Sunday, June 15, 2014

Looking Back on the Harmonizer Trip to Normandy and Koln  June 3 -10, 2014

The Harmonizer history book is titled Breathless Moments. Now we could write a whole new book about our week-long trip of “breathless moments” together in France and Germany. One hundred singers (according to president Terry Reynolds), with about 150 others who didn’t sing but were family, friends and barbershoppers who wanted to share in the experience, made the trip to promote harmony in our world.

We can’t go too far without thanking Ken Fess and his team of Mick Stamps and Peter Hubbard for the extremely detailed planning efforts to get us there and help us keep up during the busy week.

Flights for the bulk of the singers and family were on Air France on Tuesday, June 3rd – first at 4:15pm from Dulles and a second flight at 6pm.  It was fun to see our fellow chapter members and friends assemble at the gates before departure.

Plus many members were already in France or Europe for exploring or other events.  Director Joe Cerutti and Bridgette had been at the BABS (British Association of Barbershop Singers) convention.  Alan and Patty Wile went to see the Tennis Tourney.  Jeremy Richardson, Craig Kujawa and Ken White were in Iceland, Amsterdam, Netherlands and Belgium before coming to join us in France. Chuck Hunter joined us from his State Department post in Turkey (he had learned the music and stage presence via emails – thanks to Chuck McKeever who sent him special clips for the SP since he could not receive the normal YouTube clips from Mac). YeEd knows that quite a few other folks had arrived in Europe early to see Paris or London or drive to see special sites of personal interest.

The first flight arrived early enough to stop en route to the hotel to see the D-Day Documentary in the Round in Arromanches.  It was also our first sight of the beaches and terrain.

Our whole crowd filled four busses – one a double-decker with a trailer behind it to hold the luggage for all those on that bus.  Sometime the chorus members rode on busses without families so we could warm up or review our songs – with Joe or associate director Tony Colosimo to lead the bus sessions.

Basically everyone assembled from all parts of the world to get to Normandy for dinner on Wednesday June 4th where we also had our first rehearsal of the trip.  Since it was late, it was a short review and time for announcements mostly.

Thursday we had a Continental breakfast in our hotel(s) – some folks were in a nearby hotel.  And then the entire group boarded busses for The American Cemetery in Brittany – singers were on two, others on two.  The chorus was in the black suits with the new red/white/blue striped ties.  Shows producer Greg Tepe and chorus manager Mark Klostermeyer found a place for us to line up outside in the shade, then they joined  our sound and tech team headed by Mike Kelly with Doug White to work with the folks from American Musical Salute company who produced the events we sang at while in France.

(As an aside, it was fun to see our team of guys land at a sight, jump into action and have us ready to perform for the world to see!)

This was actually our first chance to feel the impact of being in Normandy with the thousands of white crosses rising up from fields of well manicured grass.  We had time to walk a bit to see the markers and Lew Klinge located the one for his relative which he had hoped to find.

The American Musical Salute staff  invited us to perform in Normandy (at the American Cemetery in Brittany, at St. Mere Eglise and the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach) with three other groups: a marching band from University of Texas in San Antonio; Lake Shore High School band from MI and East Burke, NC, High School Marching Band. There were four or five JR ROTC groups from the USA at each performance too – one from a Parochial School in Richmond, VA. Students from these groups presented medals to WWII Veterans and helped make wreath presentations at the various venues where we sang with them.  The Harmonizers sang “Amazing Grace” with the TX band each time, then we did a set of “Something About a Soldier,” “Armed Forces Medley,” “I’ll Walk With God,” and “Stars and Stripes Forever.”  Each performance ended with our singing “Tribute to World Peace.”

Ms. Mary Eisenhower, granddaughter of General Eisenhower, also spoke at these events. Coordinator and emcee for these performances was Earl Hurray, who worked with our planning team too.  He is a former Marine band member and friend of our own Ike Evans.

Each time we did a performance, there were some warm ups of course.  Assistant director Will Cox often did vocal warm ups during our trip. During the tour, different Harmonizers introduced songs  (Chris Huber, Terry Reynolds, Elliott Roseman, Ross Felker, Don Dillingham, Gary Fuller); and Tony and Ken White did the solos in “World Peace.”

Before leaving the American Cemetery in Brittany, the chorus members changed into the casual Harmo shirts and khaki slacks on the busses!! (It actually went pretty well). Each bus had a captain who kept attendance and helped folks get info and conducted WWII Trivia games.  The captains (hope we got all the names) were Huber, Golden, Kujawa, Berkey, Kauffmann, Blair, Cameron, Rust, Rhome, Schwartz and Klostermeyer. Some of the busses watched “The Longest Day” while on the road.

 All four busses headed to Mont St. Michel.  We were rejoined with our families there.  It was a great tourist spot to see and get some food on the path leading up to the Abbey.  Word is some guys sang a couple impromptu songs there where the sound rolled around for days!

Then back on busses to dinner and a before-bed rehearsal. Greg, Terry, Tony and Joe and choreographer Carlos Barillo worked to get us ready to perform the next day – outside in the wind again. This was the first chance to recognize the many men who joined us especially for this concert tour: Chuck Roots, Jim Gammon, Jim Lucey, Jay Butterfield, Father Joe Witmer, Dick Newton, John Santora, Alan Lamson, Jim Kew, Jim McConnell, TJ Donahue, Chuck Hunter and Don Johnson.

 This hotel was basically the first chance for many to check messages and such with wifi service in the hotel (though it was not easy since all the school bands and ROTC students were trying to use wifi too).  

Friday’s breakfast was good and we headed to St. Mere Eglise for the June 6th D-Day Memorial event there and the Musical Salute to Liberation.  When we arrived we saw the famous parachute hanging from the church steeple and quickly were immersed into a huge celebration crowd of folks from around the word.  Many in old uniforms.  Many driving USA military vehicles they had restored. And a huge crowd gathering in the sun ready for the show and parade.

We changed in a small tent from casuals into suits, and then chorus manager Mark found a wonderfully shady spot for warm ups in the back yard of gracious hosts Dr. and Ms. Michel Bazen. Chuck Hunter spoke in French and presented them a thank you gift from the chorus.

The show for the huge crowd on the square in St. Mere Eglise was a production for sure.  Actually we sang “The Longest Day” with the Texas band so French National Television could record it. Then we opened the actual show on a huge concert stage,  singing again with the band, then the band went to some shady spot while we did our usual (this time with “Something About a Soldier,” “Stars and Stripes,” “Anything Goes,” “Glenn Miller Medley,” and “Tribute” again.

Reveille 3, a trio of women who pay tribute to the Andrews sisters, sang on this show with us.  They are from Denver.

After the show, our whole group and all the bands and marchers were fed a sandwich lunch in the shade of a nearby huge hall.  Soon after that, the Harmonizers (who had changed into the casuals in a not-very-large but very-hot tent along with the TX Band!) walked in the Memorial Parade.  It was about one and a half miles. A few of us didn’t make the walk, but those who did it were happy to have had the experience with folks waving and cheering for us and our country.  Dean Rust had taken the Harmonizer banner with a foldable rod to hold the white banner.  Elliott Roseman and Chris Yates carried it in front of the chorus.  Tommy and Garrett Garner carried the official parade banner.

Then it was time for a picnic in the huge hall again.  Amazing how the local caterer and other volunteers had the food ready for several hundred of musicians and marchers.  After dinner, it was back on the busses headed to the hotel in Normandy.

On Saturday June 7, we left Normandy headed for Omaha Beach with singers on two busses to warm up and prepare.  It was a chance to see the farm crops and the many small fields and hedge-row fences that make up the countryside of that region.

As we approached the Cemetery, it began to rain!  Ken Fess had planned ahead and issued plastic ponchos for the chorus.  We actually had our warm ups and lined up in the rain.  But just as the ceremony started, the rain stopped, the sun came out and it was clear for us to repeat our package plus “Ave Maria” with Rich Hewitt doing the solo.

After we sang, we walked the path to take a picture with Omaha Beach in the background.  Following the photo shoot by Greg and Dave Branstetter’s wife, Tena, our guys and family members could roam the cemetery or go down to the beach to see things left from that battle. Alan Lamson reports this experience: Alan B. Hall was an Electrician’s Mate First Class in the U.S. Navy from New Hampshire. He was my mother’s favorite cousin so she named me after him since I was born 5 months after the Normandy invasion. He was serving on landing craft during the invasion. His landing craft was hit by a mine and exploded leaving no survivors – he is listed as buried at sea. So his name is engraved on the Wall of Memory (that is the curved wall behind the structure where we sang at Normandy). In fact, we all walked through the gate in the Wall of Memory as we walked to the back of the structure to warm up. His name is among the 1,500+ on the wall. I do not believe anyone in my family has been able to make the trip to Normandy to visit the Wall so I was glad to finally, after 70 years, make the trip for my family. It was an especially moving moment for me to be there and look out over the water that is his final resting place.

About 1pm, we left then for the long-awaited visit to Les Ventes to honor Billie D. Harris and meet his widow Peggy Harris.  She was there to greet us having left her own Normandy tour to hear us and thank us.

We drove thru small towns and villages and along country roads and finally came to Les Ventes.  As we pulled into the village, there was the memorial to Billie and other Veterans on the end of a small green lined with trees leading to a town hall.  Little kids were there to meet us and ran along the busses waving and cheering and welcoming us.  Four huge busses and more people on them than live in the village.  We were met by town officials and soon met Peggy.

The towns folks had a chair for her in front of us and we began.  Peter Hubbard and Chuck Hunter helped translate our program highlights in French for the towns folks and translated awards and exchanges. We sang in front of the town hall and faced the green and the crowd.  There was an exchange of gifts between the chorus and the towns folks.  And CDs and chorus pictures for Peggy and the mayor.

[The next day, Ken and Joe got this email from the former mayor of Les Ventes:

Dear all of you
Yesterday we had a magical moment of pure happiness.
Your generosity, your kindness will stay in our hearts and in our memories for ever.
All of the citizens of Les Ventes are very sad today . We regret your departure, we would have kept you longer and would have liked to share a drink with you
Thank you for having made this event possible
It was such a marvelous day
You are always welcome and hope to see you again
I did have not time to say good bye to the two men who spoke French -
I regret that.  Can you tell them for me?
And express my gratitude to all the generous members of the Group

I m so proud to have crossed your path
With all my friendship
Christine Guerard

The singing experience was awesome and certainly a Breathless Moment for all!!  Chris Huber, who was instrumental in making this visit happen, told the story and Peter translated. When Tony sang the solo in “Bring Him Home” to Peggy, it was a major emotional highlight.  We had to take a few minutes to get our composure!

As it turned out, Peggy and her traveling companion needed a ride back to Paris.  So they rode with Ken and Chris on our bus.  When the town ladies brought Peggy a cake, she gave it to the chorus. The folks in town were eager to get CDs too and Peter helped 20 of them do so. The whole town came up and joined us for a group photo.

When it was time for the busses to roll, a young lad of about thirteen rode his bike out the only way to leave and led us to the main road.  A wrap-up to a wonderful Harmonizer moment.

We got to Paris and hurried to eat dinner, get our bags and check into our rooms. The next day we adjusted our schedule so we had about four hours free time to explore.  A bus took some folks to the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower or the boat tour on the Seine. Others explored on their own in this world capitol.

Sunday afternoon we drove to sing at the Cathedral Notre Dame de Chartes.  It was a quick event, but awesome also to hear our soloists fill the cathedral with sound.  Turned out our appearance had been promoted as a free concert, so there were about a thousand folks there when we entered to sing.

For this appearance we sang “Ave Maria” again with Rich, Tony and Chuck Hunter as soloists; “I’ll Walk With God,” “Deep River” with Andrew Havens as soloist; and “Tribute to World Peace” again.

This evening we drove back to Paris and a farewell dinner.  After dinner we all went back to our hotel or other tourist sites via the Paris Metro system with various brave souls as our guides or leaders.

Monday we were up early again to load busses and grab a breakfast bag for the ride to Koln in Germany.  (We had the different experience of loading busses in the basement of the hotel – quite a garage space.)

We did make a brief stop in Liege, Belgium, for coffee and breakfast items, then on to Koln and a drop off to sing in the famous and huge Koln Cathedral.  We sang just three songs this time.  We were happy to have our barbershop friends and hosts in Koln there to hear us too, from the Erster Kolner Barbershop Chorus.

We did a little vocal warm up on the plaza outside the cathedral and met Stephan Hammes, producer of the barbershop show (and responsible for the performance in the cathedral). We met Matthias Neuburger, the local chorus director, then too.

After our sing in the great cathedral, we hurried to the Theater am Tanzbrunnen where the Koln barbershoppers were rehearsing and waiting for us to join them on stage to sing through “Ave Maria” with them, and to sound check the mics with the soloists. It was so great to share the risers with them (actually a brand new set of risers that had arrived from the manufacturer just a few days ahead of the show). The host chapter cheered and cheered to welcome us – they love our director Joe.

After that we did some sound checks for our part of the show and reviewed the stage sets. And then we enjoyed a meal provided by their chorus, relaxed a bit, and changed into our suits and ties  and put on makeup for the show. It was unusually hot in Koln, and so that was a tough challenge.

During intermission we returned to our dressing room which was in another building.  We had to run thru a hard rain storm but it was cooling!!  Reveille 3 sang while we were off stage. Steve Murane did some emcee work in German. When it was time to return to finish the show, the rains had stopped.

There were the usual exchanges of accolades for our coming to sing with their chorus and both chapters gave lapel pins for the guys in the other chorus. The Alexandria guys think this might be the most enthusiastic audience we ever sang for!

Many of our guys were eager to sing some tags and enjoy some great German beer at the afterglow organized by our host chapter. There was also an impromptu afterglow at the hotel with those waiting to board the first bus that left Koln at 1:30am Tuesday, June 10th, for the seven-hour bus trip back to Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris for the first group flight back to Dulles.

Others of the group left the next morning for CDG in Paris and others took trains from Frankfurt or departed for many other destinations in Europe for extended trips from a couple days to a month.

YeEd got word that the storm during the concert in Koln caused lots of troubles with trees on train tracks and caused delays that likely were problems for our folks getting home.  Joe and Bridgette almost missed their flight from Frankfurt, but Stephan came to their rescue and drove them to Frankfurt in time to get on the plane literally a minute before the doors were closed.

As you might expect, this large of a group had few mishaps such as sprained ankles or lost wallets or forgotten uniform parts back at the hotel (the travel company actually helped us buy a white shirt in St. Mere Eglise). We had a lot of family groups on the trip and some father/son combinations too. 

There are three marriage items to report as part of this story.  While we were in France, Phil and Karen Ashford were married May 31st with their families in Maryland.  During the after dinner hour and we were all assembled waiting for the busses in St. Mere Eglise, Steve Murane announced that he had proposed to Robyn McQueen recently, and she said yes!  And in Paris, Chuck Powell proposed to Donna DeJulius while they were on the Champs Elysees, and she said yes too!! Our Harmonizer congrats to all.

Until next time – editorjack!

(This message is prepared for your review if you were there, for your information if you had to miss, and as a historical record of the great things going during the 66th year of the Alexandria Harmonizer Chapter. —YeEd.)