Archive for January, 2017

I Sang!

Let’s get right to the elephant in the room: I sang at the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States of America, and there are people who want to murder me and my fellow Choir members because of it. In a somewhat less extreme response, there are also people who have vowed to never listen to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir ever again—even going so far as to say that when they listen to or watch General Conference, they will mute the sound when the Choir sings. Seriously? You’re going to listen to the prophet who told us to go, but not to us? Good luck explaining that one.

Now to put this all into perspective, during the Music and the Spoken Word broadcast this morning, I sat next to a friend of mine, and my friend’s mother had passed away earlier this week. Needless to say (but I’m gonna say it anyway), this was an emotional broadcast for him (and to a far lesser degree, for me as well). But he was there, singing Be Still, My Soul. And my friend was also there with me in Washington, D.C., just days after losing his mother, singing America the Beautiful. Why? It’s very simple—because that is what he was asked to do.

You see, when the Choir president says to go and sing, you go and sing. And just for the record, the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints approved the trip. That’s right, the prophet of the Lord said to go and sing. For me, there was no debate, no wringing of hands, no drama. God asked me to go, and I joyfully, enthusiastically answered the call.

Now, singing at the inauguration was voluntary. That’s right, nobody was forced to go. And there are many people, myself included, who have very strong feelings about this past election, the candidates, etc. I didn’t vote for President Trump (and I didn’t vote for Secretary Clinton either). I voted for someone else. But I was one of the first to sign up to go. Why? Because God asked me to. Because I love my country. Because I revere the principles of the Constitution and the peaceful transition of power. And because, I love singing in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

However, the Inaugural Committee asked us to limit the number of Choir members to 215, so a lot of folks who signed up to go did not get to participate. Selection was random. (They literally pulled our numbers out of a hat.) I was very grateful when I was informed that my number had been selected.

Many of those who went (myself included) had to take two days off work (i.e., “vacation”) to go. Many of us (myself included) went in spite of health issues. Many of us (like my friend) went in spite of family crises. It was a great privilege to go, but it was also a sacrifice.

We didn’t sing, Hail to the Chief. We didn’t praise a man. We sang, America the Beautiful. We sang to America. We sang in praise of the American Dream. We sang, “America! America! God shed His grace on thee.” We sang, “America! America! God mend thine every flaw.” The American Dream is not the American reality. We are a flawed nation and a flawed people. But the dream, the ideal, is what we are fighting (and singing) for. And we must never cease fighting (and singing) for it.

Okay, the elephant in the room has been acknowledged. (More like it’s been beaten half to death. Poor elephant.)

As I alluded to above, threats to the Choir were serious and credible. My poor wife was so worried, she asked me to find all the life insurance documents. (Not kidding.) So we were all asked to say nothing about where, when, or how… or even what we were going to sing. In fact, we were told virtually nothing. We were told what to pack and when to show up at the airport. We didn’t know where we were going to stay. We were asked to turn off the GPS in our phones and not text or post anything to anyone. We weren’t even allowed to tell our spouses where we were.

However, now that the cloak of secrecy has been removed…

My carpool left for the airport at 3:00 AM on Thursday. We boarded a charter flight at 6:00 AM. I must say that Delta flight attendants are the absolute best! We were treated like first-class (regardless of where we sat). The food was excellent. The service was excellent. (And the movies were free!) I watched “Batman: The Killing Joke”. Not bad! Then I slept (because I hadn’t slept the night before).

Once we arrived and the airport, we boarded one of five buses and were whisked off to the Capitol. When I say, “whisked,” I mean to say that we left directly from the airport. I do not mean to imply that we traveled quickly. Due to traffic, protests, and threats, we took a somewhat roundabout route. When we arrived, we unloaded from the buses, lined up, and climbed the risers for rehearsal. We were allowed to take a few pictures during this time. And we also got to listen to Senator Chuck Schumer rehearse his speech SEVERAL times.

Then we rehearsed. We were accompanied by the President’s Own Marine Corps Band. We’ve performed with them before, and they are amazing! The big problem was that they were BELOW us. We couldn’t see them, and they couldn’t see us. It was a challenge to stay together. But we worked it out.

The weather was a little chilly, but I was very comfortable in just a long-sleeved shirt. (Yes, I wore pants too. That should be implied, for crying out loud. So get your mind out of the gutter before you make yourself sick.) Others wore jackets. And hats. And scarves. And gloves. (Come on, folks, it wasn’t that cold. As my 8th grade English teacher used to say, “On a day like today, the little school children in Siberia go out to play without their sweaters…”)

Then we boarded our buses and were “whisked” off to one the Marriott hotels in the area. We were served a delicious buffet dinner. As we ate, we learned about all the logistical miracles that had occurred to get us there less than 4 weeks after receiving the invitation. One of those miracles was finding hotel rooms for 225 people (215 Choir members, plus directors and staff) in a city where the hotel rooms have been booked for months. I can testify that many miracles were performed in our behalf. (Let the doubters and detractors chew on that.) 40 of us (including yours truly) had to stay at a different Marriott. So after dinner, the few, the proud, the weary were “whisked” off to our hotel.

After about 4 hours of sleep, I arose at 4:00 AM (after waking at 3:00 AM and not being able to get back to sleep). We boarded our bus at 5:15. Then it was breakfast at the other Marriott, announcements, and a bus ride through the dark to the Russell Senate Office Building (next to the Capitol). We dressed in our nifty white coats, and were processed through security. We had been told that we would not have access to bathrooms for 4 hours, so we needed to avoid drinking anything prior to going to the Capitol. Almost immediately after we were reminded to avoid consuming liquids, we were provided with juice and water.

And we waited and waffled between hydration and cautionary bathroom trips.

Then we marched over to the Capitol and took our places on the bleachers. (We were informed that it took a month to assemble said bleachers.) And we waited some more. I was very comfortable in my coat and scarf. Others wore jackets AND sweaters under the coat. I guess I’m just hot. (I didn’t mean it that way! Try not to barf on your keyboard.)

We had to stand for a very long time while everyone and their escorts (and their dogs) were introduced. That wasn’t fun, but the members of the President’s Own Marine Corp Band who played trumpets and drums, acting as heralds, stood at attention for hours. It made my knees ache (well, ache more) just to look at them.

I saw the great men and women of our government as they filed in and sat below us. I saw Bill and Hillary Clinton. (Well, I saw their hair, mostly, from up above.) I saw the justices of the Supreme Court. I saw the senators and congressmen and congresswomen. I saw President and First Lady Obama. And of course, I saw President and First Lady Trump. And the thing that impressed me the most was how small and ordinary they all looked. I mean, when it began to rain a little, the men and women of the House and Senate pulled out plastic rain ponchos and put them on. Just like ordinary folks. (I bet they even put their pants on one leg at a time just like me.)

They wield great power, but that power comes from us. They and we need to remember that, and we need to hold them accountable.

To tell the truth, the people who impressed me the most were the two apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ who were in attendance.

During the actual ceremony, we got to hear Senator Schumer’s talk once more. I was shocked when the crowd booed him. I realize that the crowd was mostly a Trump crowd and that this is America and we have the right to protest. I didn’t like parts of the senator’s speech, but it never occurred to me to jeer at him. To be perfectly honest, this was the low point of the trip for me. I actually liked parts of what he said and I was saddened to hear my fellow countrymen be, well, rude.

Then the Vice President took the oath of office. I was impressed with how similar this oath was to the oath which I took when I was commissioned as an officer in the United States Air Force.

Then we sang. I think we sang well. I was told by many people that we sang beautifully. I am humbled and grateful for that experience and opportunity. We sang in praise of the American Dream and we begged God to shed His grace on us, to mend us, to refine us, and crown us with brotherhood. I sang not for my glory. We sang not for our glory. We sang not for President Trump. We sang for the glory of God.

And then we listened to the new President as he addressed the nation and the world. I agreed with many parts of his speech, with the caveat that I sincerely hoped he meant what he said. There were parts I didn’t agree with. It never occurred to me to boo.

In the crowd, I observed about eight people who held up a banner saying, “RESIST.” Resist what? Constitutional government?

And as far as the size of the crowd, from where I sat, the crowd went all the way back to the Washington Monument.

We didn’t see the violent protests taking place elsewhere in the city. Protesters broke windows and looted businesses. Way to make a statement, folks. You hurt ordinary people.

However, I didn’t see any of that. I had a great experience, and while we sang, I felt the Spirit of God. I know that somewhere, someone watching their television wondered, “What is that? Why does this feel different?” We sang for them too.

After the ceremony, once the important people (who looked just like ordinary folks from my vantage point) were safely away, we were allowed to descend from the scaffolding and walk back to the Senate Office building. Shortly after that, we were “whisked” away to the airport. And once again, we were treated to the fantastic service of Delta flight attendants and pilots. I watched “Florence Foster Jenkins” on the way home. I highly recommend the movie. I arrived home shortly after 10:00 PM.

It was a quick and exhausting trip, and I’m so grateful I was able to take part in it. And I am very grateful to be home with my lovely Cindy and my mom and dad and my aunt.

America isn’t perfect. But the American Dream is worth fighting for. It’s also worth living for. It’s worth voting for. I wish our new president well. I will support him where I can and oppose him where I must, just like I did with the last president. I will pray for him and for our great, imperfect nation. I thank my Heavenly Father for the liberty He gives us. May we cherish that liberty and exercise it wisely. May we faithfully serve the God of this land, even Jesus Christ.

And may God bless America the beautiful.

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