. It seemed like maybe it was some elaborate IMAX screen.
The Carters, the Clintons, the Obamas, Supreme Court justices, John Kerry, John McCain, the list goes on. Both of our U.S. senators for Tennessee were there. Sen. Lamar Alexander of course had a role to play in the program, so he got an extra burst of applause from our group. These people were introduced as they entered the area and took seats arrayed behind the podium.
John Mayer and Katy Perry (my daughter tells me they are important) popped up to the bleachers to say hello to the PS22 Choir. Beyoncé, Kelly Clarkson and James Taylor were other musical guests on the program.
The anticipation among the choir, leading up to this performance, was undeniable.
“I’m not nervous, just excited,” said Jared Petty, sophomore youth ministry major from St. Louis. Jared is a tenor and stood in the center of the back row. “I’m like a little kid in a candy shop.”
I ran into Elizabeth Sheeks the other day before sound check. She is a freshman from Cleveland who I missed in my first journal list of Cleveland kids. She graduated from Cleveland High last year and is now majoring in PR. Elizabeth sang alto in the middle of the second row.
“I am just really excited,” Liz said. “I don’t feel like it’s going to hit me though for real until we get up there and see all those people.”
And that’s what happened. It was a more unbelievable moment than I had expected. And I got to be alongside them as they experienced it. I’m no musical expert, but it was a success in my estimation. By that I mean they nailed it. It was gorgeous.
The choir’s sound and spirit captured attention and favor from new places (CSPAN, ABC News, for instance). But much of this was feedback we were scooping up on phones and computers in the bus from email, text, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. After all, as soon as Beyoncé sang “…home of the brave” at the end of our nation’s anthem, everybody started filing out, and we headed out to beat the parade street closings and get back home.
So now we’re heading back in the 5-bus caravan while I’m writing this. People are tired. They all got up early. But the easy smiles, joyful camaraderie and sporadic napping on the bus speak of a job well done and the relief of being homeward bound.
I asked some of the folks in Yellow Bus Three what they took away. Rachelle Allen of Cincinnati said she felt a pride in being an American taking part in such history made today.
Jared Petty said, “There was a feeling of unity today, and it made me proud to be an American.”
Zachary Majors, a senior from Dalton, Ga., took away “the fact that we got to minister to 600,000 people at one time, with hopeful words about our faith in God.”
This sentiment kept repeating itself, one of faith and of patriotism.
Junior accounting major Ryan Glass, from St. Louis, said, “We always talk about being something that’s bigger than ourselves, and seeing something like this is even bigger than I could imagine … it was incredible.”
Austin Barnwell, a first-year graduate student in marriage and family therapy, is from Asheville, N.C. He called it “such an honor in the first place, to be a part of the inauguration and to share the message of Christ through music to a group of people we wouldn’t normally get to be around.”
Regardless of what the students carried away, it was infused with an awestruck wonder over just how momentous it all feels.
Kassandra Beaudoin, a senior music education major from Maine said it like this: “I don’t think we know the full impact that we’ve had today.”
And I agree. It feels too fast to have a pat answer as to what it all means. It’s still working its way out. I hope the ripples from this event will continue to be felt for a long time.
One thing is certain, it has been great hearing all of the feedback from alumni and friends around the country who caught a bit of the singing today or otherwise heard the news and are expressing how great it was.
Before the big day, I had asked Sheeks if she had anything to say to the folks back home.
“We’re here to make you proud,” she said.
On behalf of Cleveland, Lee, families and friends of choir members, I can easily say to all the members of the Lee University Festival Choir, you have. We are proud as can be. Thank you so much for representing us so well today.