Tuesday, June 28, 2016

MCO God and Country Tour

I'm not even sure where to start with all these DC posts, so I'm just going to start with the whole reason we even planned a DC trip in the first place...the MCO God and Country Tour.  

This trip was announced last year during that season when I cancelled my whole life because I thought I was moving to Alabama.  Last December, when I realized the relocation thing wasn't as imminent as I thought, I decided to re-join MCO and also to go on the DC tour.  There were a few conditions to be able to go on the DC tour, though:  

1.  You had to have been in MCO for the entire year, both Fall 2015 and Spring 2016.
2.  You had to have been in MCO for the To Be American season.  
3.  You had to attend the mandatory rehearsals in May or June after the regular spring season ended.
4.  You had to get yourself to Washington DC.  

I could only meet two of those requirements, so I assumed DC was not an option.  But, the great thing about being friends with the right people and asking a lot of questions is that you get to do stuff that you probably aren't entirely qualified to do...

...so a DC plan started to come together for this summer.  

Craig and I had been to DC in 2007 and it was on our list of places to take the kids, so the adventurous people in my house were super excited to plan this trip.  We started early making reservations with the Capitol and the White House and all the other places we knew we wanted to secure appointments with.  (Those pictures will be coming in the next day or so...)

The (funny, frustrating, endearing...) thing about me is that stuff that sounds like an awesome opportunity in January often turns into stuff I'm dreading by the time May rolls around.  (But in my defense, I'd like to also point out that I moved a house, lived in a hotel for 14 days with three kids, drove 12 hours across the lower half of the country, survived torrential rainstorms, and was a single parent during a big chunk of that time.  So I think I've earned a little extra compassion for having to do everything all at once.)

After much dread, worry, panic and procrastination for two whole weeks, and a LOT of waffling about whether I even wanted to go on this tour anymore, I finally resigned myself to this giant thing I had committed not just myself to but also Emma.  So I packed my bags and dragged myself into the van.  And if you think there was anything delightful about traveling with me last week you would be totally mistaken.  

We had 2 1/2 days in DC before any of the MCO stuff started, and then it was a little insane after that.  Here's what our schedule looked like:

After a long day of driving on Sunday and two straight days of touring DC in the summer heat and humidity for more miles than my poor little FitBit has ever counted in it's life, I was a mess by Wednesday, physically and emotionally.  The meltdown started on Monday night, actually, and lasted until Wednesday morning when I got to the Strathmore.  I don't know why crowds and unfamiliar experiences freak me out so much lately, but they do.  By Wednesday afternoon when Craig and the kids dropped me off at the concert hall and left to go explore more Smithsonians, I was so nervous that I thought I might be sick a few times.  But I managed to keep it together.  The familiar Dallas faces helped a little, but I mostly didn't talk to anyone all during that rehearsal and recording session. I just followed all the other sheep to the places we were supposed to be, and sang when they told me to sing.  

They voiced us immediately and put us into rows with core singers in the center of the section.  This group is just Altos.  #eek
Right after we were voiced, we went up to the choir loft.  Because there were so many of us, the two tallest rows of Altos and Baritones in the back had to stand on the floor behind the orchestra. 

Thankfully I'm not one of those tall girls, so I got to stand in the front row of the loft.  #hallelujah  This was my perfect, unimpeded view, which is awesome if you have to be packed in a choir loft for three days like a sardine, but not so great if you want to meet any of the other 468 people singing with you in the choir.  (I was ok with not meeting anyone on Wednesday.)  
I opted not to spend my dinner break with food or people and just found a secluded little corner with a pretty view where I could just be quiet for an hour or so.  I watched people mingling and socializing and reuniting and wondered how in the heck they weren't having the same sensory overload I was having.  
By 10:00 when we were finished for the night, we had recorded only two songs.  

On Thursday morning, our call time was bumped from 9:00am to 10:00am so I slept in a little and Craig and I had time for breakfast before he dropped me off at the Strathmore.  The kids all slept in until he got back to the hotel.
We recorded all morning.  Two more songs done before lunch.  That's me in the front row right in the center making absolutely no attempt to talk to anyone.  I was just concentrating.  At our break, Craig and the kids picked me up and we had lunch together before Emma had to check in at 1:30 with all the youth choirs.  By 3:00 when the kids all came in to join us, they looked like an ocean out there filling all the front row audience seats and also several of those little "boats" in the balconies.  It was truly an awesome thing to see them come in.  There were twice as many children as adults!
We recorded for 3 hours before our dinner break which was slightly more crowded than mine had been the night before.  Emma and I found a table in the lobby and ate the dinner we had brought with us.  Singing that beautiful music all day was starting to help me feel a little more calm than I had been on Wednesday, even with the crowds.  And a little walk around that beautiful pond outside helped, too.  Maryland is gorgeous!  
We finished recording Amazing Grace at 9:45pm and then we started I Stand All Amazed.  That's a HUGE song (which you'll be able to hear when it's released in the fall!) and at that hour, after two grueling days, it's next to impossible to muster up enough energy to sing it well.  But...when you have limited time in a recording session, and you know everyone including the directors are as exhausted as you are, somehow you gather what you need and make it work.  We did it in four takes.  #shocking #miraculous  It might be the best song on the whole CD.  We finished at 11:00pm and went back to the hotel.  That was the night the fire alarms went off and we had to make an emergency evacuation down nine flights of stairs and then wait for the fire department to tell us we could go back to bed.  It was about 1:00am when we finally got to sleep.  #zombiesthenextmorning 

And then Friday...

I was tired.  Logistically it just made sense for me to be the driver that day to get Emma and me where we needed to be, and for Craig to take the other two on the Metro into DC for the day.  I'm not great with navigating in unfamiliar areas.  I'm not very patient after only a few hours of sleep.  And I'm not at my best when I have to rush around.  

Emma had to be at the church for a youth activity at 9:00am and my call time at the Strathmore was at 9:30am.  They're only a few miles apart, but traffic in Bethesda, MD is not speedy at that hour.  And I think DC must be the location of the world's most traffic lights and intersections!  

I got Emma to her activity right on time...but then it took me 25 minutes to drive 6 miles.  :(  

And then I had to find a parking place in the Metro station across the street.  :(

I was about 15 minutes late for my call time.  For a second, as I was shuffling through 400 people to make my way into my front row center seat in the loft, it occurred to me that if I had made any friends, probably all the people around me would have known that I had had to evacuate my hotel room at midnight the night before and also drive my youth to her activity that morning, and they might have been a little patient and understanding.  But I hadn't.  And they weren't.  

When we got out of our recording 30 minutes late, and I realized I still had to stand in a mile long line in the lobby to get the newly issued and mandatory jewelry for the concert that night, get to my car across the street, and pick up Emma from the church 5 minutes ago, I was done.  I decided I was just not coming back.  I didn't stand in the jewelry line.  I wasn't calm driving to pick up Emma.  I tried to call Craig but he was unavailable.  And so I just drove and cried.  And halfway there, I decided I was done with this whole ridiculous tour.  It was too much and I didn't have anything left to contribute anyway.  

It turns out, Emma wasn't the only youth left in the parking lot like I had envisioned.  Of course she wasn't because most of their parents are in the Grand Chorus, too, and we were all stuck there in that same recording session that got out 30 minutes late.  Emma wasn't mad at me for leaving her stranded, and they had arranged for a Kona Ice truck to be in the parking lot for the kids so not only were they not mad, they were totally happy to be hanging out there for a little longer.  

So that little relief made me realize I might not be able to do the concert, but I could at least go back to the hotel and put on my dress.  

There were some other little frustrations during our two hour break... 
Like Emma forgot her black shoes, and the Target that was 2.2 miles away from the Strathmore took us 18 minutes to drive to.  ugh...
And the Dallas Alto II's sent a group text that we were all to meet 5 minutes before call time to take a group picture.  also ugh...
And that blasted parking garage across the street...this time in a floor length gown with hair and eyelashes that needed to stay pretty for 8 more hours!  
And I still didn't have my mandatory jewelry.

We made it.  I wasn't happy or pretty, but we made it.  

We sang and sang for 2 1/2 hours for the video recording and a little rehearsal for the concert and then they let us break for dinner.  # exhausted #hangingonbyathread 

Emma and I found each other in the lobby and by some miraculous chance the little cafe that had been closed all week was open and making food!  And I realized that I hadn't eaten anything since dinner the night before.  After a really good dinner and two giant bottles of water, my disposition improved significantly.  I even talked to some new people and made a couple of friends! :)  (I'm not sure why eating is always last on my list of survival essentials when I'm miserable.)  

I worked out the jewelry thing right before the break.  I had eaten food and drank water.  I took a selfie with my cute daughter.  I connected with people who also felt like they couldn't sing one more note, but showed up in their dresses anyway.  I reapplied more red lipstick.  And I got back into that choir loft. 

And just like I anticipated before I left, it was in the last few hours that all the effort was finally worth it.  I saw the familiar face I always see in the audience when I can't take one more step or sing one more note.  We sang all the songs that breathe life into me.  And I had what I needed.  

The concert was absolutely amazing, and it was so worth it.  

And this concert Saturday morning...holy cow! It was the most amazing thing ever to be standing on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial singing Amazing Grace and God Bless America while tourists walked by and Secret Service helicopters flew around in the air.  

There were really difficult things about last week and parts of it that I wish I could do over again with a better attitude.  But that moment when How Great Thou Art ended and the audience loved it so much that we had to do an encore in the Strathmore, and that other moment when we sang patriotic songs in the National Mall totally made up for any tears, frustration, discouragement, exhaustion and chaos that existed before.

My voice is on a CD.

I sang with a magnificent and enormous choir under the direction of not one or two, but 5 musical geniuses.

I'm in a music video with Jenny Oaks Baker.

I survived all those things I thought I couldn't do before we left.  

Sometimes I can do hard (and amazing) things.  
"Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." - Philippians 1:6


  1. Interestingly, I know a family from Gilbert, AZ whose daughter also participated in this trip. Sounds so great! I love the D.C. area. I get all emotional (in a good way) about American history and the inspired founding of this nation. It's so neat that you "knew" the right people and could make this amazing trip!

    1. Oh Deb, thanks so much for reading through such a long post! It's really amazing how many people know someone who was at this concert. i wish we had all been walking around with "Friends in Common" lists so we could have connected with each other...or maybe I could have looked up and tried to talk to more people. :) It was an awesome thing to be a part of and I'm so glad we went.

  2. now that we are officially only 1 month away, is by trying to remember how I first felt when I arrived in country in Uganda, where I studied abroad. http://www.mmovers.ca/