By Mike Strasser, West Point Public AffairsOctober 31, 2011
WEST POINT, N.Y., Oct. 31, 2011 -- Lady Liberty came to America 125 years ago and millions followed in search of the freedom she came to represent. The West Point Band and Cadet Glee Club helped celebrate the anniversary of the Statue of Liberty dedication on Oct. 28, joining hundreds of invited guests in the festivities.
Lt. Col. Jim Keene, the band commander, had never been to Liberty Island before and seeing the Statue of Liberty up close was nothing short of awe-inspiring. He said it was an honor to be invited to produce the music that set the tone and scope for the day's ceremony.
"With just a few carefully selected American and French marches, we achieved our objective: to put not only the impressive engineering feat responsible for Lady Liberty's existence, but more importantly, the deeper meaning of what she stands for," Keene said. "Once the Cadet Glee Club sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," and the 21-member contingent from the West Point Band finished "My Country 'Tis of Thee" and the great French anthem "Les Marseillaise," I knew we had accomplished what we came to do."
West Point Class of 2012 Cadet Kelley Duke described it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
"Performing 'God Bless America' in uniform with the West Point Band in the shadow of such an iconic American symbol was really special," she said.
The Glee Club departed the academy early enough to enjoy the city sites prior to their performance. Though Duke was able to visit the Statue of Liberty her freshman year, it was a new experience for many of her fellow cadets.
"We arrived at Battery Park earlier than we had anticipated and since there are few places for buses to idle in the city, we ended up driving around for about 45 minutes and got to watch the sun rise over the city," Duke said. "We also had a lot of fun taking the ferry over to Liberty Island itself; many people had never been to the Statue of Liberty before, so getting to go on such a nice day was a treat."
Duke, a four-year member of the Glee Club, has enjoyed performing alongside her younger sister Adrienne, who joined the Class of 2015 in June.
"I have loved going to rehearsals together as well as performing side-by-side," Duke said about her younger sister. "We look a lot alike so people always want to know if we're twins, and if so, how one could be a firstie while one is a plebe."
Among the day's highlights, 125 recent immigrants from 46 countries swore the oath of American citizenship. Following the performances by the West Point Band and Cadet Glee Club, actress Sigourney Weaver recited the poem, "The New Colossus" written by Emma Lazarus.
Later, webcams perched on the statue's torch captured the countdown as its lights switched on and the celebration capped off with a fireworks display. Although the Statue of Liberty is currently closed to visitors during a yearlong improvement project, Liberty Island will remain open.
"It is a hardened person who does not feel something deep and stirring when seeing the statue," Keene said. "I would recommend that every American should make a point to visit her. In my case, visiting her has improved my outlook on the country's future. She never tires of holding the lamp of freedom and neither will I."
The Glee Club is preparing for their next big performance during the halftime show at the Army-Rutgers football game at Yankee Stadium Nov. 12. They will perform with the Rutgers Glee Club. The West Point Band will invite the community to a Veterans Day concert at Eisenhower Hall. Last year, they performed to an audience of more than 2,000 and expect the same, if not more, this time.
"We have produced an event that is exactly what the West Point Band can do beyond any other band in the Land: provide first-hand history through music that traces its ancestry straight down the line from colonial times," Keene said. "The concert will educate, train, and inspire; three tenets used by the superintendent to describe the mission of the United States Military Academy related to the training of cadets."
Keene said there is no greater purpose than to honor those who have served by telling their story through song.
"My favorite part of any Veterans Day performance is the playing of the service songs of each of the five services," Keene said. "Seeing those who stand during their service songs is always something I find to be inspirational. I have seen men rise from the confines of their wheelchairs to stand during their respective service song. I always remember what a WWII veteran asked me, 'Do you know why I come to these concerts? I come to feel and to remember. I come to laugh and cry and cheer, and to travel back in time and remember the best of me and how we are all united down deep. We forget, so we need to come to your concerts.'"