The Power of Singing on Independence Day

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Independence Day 2020

I began writing this post on Independence Day morning July 4, 2020.  I was missing the celebrations with music that praise this nation.  They had been a part of my traditions.  I wanted to put my thoughts in writing.  As the day progressed, interruptions postponed my writing.  By the end of the day, I had even more to say.

Today is Sunday, the day I set aside for worship in my faith.  It seems appropriate to complete my thoughts now.  — Cherilyn

Covid, Anarchy and Celebrating Liberty

So much of our lives has been canceled since March 17, 2020.  With all the anarchy snubbing the First Amendment right to peacefully protest and so much of our traditional Independence Day celebrations canceled due to the Covid pandemic, it has been a difficult time for those of us who still love this country and still see it as a Shining City on a Hill and the best last hope for liberty, the nation that has done more for human rights than any other nation on earth.  Many of us across the political spectrum  see a generation of ignorance to history and a resulting ingratitude.  As an actor, singer, producer, director, teacher, mom and grandma, I’m concerned about the cycle of history and where this leads.  Let’s look at the culture and its music.

What are the Songs We Sing and Why Does It Matter? 

Are the songs our children and grandchildren sing or listen to positive or cynical?  Do they praise or criticize?  Do they promote love or hate?  What are the lyrics our children listen to? 

Loving a country is like loving a spouse.  They both come with flaws, but if we focus only on the flaws, we know the relationship will not last.

This is so important.  Music is a window to the culture.  So much of our celebrating is surrounded by music. It’s a powerful force for good (and evil).  As a singer-performer, it’s a choice.   

I have sung the positive songs of the Founding and our country, including songs whose lyrics are the Founders’ very own words in front of audiences domestic and international, as large as 60,000.  And I will continue to do so. 

The brilliance, wisdom and inspiration is imprinted in my mind and heart, and I have great respect for their sacrifice and the compromise that kept the Colonies together, providing time for a correction that moved us closer to the ideal “all men are created equal.”

Although the Founders were not perfect, nor are any of us, they were well-educated, well-read and they knew history.  They produced the most remarkable document outlining what they were doing and why – The Declaration of Independence.  I suggest it is worth reviewing and sharing.

In 1970 I toured with the Department of Defense USO performing for U.S. troops as a Brigham Young University Young Ambassadors cast member.  Our patriotic finale included the Fifth Dimension’s arrangement of The Declaration / People Gotta Be Free

I can still recite the Declaration because I once sang it.   This message is engrained in my soul.  Listen to the words here.  

The Text of the Declaration Put to Music

Singing these songs to the troops, even on stifling hot aircraft carriers, and watching their love of country and commitment to liberty as defined in the Declaration and our nation’s commitment to be a world leader in these ideals was an amazing experience.  

Here’s the truth about music: you don’t forget the words you sing as easily as those simply memorized and spoken.  I have never forgotten the words of The Declaration because I SANG them. 

My memories are of the soldier audiences that cheered and cried and lived their lives through us for a couple of hours during our concerts because we brought them a piece of HOME.  The music was the emotional connection and the universal language.  

What songs do our young people sing today to praise their country? 

I’m not sure.  As a teacher of high school musical theatre students I’m concerned.  

As I wrote above, it’s a choice.  Music is so powerful.  It can uplift or it can destroy. I tell my voice students that they have a talent and I hope they CHOOSE to use it to uplift.

Do We Know History?

Do today’s students know the story of the Founding?  Do they know the words of The Declaration of Independence?  In general, apparently not.  You’ve seen the random surveys of young people on the street. 

Here is one survey that asks some basic questions.  We ought to be concerned about this, because we know the adage:  “Those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it.”  (Although it’s titled “politically-challenged,” it’s really historically-challenged):

Hollywood Actors Recite The Declaration

I wanted to share a spectacular  performance of a recitation of the ENTIRE Declaration by several of Hollywood’s top celebrities.  While not set to music, the performances are riveting.  

Listen to Morgan Freeman as he addresses the same concerns of today’s anarchists, but observe his approach.  As a Black-American, why did he refer to the Declaration’s author, Thomas Jefferson as “a brilliant, red-haired wonder” rather than a racist deserving of being canceled from history and public places?

Yet today, anarchists have been allowed to tear down and destroy private property and even take human life, and Thomas Jefferson and all the rest of the Founders have no value and are despised. 

This movement has no rational basis.  It is emotionally-charged and dangerous.  We have seen these kinds of movements throughout history.  They are fascist and Marxist – both totalitarian in political and economic philosophy and results.  

Senate Resolution Against Mob Violence Fails

One Senator, and a friend of mine, Mike Lee, stood up last week to present a resolution opposing mob violence after one of his constituents had been shot while driving down a Provo, Utah street during a protest. It was a non-partisan “sense of the Senate” request.  It was turned down.  Here’s the story.  

History Viewed in Context

History must be understood in its context.  In 1776, not a nation existed on earth that did not have slaves.  But it was Thomas Jefferson who penned the astonishing words “all men are created equal…that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…” 

The United States moved forward on a journey to make that equality a reality, but it took a Civil War to take the first step to become the first nation on earth to abolish slavery IN ALL OF HISTORY.   

The songs that came out of the South during the Civil War tell this story.  We had a long way to go to become the greatest nation ever to afford opportunities for all minorities.  But we have made tremendous progress.  No people, regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender has been as blessed with opportunity as have Americans. 

By now we surely see that no law or policy can change the heart. However, music can and does change hearts.  It can unite or it can tear apart.

Rwandan Refugee Family Has Something to Say to Those Who Hate America

I’m a member of the Millennial Choirs and Orchestras.  Last week, the MCO released this video of a Rwandan refugee family that not only found America but a choir for their children.  It should be shared far and wide.  This family loves and appreciates the GOOD, the OPPORTUNITY and the LIBERTY they have experienced in America.  Clearly, they do not understand why some are so full of hatred.  Interestingly, they have found music as a way to express their love for this country.  There it is again:  music.

America’s Freedom Festival at Provo

Before Covid, the Fourth of July has been a family celebration and reunion time in Provo, Utah, the home of the largest Independence “Day” Celebration in the United States – America’s Freedom Festival at Provo.  It begins in April with a variety of events celebrating the founding and culminating in a Stadium of Fire fireworks show unrivaled in quality and broadcast to U.S. Troops throughout the world. 

One year when we lived in Utah, my 11th grade son entered a Freedom Festival speech contest for high school students.  The theme was “A Republic – If You Can Keep It,” based on the response Benjamin Franklin gave to the woman who inquired of him what form of government the Constitutional Convention had just created. 

I’ve been pondering that response with great concern lately as we watch the protests turned mob rule as anarchists threaten to disrupt our peace and security.  I’ve asked myself, as Marcus Aurelius of Rome asked,  “Have we been able to keep keep it? Or have we lost the Republic?”  

Rome’s government became corrupt with the lust for power and amid general moral decline,  weakened the will for liberty and eventually enslaved the people. 

A recent poll suggests that Americans have less patriotism today than before.  Will we ever praise this nation or the good that came from it’s founders again?  Will we ever have an Independence Day celebration in which the people feel a great sense of love and pride for their country?  Will our children and grandchildren want to  sing the praises of our remarkable history, especially if they don’t know it?

The Provo festivities include my favorite events where singing was a big part of it:  a Patriotic Service with keynote speakers that have included Senators and a First Lady, with patriotic musical renditions of Stars and Stripes Forever and the all theme songs for every division of the armed forces and choral presentations.    This year I was looking forward to performing with the Millennial Choirs and Orchestras in the Patriotic Service.    Cancelled.

The festival features an awards dinner honoring several distinguished freedom fighters, which have included line producer Gerald Molen for his work on Stephen Spielberg’s Schindler’s List to the “Candy Bomber” vet from World War II.  In 1986 the nation celebrated the restoration of the Statue of Liberty, and I was invited to provide the musical entertainment for this awards dinner.  This year: cancelled.

In the dawn hours of Independence Day, our family loved to assemble at the field to watch the hot air balloons prepping for the launch of the annual hot air competition.  One year we went up in a balloon.  It was not what I expected.  No cool breeze blowing through my hair because we were riding ON the air.  And the flame kept the basket fairly hot on an already warm July morning.  But it was exhilarating to view the world from above and to appreciate the wonderful world below.

Then the parade and on to family gatherings for food, fun and the event we all came to love – the Stadium of Fire.  Canceled.  Well,  modified.  Fireworks shows were at three locations and you could stay at home and watch or social distance from a place where you could watch.  But no gathering in the Cougar Stadium for the music and show.  

Carl Bacon, Co-Founder/Producer Stadium of Fire

Years ago my brother Carl Bacon approached Alan Osmond with the idea of a huge fireworks show such as the Coliseum show we grew up with in Los Angeles, California.  Alan and Carl co-produced it for many years before Carl’s retirement from the Board of Trustees. 

Alan and Suzanne Osmond

The Osmonds wrote a theme song, updated in 2016, performed by David Osmond:

Alan and Carl came up with some pretty crazy ideas, but the sky was the limit.  Literally.  They were known to start the entertainment part of the show from time to time by dropping the headliner out of the sky in some unique way.   This is Donny Osmond singing from the edge of a police helicopter

My oldest brother Ken Bacon had been a U.S. Air Force pilot of the F-100 Super Sabre and lost his life in service of our country. The moment our family waited for most of all at the Stadium of Fire was the Hill Air Force Base flyover that started the entire evening. Our patriotism runs very deep. We have honored all those that have given the ultimate sacrifice for our country.  Here’s a flyover:

The celebrity headliners from The Beach Boys to Kelly Clarkson brought with them patriotic music that reminded us of the good – not the flaws – and a sense of love for our country’s mission in the world – to keep the flame of freedom burning bright in every land. 

An incredible fireworks show followed, synched to uplifting music that inspired us.  This music caused us to reflect upon the amazing, and even sacred, founding of this nation, built on enduring principles that have blessed us for  244 years.

MAKE YOUR OWN CELEBRATION

My sister texted me over the weekend that her daughters came up with the idea of having a neighborhood parade, so everyone decorated their cars and a small float on a flatbed trailer, borrowing scenery from the local theatre where they perform. 

A son-in-law that creates the sound for major BYU events offered to build the sound for the float.  The kids decorated their bikes and scooters.  They blew up over 100 balloons to make an arc, and the talented singers in this family got on the float and sang patriotic songs. 

There’s that music thing again.  It’s in my family’s DNA.  

“RED CROSS BANS GOD, PRAYER AND DECLARATION”

That was the headline of a news release that went out nationally in 2002.  In 2001 I was teaching a 9th grade musical theatre class at the Orange County School of the Arts. When the twin towers fell to the ground from a terrorist attack, the students prepared a medley I arranged and the group I directed called First Act performed it throughout the Southland.

We called it The Heroes Trilogy. It made grown men openly cry with sadness – but gratitude for the deep love these students had for this country. It made a bit of history in that moment of time.

On Independence Day,  I listened to an audio recording for the first time since it was performed those many years ago. It brought back so many memories. The Red Cross invited the group to perform the medley for the volunteer recognition lunch after 9-11. The students were thrilled to be able to honor them.

But to everyone’s shock, the medley was pulled from the program because the songs had the words “God” and “prayer” which could be offensive to some, I was told.  Also, the words to The Declaration would be offensive to some.  It was too political. 

So I cancelled the show. The parents supported my decisions as did the school.  I sent out a news release to over 500 national and local news outlets because it was such an unthinkable idea at the time.  Within a few hours, my life was upside down for a couple of weeks responding to every major news station.

The response was phenomenal. The story went far and wide, and on the front page of the Orange County Register for several days. The Red Cross finally issued a national apology.  Here’s a screen shot of a Google Search from the L.A. times alone:

LA Times Red Cross Ban 2002

Here’s an audio of a performance. Not perfect, but pretty darn good for a group of 9th grade musical theatre students. My daughter Jennifer sang the second half of America the Beautiful.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN

Banning Freedom of Speech and Where We’re Headed

I’ve been concerned about freedom of speech since that experience, and now today, America’s history is being re-written and worse banned.

I am concerned that our young people are not being taught history. It appears they are being taught political activism. Instead of being taught that the United States built the most successful economy in the world and has provided more opportunities for the underprivileged than any other country on earth, and has given so much to other countries, they appear to be taught to look only for the flaws.

Today I’m wrapping up this post and looking around me. It’s peaceful within my own four walls. I have tried to keep the music and the memories alive. It’s the music that enhances and even sparks our memory.

Gratitude

Teach our children and grandchildren gratitude, commitment and the value of hard work.  Watch the film Cinderella Man again.  While I know our nation and the world needs to improve, I’m grateful for the tremendous strides made.  Gratitude is maybe the most important attitude of all.  Without it we see only the negative, and we become nihilists and cynics. 

I am grateful to the Founders for the greatest government document ever created – The U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights that have preserved our liberty for 244 years.  I am grateful for the liberty to do and be what I’ve wanted, that I had opportunities and that they weren’t just given to me, but that I’ve had to work hard for them.

The Songs We Should Be Singing

Even though the beaches are closed and the events are limited because of the Covid virus, I will still celebrate our history through song as long as I live. 

Here are some of my favorites.  I guarantee you will be uplifted by listening to them.

GENTRI singing America the Beautiful /God Bless America at the Stadium of Fire 2015 – and a glimpse of the spectacular fireworks:

The Gaither VOCAL Band – for the best National Anthem harmonies ever!

And finally the Tabernacle Choir singing The Battle Hymn of the Republic at last year’s Independence Day celebration at West Point. The composer Julie Ward Howe wrote this song in 1865, and it became the pro-union, anti-slavery anthem.  It’s still one of the most popular patriotic songs today. 

Here are the lyrics, altered by The Tabernacle Choir. 

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword
His truth is marching on.
 
Glory, glory, Hallelujah! Glory, glory, Hallelujah!
Glory, glory, Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.
 
I have seen Him in the watch fires of a hundred circling camps
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps
His day is marching on.
 
Glory, glory, Hallelujah! Glory, glory, Hallelujah!
Glory, glory, Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.
 
In the beauty of the lilies, Christ was born across the sea
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me
As He died to make men holy, let us live [originally “DIE”] to make men free
While God is marching on.
 
Glory, glory, Hallelujah!
Glory, glory, Hallelujah!
Glory, glory, Hallelujah!

His truth is marching on!

Howe wrote “let us DIE to make men free” but the Tabernacle Choir sings “let us LIVE to make men free.”  I get it.  We should dedicate our time while living to good causes.  But How wrote a lyric that addressed being willing to die for something – the ultimate sacrifice. That’s the original, historical  context of this song.  That’s important. 

I hope and pray that the next generation will be willing to make that ultimate sacrifice for liberty.  

Meanwhile, may we resolve this present conflict with the original context and  ideal that Thomas Jefferson and the signers of the Declaration of Independence intended, that their history will not be snuffed out and highjacked by anarchists with another totalitarian agenda, but that this great republic they created will be restored and go forward to respect the unalienable rights of ALL people. 

My hope is that our children and grandchildren will live in liberty and peace.  

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