"Songs for the Nation: Mason City Choir Performs for the Vice President, then in Spotlight at Kennedy Center"
Vice President Al Gore greets the Mason City choir after a performance for the vice president and Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi at the Department of State.
By JAN HORGEN,
Of The Globe-Gazette
Some days are gold and Monday was a golden day for the Mason City High School Concert Choir.
It was the final day of an unforgettable Washington, D.C., trip for the choir, filled with memorable moments.
Sitting in the rooftop cafe at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, taking in the spectacular view of the city one last time, they got the word. They were among the chosen - one of the top eight competitors in the National Invitational Choral Festival.
When choir director Joel Everist walked into the restaurant, 78 pairs of eyes turned his way, waiting anxiously until he gave the high-sign.
After a breathless pause, the teen-agers cheered and laughed and hugged one another.
Their goal would be realized after a year of dedication and determination - a center-stage performance in the celebrated Kennedy Center Concert Hall.
Lindsey Celvenger, Abby Pierce, John Szymeczek and Rob Siddell stop to smell the flowers in a planter on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol.
The simple phrase, "Oh, yes!" reverberated through the cafe. They came. They qualified. Most days don't get much better than that - but this one did.
Half an hour later, they were standing outside the Department of State building as a light rain misted the grass. Dressed in formal black choir robes, preparing for the next performance - an official Department of State function.
Vice President Al Gore would introduce the choir to a group of dignitaries at a luncheon in the Benjamin Franklin diplomatic reception room. Honored guests at the luncheon were the Japanese prime minister and his wife.
And the occasion was not lost on these young men and women, who conducted themselves with such dignity and respect and courtesy they were repeatedly complimented by numerous State House officials.
Protocol and security were tight. Secret Service agents, metal detectors and secured elevators brought home the reality of where this guest performance would take place.
As the choir waited in the John Quincy Adams room, with the vice-president just a pair of double doors away, they were surrounded by the past - the writing desk of Thomas Jefferson, dinnerware used by John Quincy Adams, chairs and tables and settees that had felt the weight of presidents and first ladies through the years.
And on those tables were the partially empty glasses used by Gore and his guests, less than an hour before.
"It was cool to be looking at a Rembrandt (Peale) of George Washington right at my fingertips," said Kate Greder. "Amazing to know that it wasn't an exhibit, especially when you saw the half-full glasses left from their reception."
Those same feelings were shared by the whole group, who carefully wandered through the large drawing room, letting the past meet the present, creating indelible memories to be carried home.
"I was so nervous at first," said Candi Pagan "But just standing in that room, seeing those artifacts I learned about, was incredible."
When the call came for the choir to sing, they were given only 60 seconds to file in before being introduced by the vice president.
"I have the honor of introducing the Mason City High School Concert Choir," said Gore.
As silence fell among the 100 or so dignitaries, the music floated through the room. There were smiles and nods from the audience as the choir sang "I Gondolieri," sounding like seasoned professionals.
Gore stood up, applauded and crossed the room to thank the choir members and Everist personally, reaching out to those in the front rows.
"I got to shake Vice President Gore's hand and the hand of the Japanese prime minister," said Pagan, her eyes wide. "Wow."
Reflecting on the entire trip, Greg Gillman said, "We are making the world aware of Iowa. Pretty amazing when you consider what we've done since we came here."
Echoing his words, Jillian Duffy added, "It is so exciting to think that we are not just representing our school, but our country. The vice president and then the concert tonight - it's thrilling."
Choir president Brendan Otto, said, "This was just a great experience shared by all, something to always be remembered."
At 9:30 p.m., the concert choir stepped onto the Kennedy Center stage, performed their rendition of "Bandari." Once again, they felt the music and pulled the capacity crowd into their performance.
The applause was astounding, a worthy Washington, D.C., send-off.
The group was planning to leave Washington Monday night and return home today.
*This copyrighted article and photographs are reprinted with the permission of The Globe Gazette and are not to be reproduced.*