Boston Pops 125 Salutes American Heroes Part 2: Armed Forces, Arthur Fiedler, Arlo Guthrie, Brian Stokes Mitchell
With Class. With Tradition. With Honor.
During the first half of the Pops’ salute to American Heroes, we were presented with an already full program of music and remembrance.
We heard our National Anthem, John Williams’ Liberty Fanfare, Aaron Copland’s Excerpts from Appalachian Spring, and Patti Austin, and we saw the Pops’ newly-commissioned anniversary centerpiece, A Dream Lives On, narrated by Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris and Cherry Jones. All that just during the first half!
On Friday night during intermission, I saw that one of the 9/11 responders was seated behind me with his K-9. I’ve never talked to anyone who was a part of the World Trade Center rescue efforts, and I introduced myself and asked him a few questions.
Lee Prentiss is a Firefighter with the Ipswich Fire Department and Massachusetts Task Force – 1, K-9 Unit. Firefighter Prentiss received the call to service on 9/11 just after the first tower fell in New York. He assembled with his team in Beverly, Mass. and they made their way to New York City. Prentiss recalled that it was eerie as they drove down Rte. 128 during what would normally be a busy time, and as they passed the Burlington Mall, there wasn’t a single car in the parking lot, and no cars on the roads.
A 2003 Medal of Valor recipient, Prentiss and his K-9 Tara, a small black lab, worked for eight days in the World Trade Center rescue and recovery efforts. I asked him if it was difficult and he said that one of the most devastating feelings was knowing how many firefighter brethren were also lost. Tara is now 15 and one of the few surviving K-9s from 9/11. Firefighter Prentiss said that she was young when they were called to New York and that although her job was to find bodies, she provided a great deal of comfort to other firefighters during the long week of recovery. Celebrating American Heroes includes remembering our canine companions who stood by our sides in work and in compassion.
Leading off Wednesday night’s second half was the Middlesex County Volunteers Fifes & Drums. Making their way through the Symphony Hall audience, they performed Doodletown Fifers. That was lively, fun, and very traditional Massachusetts!
Following the Fifes & Drums came folk music icon Arlo Guthrie. Guthrie is a frequent guest artist with the BSO and Pops and is probably most well known for his political song Alice’s Restaurant. What I didn’t know was that his father, Woody Guthrie, actually penned This Land is Your Land, a song that we all sing and have known since elementary school.
Guthrie was pretty funny during his set. He told us how when he was a kid everyone was singing This Land is Your Land and he didn’t even know the words. He said he ran home to his dad in tears and then learned it like the rest of us! He also told a pretty funny joke about some dogs chasing rabbits, but it took him an awfully long time to get to the punch line (if you’ve heard Alice’s Restaurant, this doesn’t surprise you!). In the end it was funny, and then we all sang This Land is Your Land.
On Friday night, the Pops honored Arthur Fiedler, who did more for bringing classical music into our homes than any other musician in the 20th Century.
I remember my grandmother playing Fiedler and Pops records when I was a little girl in Arizona and the day I first saw the Arthur Fiedler footbridge in Boston I thought, wow, he must’ve really been something! We saw a rather humorous video montage of Fiedler over the years, set to music of course, and there were plenty of laughs and much appreciation for all that he did for the Pops, music and the classical world as we know it today. I wonder what he would be doing in this day of social networking…probably Tweeting!
To honor America’s service men and women, Keith Lockhart asked current and former members of our armed services to stand and be recognized as the Pops, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, and audience sang each of the Armed Services’ songs. One by one, members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard stood as we sang, clapped, and appreciated and thanked them for their service. It made me think that a Pops concert celebrating our service men and women would be a great concert! I can only imagine how rowdy that would be!
A classical work, Barber’s Adagio for Strings was also on the program both nights. It’s an absolutely gorgeous piece, but I didn’t understand its significance to this Pops concert, so I had to look it up! It’s not an unfamiliar piece, and it has great historical context. Adagio is often played during times of sadness. Here are a few historical references: It was played at Einstein’s funeral, it was broadcast over the radio after F. D. Roosevelt’s death and during the reporting of Kennedy’s assassination. It has been played to commemorate the victims of the 9/11 attacks, and most recently was performed in Parliament after the plane crash that took the lives of the Polish President and its many government officials. I now understand its significance to this Pops concert celebrating American Heroes.
After Adagio, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, sang The Battle Hymn of the Republic. That song has a lot of verses I don’t know and the Chorus is magnificent! We then joined in for a very traditional Boston Pops Patriotic Sing-Along. But the night wasn’t over just yet!
After the Sing-Along on Wednesday, artist Brian Stokes Mitchell performed Wheels of the Dream [Ragtime] and his trademark piece, The Impossible Dream. I had previously seen a recording of him singing The Impossible Dream with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and I cried; it was so beautiful! His voice is perfect for this song and it was amazing to see him perform this with the Boston Pops.
Stokes Mitchell sang The Impossible Dream at Senator Kennedy’s Memorial Service last year and on Wednesday he relayed a story about how he was sitting with Senator Kennedy one day and the Senator had Stokes Mitchell lean in and he told him that the man in the corner would be our first African American President…after about 15 years of service in the Senate; the Senator was half right! Stokes Mitchell singing The Impossible Dream was a perfect accompaniment to this Pops performance.
Friday night’s performance ended a little differently than Wednesday night’s. On Wednesday Maestro Lockhart led the Pops in a rousing performance of Stars and Stripes Forever. We waved flags and cheered and then had our wits scared out of us as confetti shot out from above our heads! It was a great celebratory ending to the Presidents at Pops evening!
On Friday, after the Patriotic Sing-Along, the Maestro pointed to the back of the hall and in marched the Navy Band performing to the whoops and hollers of the audience. After their entrance, the Navy Band’s conductor stepped up to the podium and led the Boston Pops AND the Navy Band in Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever! That was very un-traditional to see the Maestro standing to the side having someone else lead the orchestra. Great for the Navy Band conductor though!
I haven’t been to any better Pops performances. What a way to celebrate the Pops’ 125th Anniversary! The season isn’t finished yet, and the big finale of the summer is always the Pops on the Esplanade for the 4th of July.
The Dream Lives On will be performed during the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular concerts on July 3rd and 4th and I’m betting that the Pops will have some great guest artists in store for us for this holiday as we celebrate Independence Day and our American Heroes!
And… there is still plenty of time to attend a Pops concert this season. There are lots of concerts still to come! Visit the Pops Web site for details and enjoy a show!
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