Honoring the fallen: Fort Hays Singers to perform at Pearl Harbor

BY CORIE LYNN

Each December, the FHSU choirs prepare to perform their Cathedral Concert. This concert is still on the schedule, but first, the Fort Hays Singers are headed to Honolulu.

The choir of 26 students was invited to perform and represent Kansas at the 80th-anniversary service for the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

FHSU Choir Director Dr. Terry Crull and a 70-piece entourage of friends, family and faculty will join them for the performance as well as a series of additional concerts.

“We get to kick off the whole thing on that morning of Dec. 7. The very first thing will be us singing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’” Crull said.

The choir received the news of the performance in September 2020 from Music Celebrations International, a company that the FHSU choirs with worked closely and utilized for their trip to Salzburg, Austria four years ago.

It was this company that invited them to the Hawaii performance.

Katy Walters, a senior who has performed with the Fort Hays Singers for three years, said she was ecstatic when she heard the news.

“We had talked about a couple different trips we might take. And Hawaii wasn’t even on the radar yet, and they announced it to the group last fall when we were all masked up and sitting, you know, six feet apart,” she said.

But Walters also describes the experience as humbling because veterans, political figures and community members will be part of their audience.

Because of the event’s significance, she expects tears during the concert and hopes the audience receives the heart the choir puts into their performance.

“In the arts, you know, that’s where we share part of ourselves and especially at a service like this in which it’s a memorial for what happened and the tragedies that went on at that time 80 years ago,” Walters said.

According to Crull, the choir’s first concert of the week is a 30-minute concert of Christmas music in a service at Kawaiahaʻo Church, the oldest church in Honolulu.

Their second performance will be at the U.S.S. Arizona memorial then they will be a part of a wreath-laying ceremony at the U.S.S. Missouri. The next day, they perform on the deck of the U.S.S. Bowfin.

The Fort Hays Singers music includes patriotic numbers like “This Is My Country” and popular tunes from the 1940s like “My Funny Valentine.”

“We don’t want to just go there and tourist,” Crull said. “We want to work. We’re singers. We’re a choir.”

The group is taking a full repertoire of pieces, but they are also taking a wreath.

“It’s a three-foot diameter wreath with sunflower petals, fake of course but real as they look, made by Flowers by Frances. And on the yellow petals of the sunflowers, we’ve written names of veterans,” Crull said.

Pam McGown, the choir’s accompanist, originally proposed the wreath as a way to fundraise for the trip. Community members could send the choir a donation and the name of a veteran to add to the petals.

Once the choir arrives in Hawaii, they will leave it at the section of the Pearl Harbor memorial dedicated to the Kansas who served and were killed there.

“So that wreath, we made close to $30,000 with donations because we asked people to send names and then whatever donation they wanted to,” Crull said.

Ultimately, remembering those who served at Pearl Harbor is the choir’s purpose.

Crull wants to share that sense of history with his students through the performances. He explained wants to impress upon them the suffering veterans experience to protect their country’s freedoms.

“Patriotism is important to me, maybe because I never got a chance to serve,” he said. “But I think that’s important, and I hope I can pass a little bit of that along to my singers.”

Both Crull and Walters expressed their thanks to everyone supporting them, including the FHSU Music Department, which rearranged a Hays concert so the students could travel.

“I guess I just want to say gratitude to all the people who have donated and to everyone who’s given their service in any conflict or any branch of the military,” Walters said.

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