CAPE ELIZABETH, Maine — No one is exactly sure how the idea got started. But as it took shape, the intention was clear.
"Wouldn’t it be nice to do something for our troops? And I said, 'It would be,'" Professor Nicolás Dosman said.
Dosman is the director of choral studies at the Osher School of Music at the University of Southern Maine. If he was to be involved, doing something for our troops would mean voices raised in song.
"The way Afghanistan just ended, our troops who had no decision-making in the process of going to serve went to Afghanistan, came back, and there was no celebration of their efforts in Afghanistan," he said.
He selected the a cappella USM Chamber Singers choir to join him in this effort and began to consider the songs they would perform to honor those veterans.
Jonas Rimkunas is a senior at USM.
"As a music student, I don’t often rub shoulders with people who serve," he said. "But it’s a reminder that there’s a lot of people who do. A lot of people who make that sacrifice and many other sacrifices and it’s a hard time for the country. It’s just wonderful to be a part of something uplifting."
The group would sing six carefully chosen songs — but what about a venue? USM reached out to the folks at Portland Head Light, wondering if the choir could perform there. The lighthouse is surely a familiar sight, but did you know that there's a catwalk near the top of the lighthouse? Could the students perform … up there?
Jeanne Gross is the director of the Museum at Portland Head Light, and she gave the idea the go-ahead.
"It’s a tribute to all the veterans that have served," Gross said. "It’d be wonderful to have something so special be dedicated to them."
Now for the logistics. They picked a day to record with no rain date. The Chamber Singers gathered on the USM campus to record the songs outdoors before the actual performance at the Head Light.
Why record the audio ahead of time?
"Because of weather and wind. We can’t control nature, and here we felt that recording outdoors here we could still get the sense of being outdoors at the lighthouse, but if it’s very windy, we would want a clean audio for that recording for the public," Dosman explained.
The students performed The Star-Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful, and some military hymns.
"Then we’re closing with an American piece in memoriam of those who have passed and sacrificed and made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation. It’s 'My Heart Be Brave' by an American composer, Marcus Garrett," Dosman said.
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Emma Hallundbaek is a senior at USM.
"Our last song, 'My Heart Be Brave,' it's such a meaningful piece. It's why I joined chorus," Hallundbeak said. "To get that sensation of everyone together and the emotion that's involved with that piece … it's really great. And then to bring all the Navy and Army hymns as well – it's very great for our group."
Standing on the steps of Corthell Hall on the USM Campus, the students sang, while the audio team captured what would serve as their playback once they were on location.
And they got lucky. On that day, the weather cooperated, the winds were light, and the students arrived not knowing exactly what to expect. Marty Lawson led the team that manned three cameras, a drone, and all the audio equipment.
"We had a really amazing opportunity today," he said with a chuckle.
The technical team checked out the catwalk with Dosman, and then one by one the students climbed the 89 steps and emerged through the small door and out on to the catwalk with the breathtaking view. Audio was set up inside, so the students could hear what they had recorded and essentially sing along. On the ground, the cameras were ready. And with that, the concert was underway.
As visitors to the lighthouse strolled closer, the choir's voices drifted out over the park and brought many to a standstill. Some were not quite sure what they were witnessing, but they were enjoying the experience nonetheless.
It all came together quite seamlessly. After the students had finished, Lawson commented, "It's really nice to be here to do something for the veterans, outreach, it just a really nice time to do it and we're really excited about the product we're gonna finish with."
At the close of 207, we aired the video of the USM Osher School of Music Chamber Singers performing 'America the Beautiful'. You can see that video here: