We Made A President Cry – Part II | News, Sports, Jobs
While planning the 1971 tour, I again worked on “Jerry Ford’s Vice President’s Office.” We were informed that we were “provisionally” on the White House calendar.
Of course, that depended on the President’s schedule. Needless to say, the kids and I were hopeful; but also realistic. We knew the president had a country to run and world affairs to run, and listening to a high school choir probably wasn’t high on his list of priorities.
We started our tour (with hope in our hearts) and on the second day of the trip I was informed by the White House planning office that we would be singing for President Nixon in the White House Rose Garden. .
We were briefed on the protocols, times and procedures we needed to follow regarding our stay at the Rose Garden. The children, the guides and I were delighted!
On the appointed day, after breakfast, and after all the children and the few attendants who were with us had been in their assigned bus seats, I walked around the four buses and talked about what we were about to live.
I knew I could count on them; totally. They were real professionals. They were my children and I was their father. We stopped at the gate and an impeccably dressed young sailor came aboard.
He was from Grand Rapids. He had been specially instructed to welcome us to the White House. Surprising!
He took the bus microphone and greeted us on behalf of the president. He told our driver where to park and then followed the same procedure for each bus.
We drove slowly to the designated area and the children and attendants followed me (very quietly) to the area facing the gates of the White House. The choir quickly organized itself into a concert formation. The recording equipment and the electric keyboard we had brought were set up, and the accompanists stood next to the choir. Everything was ready!
The doors of the White House opened and out came President Richard Nixon, accompanied by Vice President Gerald (Jerry) Ford.
Mr. Ford did the introductions, and then the president started talking.
He said, “I want you all to know that your manager has a lot of influence over the vice president, and the vice president has a lot of influence over the president and that’s why you’re here.”* (* from Grand Rapids Press.)
The children clapped and then it was our turn. Carol, our accompanist, set the tone for us and the choir began our eight-part arrangement of the national anthem.
Words can never describe the emotions we all felt singing that song, in that place, in front of the President and Vice President. The music soared and our spirits soared with it:
“Beyond the land of the free and the homeland of the brave.”
The song ended. I left no room for applause. We were allowed to sing two songs. The second song was our musical signature, and I took no risk that I might be interrupted because of a change in the president’s schedule.
I waved to our attendant and she immediately moved on to the introduction of “A mighty fortress is our God! The group of 150 voices was ready and soon the rose garden was filled with the message that “A mighty fortress is our God. A rampart, never failing!
There are no words to describe this moment. When we reached the finale, the first sopranos reached high B flat. They soared and as they did, the other 135 voices sang the finale, “IS… OUR… GOD.”
I made them hold that last chord for as long as I dared, and then came the cut. The song ended and we knew that, as one of my basses said afterwards, ” We have succeeded ! »
I turned to the president and then I saw him. We, the Creston Choir, made the president cry.
The leader of the free world stood shamelessly before us with tears in his eyes, and we saw a tear slowly roll down his cheek. My children, singing from the bottom of their hearts, with youthful grace and exuberance, had touched something in this man.
Our hearts had touched his soul. For a moment all was quiet; and we, each in our own way, cherished this moment in history.
The president thanked us, and invited us to come back the following year to give a concert in the famous “East Room” and then he did something really out of the ordinary, before he excused himself to attend (another presidential appointment), he invited the group to walk through the oval office on his way to the visit of the White House and see, as he said, “where your president does his job.”
We all went inside and one of the kids (for a brief moment) sat in the chair of the president. The Marine, our Grand Rapids escort who was on special duty at the White House that day, told me later that he had never been in the Oval Office.
Other memorable moments were to follow, such as singing the national anthem at the Lincoln Memorial, singing in the Senate office building in front of many “At Jerry Ford’s” Congressional Buddies,” singing for the wounded who died at Walter Reed Hospital, the Washington Rotary Club, the National Cathedral, St. John’s Episcopal (the President’s Church), and singing during two Sunday morning services at West Point Military Academy in the famous chapel. . (Some of this is material for future stories.)
But nothing could ever top this historic moment in the White House Rose Garden.
I don’t know how history will ultimately judge Richard Nixon, but for those of us who were in the White House Rose Garden that morning, we will always have a special moment. “point of forgiveness” in our hearts for the man whose soul we touched.
Individually, we returned from this choir trip forever changed, and collectively, none of us will ever forget that moment when we, together, brought a president to tears.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Gerrit Lamain is a former Copper Country resident who served as a music teacher at Suomi College. He has published a book, “Gerrit’s Notes: A compilation of essays”, which can be found on Amazon. His email address is [email protected]