Spirit of America connects with Rochester
September 16, 2008
By Tom Mani
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (Army News Service, Sept. 16, 2008) -- The Army sent its top ceremonial talent to Rochester, N.Y., last weekend for a two-and-a-half-hour show spotlighting the traditions of military service and duty.
Spirit of America opened before an arena of school children Friday morning and went on with three additional performances, hitting an attendance mark of 30,809 for the four shows.
You don't really know who you are playing for until the music stops, the lights go down and the audience moves to the lobby, one performer said. That's when they step forward, he added, singly and in groups, families, veterans and wives.
Those who thrilled to the drum line of the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, the behind-the-back catches of the Army Drill Team, and the lush melodies of the Army Band's orchestra, were people, not attendance statistics.
The parents of Lt. Col. Roy Douglas, who serves at the Pentagon, were there: Dr. Sibert and Ruth Douglas. "Nobody can come to an event like this and go away feeling negative," Ruth said.
A brand-new teenager came with his brother and sister, uncle, cousins, mom and dad, and grandparents, eager to see more of the show after an exciting first act. "I expected to be bored," grandfather allowed. "I'm not."
Owen Shanley, an Army veteran for 1976 to 1981, came from Newark, N.Y., in part for the Old Guard Drill Team as he plays locally with the Towpath Fife and Drum Corps. "It's a thrill, excellent, really inspirational."
The show played also for Capt. Al Urban, a logistician with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, attending Friday evening with friends and family. "Citizen-Soldier," the Thee Doors Down anthem to the Guard and Reserve, got a powerful outing by Staff Sgt. Miles Simmons of Downrange at the end of the first act. Urban deploys this week on his fourth deployment, his third to Iraq.
Anyone in a uniform was fair game after the show for children with programs seeking autographs. People wanted to meet, to say thank you. "The Soldiers who haven't done this before don't really know what the show means until they meet the people afterwards," Ron McLendon, MDW marketing manager noted.
One who has been part of the show before, Staff Sgt. Jason Seifert, said thank you to Rochester during each performance.
Growing up in Farmington and attending high school in Victor, N.Y., he joined the Army and was serving at his first duty station with the Old Guard when the terrorists hit on 9/11. He was detailed to the Pentagon to assist with recovery operations. Last year he competed against all other noncommissioned officers in the Army through a series of competitions to be named the Army's NCO of the Year.
He took an MC's role for the show, introducing it at the beginning and underlining its message at the end, telling the audience that after seven years of war, the Army has a quarter-million dedicated men and women deployed to help others and protect the American way of life. It has been a test, with Soldiers emerging stronger "and with a deeper commitment to our core values and beliefs."
While all Soldiers are volunteers, he said, "we do not serve alone. Army families serve our nation too," sacrificing each day "when duty separates them from those whom they love."
Yet, "Our Soldiers and their families draw strength and support from communities like Rochester and for that we are grateful."
Seifert's words, scripted by show writers Mark Murray and David Morgenstern, are the more affecting set off by vocal performances by Staff Sgt. Martha Krabill and Sgt. 1st Class Fred Lamb, two of the vocal artists of Army Band Downrange. Krabill's "You Are the Wind Beneath My Wings" and Lamb's "You Raise Me Up," are a cry that the Army cannot stand apart from the communities that that nurture it and that the commitment and understanding of loved ones must be cherished.
"We are a link in the strong chain of America that binds us to the heroes of the past," Seifert says. "We honor that past, and all the warriors who have marched into history so that we may live in freedom."
Rochester Mayor Bob Duffy met MDW's commanding general, Maj. Gen. Richard J. Rowe Jr., before the first show to deliver a proclamation that Sept. 12 be "Spirit of America Day" in Rochester.
The event took place at the Community War Memorial, in the arena hall. On bronze plaques mounted on the walls, names of Rochester citizens were inscribed, the fallen in the wars of the 20th Century.
A globe fountain for World War II demands, "Never Forget."
Spirit of America is a show that grew up in Washington, D.C., with entertainments given at Fort Myer by the 3rd Cavalry Regiment before World War II. Col. George Patton promoted the shows in the North Post Gymnasium, later named Ceremonial Hall, and now named Conmy Hall.
It had a home at the Capital Centre in Landover, Md., for many years, being performed there for the first time in 1975 to mark the Army Birthday.
It began going on the road on a regular basis in 2002, the production having been cancelled in 2001 to focus on the Pentagon recovery effort. It continued to be performed in Washington and East Coast cities through 2005, but after budget constraints aborted the 2006 show, it has not been staged in Washington, D.C., since, there being other opportunities to witness performances of the Army Band and the Old Guard in the capital.
This year the show made its second appearance in Rochester and will be making its second appearance in Worcester, Mass., this coming weekend.
Mark Murray, the show's executive producer as well as its writer, has been behind each of the shows since 1975.
The government contracting process awarded the production contract to a new production company this year, collapsing the calendar somewhat on show preparation. "It always works out," Murray said with the first performance concluded. "The Soldiers always rise to the occasion."
Local media proclaimed the show a success. The Soldiers "got treatment typically reserved for rock stars," Erica Bryant wrote in front-page coverage of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.
(Tom Mani serves with MDW Public Affairs.)