July 1st concert in county seat not to be missed
If previous American Festival Concerts featuring Rappahannock County’s esteemed Col. John Bourgeois stirred your soul, then you’ll want to grab your lawn chairs, blankets and picnic baskets and experience this year’s old-fashioned musical salute to America.
The conductor emeritus of “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band, who is referred to as the modern day John Philip Sousa, has quite the patriotic splash set for Sunday, July 1 on the sweeping grounds of Avon Hall in Washington.
“Those coming will hear an ‘all-American’ program, with the exception of course of 1812, which we confiscated from the Russians,” the colonel quips of the popular overture. “1812 has become very much an American tradition — the National Symphony Orchestra does it every year at the U.S. Capitol. We’re just continuing the tradition.”
If there is a theme for this year’s musical tribute to America it is “centennials.”
“Yes, I’m serving some centennials,” says Bourgeois. “The centennial of Bernstein — this is his centennial year — with his overture to Candide. We also have the centennial of the death of Scott Joplin, and his Pineapple Rag.
“And then we have a lot of patriotic centennials: celebrations, memorials, John Williams’ Hymn to the Fallen. There are the anniversaries of World War 1, Korea, Vietnam. And also this is the 75th anniversary of the great American musical Oklahoma. I’m happy to have a scenario from Oklahoma.”
And this year for the first time ever in Rappahannock County, the renowned conductor whose career spanned nine presidential administrations starting with Dwight D. Eisenhower, will introduce U.S. Marine Gunnery Sergeant Sara Sheffield as the mezzo-soprano vocalist and concert moderator.
Gunnery Sgt. Sheffield joined “The President’s Own” in 2005, becoming the first featured female vocal soloist in Marine Band History. She often sings as a soloist at White House State Dinners and the Commandant of the Marine Corps’ residence. Prior to joining “The President’s Own,” she was a member of the U.S. Army Band’s Army Chorale at Fort Myer in Arlington.
“She will be singing Shenandoah, Amazing Grace, and Stephen Foster’s Some Folks Do,” Col. Bourgeois says of his colleague, who began her musical studies at the age of 9.
“And also we will have an added attraction,” reveals the colonel, his face brightening with enthusiasm. “When I was at the Smokey Mountain Music Festival in Gatlinburg, Tennessee this spring I heard this wonderful young group that turned out to be neighbors of ours in Madison County, under the direction of Cathy Weaver.
“The Madison County High School Band — 30 of their players — will join in the end of 1812 and Stars and Stripes. This is Cathy’s first year at the school and she’s doing a great job there. And hopefully next year and for the following years, as the band grows in size, we can add the Rappahannock [County High School Band] for the additional players.”
RCHS and its band director Jason T. Guira, who Col. Bourgeois appeared with on stage last month, are providing much needed equipment for this year’s American Festival Concert.
The impressive orchestra will be made up of some of the most talented musicians in the country, “a lot of them retired from the Marine Band and the service bands, and a lot of them my former kids,” winks Col. Bourgeois, referring to the hundreds of instrumentalists he’s groomed over the years.
Other arrangements for the July 1 concert will include the Armed Forces Medley, the Stars and Stripes Forever March by John Philip Sousa, American Salute by Martin Gould, and John Williams’ Liberty Fanfare, which was written for the festivities surrounding the centennial of the Statue of Liberty. The concert will end with God Bless America.
The entire celebration is outdoors and starts at 5 p.m. (lawn access begins at 3 p.m.) on the newly spruced-up Avon Hall grounds behind Courthouse Row in Washington. All residents of Rappahannock County and beyond are invited. Special activities will be provided for children.