Journal: ‘Supergroup’ journeys toward inauguration
Jan 20, 2013 | 4456 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Lee’s Festival Choir
BIG BLUE, one of the buses taking the 200-member Festival Choir to inauguration activities, is parked at a rest stop where snow was still on the ground. Photo courtesy of Lee University
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Lee Festival Choir Heads to D.C.: On a frosty Friday morning, the 200-member Festival Choir from Lee University boarded five buses en route to Washington, D.C., where the group will sing at Monday’s Inauguration Day festivities.

The Festival Choir, conducted by School of Music Dean Dr. William Green, performed for the community in a “send-off celebration” Thursday night among hundreds of well-wishers.

The inaugural performance can be viewed via live streaming at The streaming begins at 9:30 a.m., with the performance sometime later.

The Lee University Festival Choir will perform Monday at the ceremonial swearing-in ceremony of President Barack Obama. The following is the first of three planned first-person accounts of the trip to Washington by Lee University public information director Brian Conn.

To watch the ceremony live Monday, go to and look for an inauguration streaming video button on the front page.


We are Wyoming. We are Edmonton. We are Washington and Texas. We are the British Virgin Islands, Ohio and Oregon. We have the South pretty well covered: Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, both Carolinas, Florida, Georgia and Virginia.

Don’t forget Illinois, Minnesota, Maine and Iowa; or Michigan, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, Maryland, New York, Delaware and the Bahamas.

We are Lee. We are Cleveland, Tenn. We are the Festival Choir getting ready to sing for the president of the United States of America; for this nation.

Well … I’m not. I only sing in the shower, but I am privileged to be an honorary member of this caravan, and happy to tell my fellow Clevelanders about such a momentous trip. The excitement is palpable, the giddy glee emanates from 204 students who will soon be on the largest stage of their lives.

Time Magazine Online called the Lee University Festival Choir “something of a supergroup” this morning. I tend to agree. Super.

We pulled out in our five-bus caravan Friday morning, leaving home for what would be a 13-hour haul to the Capitol. I was row two, window seat, Yellow Bus Three. Naturally, we are the best bus.

Ahead of me was Danny and Debbie Murray, both excellent singers and leaders of the Voices of Lee contingent. Across the aisle were Jayson and Arlyne VanHook, both Voices of Lee alums, songbird and voice professor Andrea Dismukes, and Tom and Mary Beth Wickes, musical dynamos. Behind me is one-fifth of the “supergroup,” the Lee University Festival Choir.

I caught myself humming “This Land is Your Land,” then stopped. Too much pressure.

At some point a tiny, high-pitched whine from the bus engine joined the sound of chattering voices. It went away, but not before someone had identified it as a G flat. Yeah, no more humming from me.

I suppose all the buses had the same feel. Lots of fun. We played some movies, talked, laughed, singing bubbled through the bus. We had a few pit stops as the buses moved through a lovely snow-covered landscape. Sorry Cleveland, it didn’t melt everywhere.

The Ellyson sisters sat right behind me. Huge Disney fans, they provided some of the DVDs, and we chatted about the opportunity ahead. They occasionally would say lines from “The Great Mouse Detective” playing on the screen above my head.

Hailing from Richmond, Va., they are both members of Campus Choir, one of the seven groups represented in the Festival Choir. Kristen is a junior math education major and Amanda is a senior music education major. Kristen is vice president of Campus Choir and Amanda is the soprano section leader.

“I’m very excited,” Amanda said. “It really is an honor. I’m trying to imagine it, but I can’t because nothing I’ve done can compare with this.”

“Yeah,” Kristen said. “It would be easy to say it’s a dream come true, except who has dreams like that? It’s so far outside what seems even possible. Amanda is the singer. I didn’t think a math major would make it, and when I found out, I was in a panic. She’s been helping me prepare every night. But praise God, I’m here.”

The girls were thrilled, but almost awed by the opportunity.

“As a musician,” Amanda said, “I’m looking back at all the training at Lee and before, and I wonder at what I did to prepare, without knowing this would happen.”

I asked if they were nervous. Amanda said yes and no. She’s not as worried about missing a note as she is maybe a lyric among the nine songs members have had to prepare for.

“My fear is getting up there and blanking out for a second and having a camera on me at that moment,” Kristen said.

The group went on buses into the Capitol Mall area Saturday morning for a day of touring around the museums and monuments. They had a day to be tourists and “do D.C.” before coming back for an evening rehearsal after dinner, at which point the seriousness of the inaugural performance must have crept back into the forefront of their minds.

They will have to show their stuff, representing their homes, their families, their classmates, their neighbors, their school, their patriotism, and their faith, in the largest of spotlights. I get to be there to see it in person, but many will watch on television or on the Web.

I am proud of my school and my town. It thrills me to know that 78 Tennesseeans will be on the risers on Monday, 11 of them from Cleveland. Two of them graduated from home-based schools, and three each are graduates of the three local high schools. I hope to speak with them by my next message, but today I want to at least tell you who they are:

Emilei Bagley, Victoria Betts, Nathan Boler, Kyle Clukey, Connor Craig, Jay Garcia, Jordan Guyton, Lukas Littrell, Zachary Morrison, Tyler Richardson and Nick Rodriguez.

We have some of our own up there on the risers, folks, and it sure does us proud. I am happy as can be for them and for their families. It will be an unforgettable moment for each of them.

We are fortunate to be here. That’s the prevailing sentiment so far on this trip. We made it safely to D.C., and all is going smoothly. So at this moment, it’s a feeling of ‘Shucks, what did we do to get this chance?’ And the answer of course is nothing. That’s what a blessing is, right?

I asked the Ellysons if they had to pick one song of the nine in their repertoire to sing on Monday, which would it be. They both picked ‘God Bless America.’

I asked why, to which Kristen replied easily, “Because we are blessed.”

That pretty much says it.

Songs, choir members listed

The following is the list of song selections for the Inaugural performance. The choir has 30 minutes of material, however, they will only sing what time allows.

“All That Hath Life and Breath,” “Saints Bound for Heaven,” “This Land,” “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” “Hymn for America,” “I Can Tell the World,” “How Can I Keep From Singing,” “A Song of Peace” and “God Bless America.”

Lee University provided the following list of names of Festival Choir members, with the exception of one who asked not to be identified.

Soprano 1: Sara Baker, Kassandra Beaudoin, Heather Brown, Emily Christopher, Jacqueline Crum, Chelsea Davidson, Kelsey Duttlinger, Amanda Ellyson, Kelsey Feltman, Christian Garrett, Kaylee Good, Emily Halbert, Kristen Hollowood, Ashley Beth Kyker, Charity Loos, Jennie Alyssa Moen, Jennifer Nunley, Danae Pick, Anna Rankin, Emily Selleck, Leisha Solesbee, Carrie Anna Spencer, Savannah Stewart, Marlee Sullivan, Brianna Westland, Allison Wierenga, Carly Wingfield;

Soprano 2: Cynthia Ayala, Heidi Bennett, Victoria Betts, Jamie Binegar, Ariel Bowman, Christin Chislom, Ashley Coffey, Catherine Dean, Kristen Elysson, RaShanda Hicks, Lindsay Holdman, Audrey Hollifield, Jaclyn Johnson, Rachel Johnson, Hannah Kuchar, Tricia Logsdon, Leah Meads, Michaela Olsen, Liesl Reeve, Adrian Reid, Taylor Smith, Rebekah Stiegler, Maddie Taylor, Leatrice Wallace, Rachel Walls, Natalie Wolfe;

Alto 1: Michelle Austin, Kaley Barenkamp, Jamie Ben-Judah, Shelby Bergo, Monét Bethell, Christina Blomquist, Andrea Brown, Jordan Bynum, Miranda Doroshuk, McKenna Fetzer, Andrea France, Kaylee Gallagher, Karien Green, Alyssa Harrell, Roseanna Hernandez, Stephanie Hilliard, Whitley Kanck, Kayla Krumm, Jessica Lamb, Bailey Rae Mayer, Kathryn McMichen, Danielle McNiel, Rachel Mura, Kelly O'Bannon, Christa Tahere, Katelyn Vogel, Ashten Walker;

Alto 2: Rachelle Allen, Emilei Bagley, Victoria Brock, Hannah Buckingham, Drenda Buttler, Adrienne Coffey, Allison Cossa, Ihamna Cubillos, Alyssa Davis, Haley Dyar, Janie Evans, Caitlin Groves, Jessie N. Johnson, Amanda Jones, Brieanne Maya, Alyssa Oliver, Brooke Porritt, Emily Rebne, Genevieve Rodriguez, Kirsten Seeberger, Elizabeth Sheeks, Candace Solomon, Ana Trevino, Ashley Vaughan, Rachel Vestal, Sieta Weisman, Alisa Wood, Priscilla Wortman;

Tenor 1: Clark Beckham, Nicholas Branson, Jonathan Campbell, Connor Craig, Alex Frye, Juan Garcia, Jordan Guyton, Akeem Howell, Alex Hughes, Landon Jones, Ajonee Miller, Patrick Nichols, Richard Notice, Jared Petty, Elliott Potter, Bailey Raffety, Devlin Reasy, Nick Rodriguez, Zachary Simms, Jordan Smith, Trey Suttles, Andrew Thomas, Mitchell Torrence, John (JJ) Williamson, Dontarius Young;

Tenor 2: Austin Barnwell, Cameron Bible, Neiman Davis, Ryan Fox, Chris Garland, James Gault, Ryan Glass, Matthew Grauberger, Marcelo Jimenez, Skyler Kinsey, Lukas Littrell, D'Metri Mattocks, Nathan Mell, Josh Moore, Alex Noble, Dylan Perry, Zachary Peters, Kendall Seals, Preston Smith, Jacob Strimaitis, Rushawn Walters, Cohen Whittington, Adam Winkler;

Bass 1: Blake Adams, Michael Allen, Jeremy Bennett, Nathan Boler, Adam Brown, Brendan Cothran, Caleb Dick, Kenneth Foster, Kyle Green, Preston Holland, Aaron Ingrahan, Michael James, Keaton Kendrick, David LaCroix, Golden Madume, John Moore, Hamilton Provonsha, Tyler Richardson, Wesley Smith, Forbes Talley, Andrew Timms, Cody Turner, Alex Ubiera;

Bass 2: Joseph Allen, Dustin Altman, Philip Bonaparte, Joey Britt, Anthony Bucciero, Jordan Cannon, William Kyle Clukey, Michael Crawford, Kylan Edmondson, Janson Furrow, Jordan Hope, Coleton Maruca, John Morris, Zachary Morrison, Christopher Mulkey, Aaron Murphy, Joel Murphy, Michael Payne, Dan Powers, Nathan Ramsey, Jesse Ridgeway, Michael Robb, Deon Walker and Charles Watson.