A Chorus of One?
by Christie Connolley
Sometimes when I am watching Bravo reality programming (Seriously, it is so addictive! I am even considering adding Million Dollar Listing to the line-up! Save me!) I notice recruiting commercials for one of the armed services. And after picturing myself in the Army doing push ups, policing desert hills for the enemy in heavy camaflouge (I then realize that these colors don’t really work for me) and then I picture myself in the Navy (clean, fresh whites punctuated by bold splashes of blue) and I wonder if I can be all that I can be? Could me and the Navy be full speed ahead? Am I an Army Chorus of One?
Military choruses offer some benefits that many singers wish came with an artistic career, not the least of which include a steady salary and benefits. It can also offer the opportunity to tour the world and meet interesting people (imagine singing for Silvio Berlusconi – keep your hands to yourself signor). To give you more information about this career option, we are featuring an article by Jennifer Maly of the Army News Service about the US Army Chorus entitled Singing Soldiers:
For the last 50 years the U.S. Army Chorus, a component of the U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own,” has been America’s vocal ambassador to the world — from singing for private dinners with foreign high-ranking military officials, to state dinners at the White House, and community concerts in churches and concert halls across the country.
The U.S. Army Chorus was founded with this mission in mind and has provided our nation’s leaders with a powerful asset in dealing with their foreign counterparts through the one language we all understand — music. Music has the power to celebrate great joy and to comfort in times of great loss. It can bridge gaps in philosophies, cultures and political leanings.
In 1946 Army Band commander LTC Hugh Curry and CPT Samuel R. Loboda formed the U.S. Army Band Chorus — a volunteer group of “Pershing’s Own” instrumentalists who could sing — to fulfill Curry’s wish for “a band with plenty of showmanship that not only plays well, but also sings well.” The demand for the group was so great that designated singers needed to be selected to perform the missions for which The Army Band Chorus had been tasked. So, on Aug. 14, 1956, Secretary of the Army Wilbur Brucker established the U.S. Army Chorus with 40 singers, plus pianists.
Today, the authorized size of the U.S. Army Chorus is 28 singers and two pianists, and the group’s performing schedule has never been busier. One of eight official elements of The U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own,” the Army Chorus’ current roster is no longer made up of volunteer bandsmen who could carry a tune.
The chorus singers and pianists are selected by a rigorous audition process, and represent many of our nation’s finest music schools and conservatories. Once selected for the group, all members of the Army Chorus must successfully complete Basic Combat Training. Most members hold graduate degrees in music, and four of the current men of the chorus, including both pianists, have doctorates.
Since its inception, the U.S. Army Chorus has established and maintained a reputation of excellence in the performance of male choral music. Beyond traditional military music and patriotic standards, the ensemble’s repertoire covers a broad spectrum of such musical styles as spirituals, Broadway, folk and classical.
The U.S. Army Chorus is among the few professional male choruses in the world, and is the only remaining one in the military service bands of the United States.
“We constantly hear from the Army’s senior leaders about how important our music performances are to the morale of our Soldiers and the public alike,” said SGM Robert Petillo, a tenor in the chorus since 1986. “It has been my privilege to entertain the battlefield forces — before they left for Iraq — and to work with our personnel who entertained the troops in today’s military theater.”
Soloists from the chorus have entertained troops overseas alongside USO performers during operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and during current U.S. operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Army Chorus entertains frequently at military ceremonies and events of state at the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon and in the quarters of senior military leaders — notably for the visits of overseas officials. Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff GEN Richard Myers has called the Army Chorus “a strategic asset” in building international understanding.
The Chorus has sung in over 26 foreign languages and can do so on short notice.
This unique group of singing Soldiers has made hundreds of appearances at the White House and has performed for every U.S. president since Dwight D. Eisenhower. Missions for the commander-in-chief have been some of the most memorable moments for many members of the group — both retired and active duty.
The Army Chorus has performed at the library dedications of presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush; at the state funeral of President Lyndon Johnson; and at the internment service for Reagan.
Army Chorus alumnus SGM Mike Malovic (Ret.) recounted one of the many evening events performed for then-Vice President and Mrs. George H.W. Bush at the vice president’s residence. “After dinner, when it was time for The Army Chorus to perform, the din of discussion was so loud that Mrs. Bush got up from her seat and asked the crowd to quiet down so that they could hear The Army Chorus sing.”
The Army Chorus and soloists from the group became endeared to the Bush family during their stay at the Naval Observatory and into their days at the White House. Current bass vocalist SSG Alvy Powell was asked to perform the national anthem for the senior President Bush’s presidential inauguration in 1989, and in 2001 SFC Alec Maly, a bass in the chorus since 1995, performed a patriotic medley and the national anthem at President George W. Bush’s first inauguration.
Many members of the Army Chorus have led distinguished careers on Broadway and on the stages of opera houses and concert halls worldwide. The list includes George Shirley, the first African-American member of the Army Chorus, who went on to become an international opera star. And Harrah’s Las Vegas Casino and Hotel’s current headline entertainer and former Atlantic City “Entertainer of the Year,” Clint Holmes, was a member of the Army Chorus from 1967 to 1969.
SSG Steve Cramer, current tenor vocalist, took a sabbatical from the Army Chorus in 1997 to pursue theater in New York. He was cast in the national tour of “Les Misérables” as a member of the ensemble and to cover the role of Jean Valjean. He performed on the tour for three years. In the fall of 2000, he was offered a role in the Broadway Company. He returned to The Army Chorus just prior to 9/11 and performed as a featured soloist at the Sept. 11, 2002, dedication of the repaired section of the Pentagon.
When not in uniform, many of the current Chorus members serve as music ministers in local churches, as private vocal instructors, and as featured soloists, ensemble singers, and pianists in the very active arts community in and around Washington, D.C.
Just as the Army Chorus has been the duty assignment for many talented singers and pianists, the group has been led and supported by an impressive roster of directors and conductors.
CPT Samuel R. Loboda had a true patriotic spirit for men’s choral literature and led the Army Band Chorus and the Army Chorus until he became COL Loboda, leader and commander of The U.S. Army Band in 1964, where he served until he retired in 1976.
Current director and conductor LTC John Clanton is enjoying his second tour of duty with the group. Officer in charge of the Chorus from 1995 to 2000, and from 2004 to the present, Clanton has performed and recorded with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus under Maestro Robert Shaw.
In addition to its numerous community concerts and school outreach programs each year, the U.S. Army Chorus has appeared in such notable concert halls as New York’s Lincoln Center, Radio City Music Hall, Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, the Hollywood Bowl and the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. The National Symphony, Annapolis Symphony, Grant Park (Chicago) Symphony and San Francisco Symphony are just a few of the orchestras that have featured the Chorus as guest performers.
Periodically, the Army Chorus is invited to give special performances at regional and national choral conventions of organizations such as the American Choral Directors Association, Music Educators National Convention, and Music and Intercollegiate Men’s Choruses Inc., where the group has profoundly inspired and influenced developing singers and music educators, according to Army officials.
Holiday television specials, national network morning shows, and evening variety and talk shows have all hosted the Chorus, as have Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League and NASCAR events. The men of The Army Chorus have been featured performers on Army television specials and Internet broadcasts seen and heard by our military service members around the world.
Historic Fort Myer, adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., is the chorus’ home. The chorus can be assembled quickly to provide music for ceremonies, special events and hosted dinners in the distinguished residences of the chairman of the joint chiefs, Army chief of staff and other top-ranking military officials.
Interested in a career with a military chorus? Check out vacancies in the US Army Chorus, US Navy Chanters, and US Air Force Singing Sergeants by clicking on the appropriate link and keep an eye on Operagasm’s weekly audition listings where auditions for these choruses will be included.
Christie Connolley is one of the founders and directors of Operagasm.com. You can learn more about Christie under the ‘About Us’ tab on the top of the page. Christie welcomes you to comment on her article or email her privately at firstname.lastname@example.org.