Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Hymns for the Fallen

A few weeks ago I pitched the culture editor at my new employer, The Washington Times, about doing a story on the National Memorial Day Choral Festival, in which I had the rare opportunity to sing this past Sunday thanks to my friend and fellow USC Men's Chorus alum, Dan, who works for MCI out of Phoenix.  It was a very fine concert, and an even finer way for someone like myself--who never served in the armed forces--to honor all of those living and deceased who have.

The Times culture editor accepted the pitch and allotted me 500 words.  The situation was complicated by the fact that I was in the midst of moving from Illinois to DC at the time, so almost all of my interviewing had to be done from roadside Starbucks's and in my parents' home in New Jersey while picking up some final effects to bring to my new home in the District.  But I'm a writer and an intrepid reporter, and despite such hassles I made my deadline and turned in my 500-word opus ahead of zero hour.

Alas...Memorial Day came and went, and despite my "gently" prodding the culture editor at the office all this past week, the piece did not run.  (This I've confirmed via constant searching in the story queue, endless Googling and the lack of a "hey, please send me your invoice" email.)  Before it becomes even less timely, I am self-publishing (to be read: this story has by now lost any chance of a real publication) my writeup, along with photos of myself with the story subjects taken this past weekend at Kennedy.  It was an absolute honor to work with these gentlemen, all of them distinguished veterans of the armed forces and lifelong musicians and educators, on such a special event.

This is just a small sample of what I can do...of what I will do in my capacity with the Times.

Intrepid reporters never say die; rather they learn to no longer taste the bitterness of disappointment--typically masking it with alcohol.


Hymns for the Fallen
WWII veterans to lead Memorial Day concert at Kennedy Center

By Eric Althoff

Weston Noble has a unique claim to infamy.  In 1945 he entered Adolph Hitler’s underground bunker, sat behind the Fuhrer’s desk and…proceeded to put his feet up. 

“I wanted to ‘play the role a little bit,’” Noble, 91, laughs.  “[The bunker] wasn’t even locked.”   

Berlin had fallen to the Russians only a month prior; Noble’s tank battalion was the first American unit to enter the Third Reich’s heart. After his moment of Fuhrer playacting, Noble ran back to his jeep, grabbed a wrench and proceeded to break off a corner of Hitler’s marble desk as a memento to send home. 

Alas, the desk piece never made it stateside, nor, sadly, did millions of young men.  This Memorial Day weekend, those lost will be honored at a special tribute concert at the National Memorial Day Choral Festival at Kennedy Center.  Noble, a lifelong musician and 59-year educator at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, will serve as one of several esteemed guest conductors.

Dr. Craig Jessop, himself a retired Air Force officer and former director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, will serve as the concert’s artistic director for the fourth time. 

“I have a very close affinity and appreciation for our veterans, those still living and those who are no longer here,” Jessop said.  “I think it’s a very appropriate way to honor the men and women who have given their lives for this country.  For me this is a very personal and very satisfying way to serve and give back to those who have given so much.”

Jessop, the founding dean of the Caine College of the Arts at Utah State University, will conduct the Air Force Symphony Orchestra and a “festival choir” composed of various individual choruses from around the country. 

In addition to Noble, Jessop will be joined at the conductor’s podium by Col. Larry H. Lang, commander and conductor of the Air Force Band, and Col. Arnald D. Gabriel, who conducted the U.S. Air Force Band, Symphony Orchestra and Singing Sergeants from 1964 to 1985.  Gabriel will lead the ensembles in “Hymn tothe Fallen” from Saving Private Ryan and the march from the D-Day film TheLongest Day.  The latter holds a special place for Gabriel, who landed on the beach at Normandy 70 years ago next month.  He will fly to France to commemorate the anniversary, which includes a concert in Paris and a ceremony at the cemetery on the beach, where Gabriel will conduct the same pieces from the Kennedy Center event.

Asked if it seems like seven decades since that fateful day, Gabriel chuckles good-naturedly and says, “God no!  I’m 89 this month and still going strong.” 

In addition to flying to France, the Alexandria resident’s busy early summer includes leading the Virginia Grand Military Band at Arlington’s Schlesinger Hall on May 24.  That ensemble comprises both active duty and retired personnel.

Of such a busy schedule, Gabriel responded, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Myself with Weston Noble, 91, May 24, 2014.

With Dr. Craig Jessop. May 24, 2014.

With Col. Arnald D. Gabriel, 89, backstage at Kennedy Center, May 25, 2014.

With Dan Schwartz, college chum from the USC Men's Chorus and MCI's tourmeister.

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