CHOIR ON STAGE
* Where: Upper West Terrace, U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C.
* When: Monday between 9:30 and 10 a.m. (estimate)
CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Lee University's Festival Choir gave local listeners a taste of its planned Inauguration Day performance for President Barack Obama as part of its official sendoff to the U.S. Capitol.
On Thursday evening at the campus' Conn Center, the 200-member student choir -- with support from the university's Wind Ensemble -- performed nine songs members have practiced together since the first weekend in January. Their repertoire -- a mixture of patriotic, spiritual and regional music -- is fitting for the 2013 Inauguration Day theme of "Faith in America's Future."
"I was told by someone from D.C. that there are approximately 10,000 college choirs in America and only one is singing at the Inauguration," Dr. Paul Conn, the president of Lee University, said to a long round of cheers and applause.
While the audience responded well to all the tunes the choir performed, "God Bless America" and a swing-infused "Chattanooga Choo Choo" seemed to be favorites.
Toward the close of the program, Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland gave a short address, praising the choir members' talent and wishing them a safe journey.
"The thing I am the proudest of is that when you go to Washington, you're taking with you the spirit of your school, the spirit of your city and the spirit of Jesus Christ," Rowland said.
"Lee University was the first thing to come to my mind" when it came to choosing talent for the presidential inauguration, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said earlier in the day. As the vice chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, he announced the school's invitation to perform at the event in early November.
"They are a very musically talented and patriotic school," Alexander said. "I know they honor the tradition of the peaceful transference or reaffirmation of presidential power."
This is not the first time he has tapped Lee talent for an inaugural performance, recalled Alexander, who asked Lynn Golden of then-Lee College to sing at his first gubernatorial inauguration in 1979. He met her during his 1,000-mile walk across the state during his campaign for the office.
The Festival Choir's 200 members were selected from 360 students who perform among the university's seven choral groups. At least 25 Festival Choir singers -- about 1 in 8 -- come from Bradley and Hamilton counties.
The choir's Inauguration Day performance will be outdoors on the Capitol's upper west terrace on Monday morning before the swearing-in ceremonies. School officials expect the performance to be scheduled between 9:30 a.m. and 10 a.m.
"This will be a great chance for literally millions of people to see and hear them," Alexander said.
The loose timing for the entertainment and ceremonies has required the Festival Choir to be flexible.
"We were told to have 30 minutes of material ready, but we may only perform for 15 or 20 minutes," said Dr. Bill Green, dean of the university's school of music and director of the Festival Choir. "We won't know until we arrive to perform."
The entire weekend will be busy, as well. The choir and supporting personnel leave this morning for Washington, D.C. By Saturday evening, rehearsals will be in full swing, and on Sunday they walk through the dress rehearsal.
"I plan to stop and visit with the Festival Choir on Sunday and congratulate them," Alexander said. "I've told them to practice in the cold, because Inauguration Day is historically one of the coldest days of the year."