A Concert Stirs Her Feelings of Patriotism

By Sally Friedman
Burlington County Times

Maybe you just had to be there.

Maybe you had to see that American flag stretched across the width of the stage at the new Performing Arts Center at Cherokee High School in Evesham, and take in the spectacle of clean-cut young men and women in their dress Army uniforms seated proudly on that stage.

If you were in the audience, as we were, at the recent performance of the United States Army Field Band & Soldiers’ Chorus — if you heard the orchestral music and the songs in a concert arranged by the Medford Township Cultural Arts Commission and the Burlington County Times — the anxiety of these recent weeks would have been lightened for you, at least for one night.

My husband and I were not feeling terribly optimistic as we set out for that concert. Not with the constant litany of horrifying news about war and anthrax and scheming terrorists bent on destroying any equanimity we have left.

Frankly, we had even given thought to just staying home and "vegging out." But we had those concert tickets, and we surely were in need of a lift.

So we summoned up the energy to get out from under the woe. There were obviously others —several hundred of them — who also needed that lift. We filled that new space almost to overflowing, and I couldn’t help noticing that most of us were not on the sunny side of 50.

There were, in fact, many silver heads scattered around that audience, waiting to find out why everyone who’s ever heard this band play has begged for more.

But first, there was the incredible, uplifting experience of standing to sing the national anthem with the accompaniment of those musicians, most of them young, all of them earnest.

Somehow, the words of "The Star-Spangled Banner’’ seem so much more meaningful and moving now. And somehow, in that vast auditorium, there was a special reverence as we sang them. I’m sure most of us were thinking of Sept. 11, and of our enormous resolve to get past it.

Then it was time for music.

The kind that transports and delights and amazes. The kind that makes you want to tap your toes or hum along. Solos that took your breath away.

It was ambitious music, and it was sometimes familiar, sometimes not.

But the Army Band and Chorus saved the best for last.

After the music of Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copeland and Duke Ellington, along came the anthems of all the military branches of this country. And as they were played, veterans in the audience were asked to stand.

I looked around that auditorium at the men singing their hearts out for love of country and service to it.
And I didn’t much care that I was crying. Others were too.

By the time the band played that rousing Sousa march, "The Stars and Stripes Forever," we were all swept up in the pure pleasure and pride of being Americans in love with our country and our music.

Maybe you had to be there to feel so wonderful about this country and those who protect it.

Maybe you had to be there catch the spirit of that night when the music swelled, and so did spirits.
But this I can tell you: I’m mighty glad I was.

Sally Friedman is a free-lance writer. Her column appears twice a week in the Burlington County Times.

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