Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

I hear Arlington singing.

Not by those seeking fame and fortune, but volunteer vocalists seeking joy and renewed health by joining a chorus that—like a no-cut sports team—welcomes entrants of all talent levels.

To a point.

Last week I witnessed a wave of Arlington baby-boomers and elders sign up for the Encore Chorale, billed as “America’s largest and fastest-growing choral organization for adults over 55.”

The roster of 45 women and eight men at the Langston Brown Community Center were preparing to unite and belt out “classical works, spirituals and holiday music,” I was told by instructor Ingrid Lestrud, principal associate conductor for the National Children’s Chorus in Washington. (Boomers more interested in the Beach Boys and Aretha Franklin can enroll in a similar volunteer chorus now rehearsing with Smithsonian Associates.)

Participants arrive as strangers, pay Encore’s $175 tuition (the county provides publicity and facilities) and show up faithfully for 15 weekly 90-minute rehearsals. They then go out with a bang by joining 20 other area choruses to perform the same material with 1,200 singers at the Kennedy Center.

No auditions necessary. “If you can breathe, you can sing,” says Jeanne Kelly, founder and of the Annapolis, Md.-based nonprofit Encore Creativity of Older Adults, which works nationwide.

On this first day, conductor Lestrud moved quickly through administrative duties—nametags, distribution of sheet music and introductions. She warned of “homework” and check-in requirements, noting the Kennedy Center won’t allow participants who missed rehearsals to perform.

Posture is key, Lestrud stressed as she led the joiners in stretches. Some people are “lounge singers,” but it’s vital to “keep your feet flat on the floor, to feel as if you’re standing from the waist up,” she said. “Breathe with mouth open in the shape of the vowel you’re singing.” After leading the singers in rising scales, the conductor segued into a passable “Gloria in Excelsis Deo.”

Maintaining quality in come-one-come-all singing is tricky. My friend Carolyn Connell since 2006 has given evenings to the 200-voice New Dominion Chorale, also a non-audition group. “We have a brilliant director in Tom Beveridge, who always manages a beautiful sound out of us in the few weeks we have to rehearse,” she said. “But he can hear everyone, and if anyone can’t sing well, they may be gently asked to leave. It’s only happened a few times.”

It takes balance, echoed Roy Guenther, the retired music professor from George Washington University who this fall will end a 50-year tenure as choirmaster at Resurrection Lutheran Church. “Obviously, we want to encourage people in the congregation to participate, and we don’t have a rigid audition” other than determining altos from sopranos from tenors and basses, he told me. “I listen and see if anything sticks out, and, if necessary, call the person aside” to reexamine. There can be “hurt feelings,” Guenther acknowledges. But “we accommodate.”

Fifty of Arlington’s top athletes over the decades are now enshrined in a traveling Arlington Sports Hall of Fame.

Unveiled Sept. 5 at Arlington Central Library, the retractable banners showcase newly fleshed-out bios and action photos of high school, college and professional stars and coaches inducted since 1958.

To an audience of county dignitaries, fans and seven inductees, organizer Jim Smith noted that the pace of inductions accelerated before the rollout of what for years was only a website. County board member Erik Gutshall read a proclamation promoting sportsmanship, adding “We need some more of that around here.”

Our county’s bonds with the Navy’s USS Arlington LPD-24 were reinforced Sept. 7 at the cavernous Firehouse No. 5 in Crystal City. The ship’s crew, back from the Mediterranean, were bused up from Norfolk for a tribute lunch organized by boosters Frank O’Leary and Kevin Reardon.

As the sailors chatted with top fire, police and government officials, Capt. Paul Lanzilotta told me of the ship’s recent role in keeping U.S. presence visible off the coasts of Libya and Tunisia. “A nation called,” said he, “the USS Arlington answered.“