Column: Prescottonians travel to France for WWII tribute
Singers from both coasts - with Arizona sandwiched in between them for good measure - made up the 90-voice entourage of choristers who traveled to France last month on a 10-day "Salute to Valor" program series that included an emotional pilgrimage to the American Cemetery in the 70th anniversary year of the Allied D-Day landings at Normandy, coupled with concerts at three French cathedrals.
Southern Californian Ed Lojeski was the originator of the trip and director of the choir. He lined up vocalists from Florida in addition to his home state and also invited participation by Arizonans that produced 38 singers from Prescott and Cottonwood. Leading the Yavapai County contingent were Darrell Rowader, conductor of the local Community Chorale and the Prescott POPS Symphony Chorus, and Dennis Houser, who heads the Master Chorale at Yavapai College.
In an interview with Rowader, he described the combined choir's witnessing of a wreath-laying and the singing of one of the group's performance pieces - "A Farewell" - followed by "The Star-Spangled Banner." Participating in the solemn wreath-laying ceremony was a California veteran who had been wounded during the landing and was hospitalized for several months. It marked his first return to the 1944 landing site where the 172-acre cemetery is situated on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach. Interred there are the remains of 9,387 American military dead, most of whom died during the Normandy invasion and ensuing World War II military operations in the European Theater.
The concert group's arrival in Paris featured a first-night dinner in the festively-lighted Eiffel Tower, and during the course of their stay included sight-seeing trips galore to the Louvre, Versailles, Sacre-Coeur/Montmartre and other points, capped off by a farewell Seine River dinner cruise aboard a Bateaux Parisien boat.
The three concert performances included accompaniment by a small orchestra, according to Rowader, and featured contemporary and patriotic selections of every stripe and even fed on some Americana manna such as "The Yellow Rose of Texas" and "Old Dan Tucker." They were all well-received by concert-goers, he added, and each ended with standing ovations. The first program involved an outing of 45-minute duration at L'Eglise de la Trinite - a major Roman Catholic church in Paris. Next up was a two-hour program at Normandy's Sainte Mere L'Eglise, whereas the final one was also in Normandy in the historic Bayeux Cathedral located 20 miles northwest of Caen and described by Wikipedia as "a mix of Romanesque in the 11th century crypt and glorious Gothic in the 13th century nave."
Rowader, meanwhile, is a guy who's nowadays having to jump sideways just to keep from flying. Counting a few of the ways, he had the lead role as Jean Valjean in the local stage production of "Les Miserables" that ran from May 29 to June 14; at this past Sunday's Prescott POPS Symphony's "Around the World in 80 Days" concert at the Yavapai College Performing Arts Center, he and his wife Linda were the featured vocalists, with two of the highlights of the outstanding program including his powerful operatic solo of "O Sole Mio" and their teaming up on that haunting Rodgers & Hammerstein favorite of "If I Loved You" from "Carousel." He also will be conducting the POPS Symphony Chorus in its Aug. 3 production of "The Pirates of Penzance" (tickets for that show at the Performing Arts Center are available by calling the college box office at 776-2000 or visiting the web site at www.PrescottSymphony.com), he has assumed the job as choir director, as of July 1, of the First Baptist church across from the courthouse Plaza; and last, but certainly not least, his full-time job is as a music teacher at the Bradshaw Mountain Middle School in Dewey.
All I can say in summation is: "WHEW!"
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