Sunday, July 4, 2010

I love the Fourth of July

I love my country. I love Fourth of July. Living in Chile for a year under the Pinochet regime cemented this for me; working with refugees continues to remind me how fortunate I am to live where I do.

Living where I do. I miss the big celebrations of the East Coast. I spent my evening watching A Capitol Fourth on PBS and the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular on CBS.

John Philip Sousa's Stars and Stripes Forever may be the theme of July Fourth celebrations across the nation, but it is the victorious and explosive nature of the 1812 Overture that really captures the spirit of the day.

When the Capitol Fourth program came to a stirring rendition of the 1812 Overture, I was instantly reminded of the summer of 1994, when I was living alone in the Washington, DC area. The great thing about DC is that it doesn't suck to be alone there. There's always something interesting to do, regardless.

Every year in mid-August, one of the military bands stages a concert on the Mall. The big finale is the 1812 Overture. When I first found out about this, I marked the date on my calendar and prepared for a rendition of the piece unlike any I had ever heard.


It was a hot but clear evening on the Mall, and as I made my way toward the Washington Monument, I noticed two huge military cannons on a street corner inside the park. I was still well over a block away from the concert performance area. The cannon was surrounded by a makeshift bunker of large sandbags. Soldiers in full fatigues were checking over the cannon.

I got to the ampitheater, spread out my blanket on the somewhat crispy grass and waited for the concert to start. I overheard someone say there were two canons on two separate corners, a quarter-mile apart. I wondered how we'd really hear them at the appropriate place in the music.

My concerns were unfounded. As the music swelled and the chorus let forth a beautiful vocal rise, the first canon went off, precisely when it needed to. The ground below me vibrated and rumbled as if I were sitting atop the Metro. Shortly after, the orchestra, truly fully emotionally involved in one of Tchaikovsky's master works, hit the next notes and BOOMBOOM, two cannons fired and the ground shook so hard, I was sure there was an earthquake in the heart of DC.

It was phenomenal. I salute the person who had the inspiration to haul large military ordnance onto the Mall as an accompaniment to an orchestral work. If you're gonna use a cannon in your arrangement, seriously, use a cannon. It's so worth it.

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