I realize that you may be reading this immediately after the actual inauguration, but let me transport you back a bit to Sunday afternoon; sound check day at the Capitol.
Today was the great awakening, when reality came barreling in and woke everyone up a bit. This is for real, people. The singers had their time to roam around D.C. and get a feel for the place, sense the buzz as Monday approaches, but not just for them, for the whole city.
Traversing D.C. on this weekend, one realizes just how much of this city’s and this nation’s energies and attention are gathering for this moment. Street vendors with Obama gear, law enforcement by the dozen, the massive efforts at cordoning off the capitol area — the whole town is buzzing. In the Dirksen Building behind the Capitol, offices of various senators were in action, making final arrangements to get constituents in for the event.
Each of us did a full security check to get into the Senate building where we were taken by staffers to a holding room. There the choir warmed up and waited to be led to the stage. An imposing capitol police officer instructed us to watch for “lone wolves,” people who try to ease into the group and go into a more secure area. He called us a “secure package,” meaning we had been scanned and wanded and, as a unit, we were safe to let onto the Upper West Terrace. I briefly considered asking if we had a codename, like Flamethrower, or Peacoat Patrol. I then considered potential results of this question and what I might say. No sir, I’m not funny, just happy to be here. We’ll never know what our codename was.
We were then escorted in a long line across to the shoulder of the Capitol exterior, where we passed the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir leaving from their sound check. A cheer erupted from the groups in a kind of mutual congratulatory huzzah. Two lone wolves (is that an oxymoron?) slipped into our line, crafty sightseers I guess. They were swiftly identified and whisked away by our security escorts. This was suddenly getting real.
Coming around the corner, climbing onto the bleachers behind the platform, we saw the view unfold. Spectacular doesn’t describe it. And to think that all that space, from the Capitol to the Washington Monument, would be filled with people Monday was a little too much to digest — 800,000 is the latest figure I have heard. The P.A. systems were all on, so the sound check could be heard all the way down the mall.
Let me break that down quickly. Based on a few minutes of Google maps measuring, I calculate the distance from the bleachers to the Washington Monument to be just over 7,000 feet, almost a mile and a half. So imagine filling that with people and then singing to them. I can’t.
The choir’s seats look down upon the terrace where the podium stands. Stand-ins for the President and his family were moving around down there, sorting out where to go, where to stand, conferring with producers on camera angles. They were close enough for us to read the signs around their necks indicating what role they were playing: “Mrs. Obama, President Obama.”
The choir sang beautifully in sound check. They sang portions of each song, and determined exactly where to stand while the sound techs worked their arcane magic. We are told this is the best sound in the world. Texts from friends on the mall reported to us that it sounded wonderful.
Sen. Lamar Alexander stopped by to congratulate the choir and to wish them well. We owe him gratitude for this singular opportunity. Dr. and Mrs. Paul Conn were there to thank him, give him a gift and express what a wonderful moment this is.
The choir is primed and ready. I’ve been running into little groups of them over the last two days in various places, and love to think of what a wonderful memory is happening right here, right now.