Sunday, July 13, 2014

Eric Conway, D.M.A.: U.S. Ambassador Sue K. Brown invited us to Montenegro to be the entertainment for her annual Independence Day Celebration

Eric Conway, D.M.A. 

Today is our last day in Montenegro. The reason that we have had this two-week long Belarus/Montenegro tour is because Her Excellency Ambassador Sue K. Brown wanted us to come to Montenegro, the country where she has been the Ambassador for three years, to be the entertainment for her biggest public event of the year for the Embassy, her annual Independence Day Celebration.
Typically when one is in a foreign country, particularly during American holidays, it never feels like a holiday, as for the local country, its just another day. Thank God, we were able to spend this holiday with the US Ambassador who genuinely made us feel like we were in America celebrating that holiday. Of course we were, as Ambassador's residences are gifted to foreign countries and considered local territory of the country of the Ambassador, therefore, we were on US soil!
This morning, we left Zabljak, Montenegro back to the capital city of Podgorica (pronounced Pod-goor-eet-za). I was a little concerned for my choir this morning due to the drastic change in temperature of this high-altitude town. The high yesterday was in the mid 60's but in the shade with the wind chill felt like 50 degrees. Last night the temperature dipped down to the forties for July in Southeast Europe. See photos attached from the national park that some of us visited, some 3.5 kilometer walk from the hotel.
We had another hilly commute back to Hotel Apart from Zabljak the town with the highest altitude in Montenegro, to prepare for our big Independence Day Ambassadorial party this evening. Our Embassy representative Sunshine made it crystalline clear that we must not be late today for any scheduled events. I candidly share this with you because if you know young people, or the choir in particular, timeliness may not be one of their strong suits - Amen! Hotel Apart was a familiar, comfortable hotel, with the best internet on tour with free internet for everyone. After lunch served just next door, at a very fine restaurant for a less than we might pay for a meal in the states, we went to the residence right on time 3 p.m. Despite the high security that this residence is known for, particularly after another Ambassador's residence in this part of the world recently had some violence, we were surprised how easily we went through security (I'm sure because of the Ambassador). We were even more surprised when this African American mild-mannered lady came down from the runway some 75 meters away to greet us and find out that she was indeed the Ambassador! More than even surprised, we were impressed that she thought enough of us to want to shake everyone of our hands, look us dead in the eyes and say welcome! Wow!
At 6 p.m. we left, again, minutes before the mark, with a little more excitement than we had during other concerts. Originally, we were prepared to quietly wait in our guest house holding room until it was time to sing, but the Ambassador insisted that we must be fed before we sang. This is atypical for artists. We usually perform, and then mingle with the guests, as though we earned this right to eat with them. This time we felt like guests at this posh residence. In fact we began eating before the other guests arrived. The spread was spectacular, but in an Independence Day sort of way.
After all the performing that this group has had this summer, we typically do not like to go places early to soundcheck, and then comeback again to perform, but this was different - an Ambassador's request. She wanted everything rehearsed to the "T". She wanted to hear us sing the National Anthem before anyone else heard us. We sang and she liked. She wanted us to know where our "holding room" would be. She put us in her very finely-appointed guest house. We practiced our movements, run-thru of program with timings to the minute, and then drove back to the hotel to change to return after
approximately after two hours. We of course had the stereotypical USDA choir hamburgers and hotdogs, the grilled chicken to make sandwiches. The spectacular nature was the magnitude of the meal with a staff close to one hundred persons to serve the guests and man the barbecues, to serve the drinks, and dip the ice cream. The choir members ate for so long, they did not leave until fifteen minutes or so before we sang. The Montenegrins and Americans in the audience made each of us feel so very welcome. For once we were musicians who did not feel like "the help". Just like the timing of a Swiss clock, the event began precisely at 8:00 a.m. The color guard presented their arms. There was a very nice singer who sang the Montenegrin National Anthem, who was a music major in university in Montenegro with a very fine voice. We then sang the Star Spangled Banner, to give way to the Ambassador for her remarks.
Time to go on stage and set up for our segment. We began at 8:35, again right on schedule. We sang to a tough crowd as many were there to eat, not listen to entertainers, although, I saw as many as 25 persons who drove to Bar, Montenegro to hear us, and were anxiously wanting to hear us again. We had one program planned and were singing it well, but sensing a need for more rousing music, we added our trump card song: "Oh Happy Day" with our own Chester Burke to the set, knowing also that the Ambassador was in a generation that would thoroughly enjoy this song. We sang and by the time we finished the spirit of this "dinner party" was transformed. We did it again! At the end of the evening, a three minute fireworks display w
The only issue that we had with the performance was the keyboard. We were told that the sound company would bring a keyboard for the performance, however, what we saw was the not so great Casio home model keyboard, that children get for Christmas. On top of that, the pianist that was playing jazz before the event, did not use a sustain pedal when he played. There was no sustain pedal on the premises. We did not know this until we were about to sing the National Anthem. We immediately made plans to get the bus back with our keyboard that we brought from the States to the venue. Literally 5 minutes before we were to sing, during the program, we got our keyboard in place for our set. There is truly nothing like show-business! After the Ambassador's remarks, she gave a toast to the people of Montenegro, and then left the stage to cut the July 4th cake. It was then that we had tas presented (our 2nd of the tour) for a great crescendo for the evening. To really give sense of the graciousness of our host, Her Excellency, she heard that we had a choir member who had a birthday tomorrow - Jouelle Roberson, 22 years young. She gave Jouelle a bottle of Amaro (liqueur) and typical Montenegrin after dinner digestif. She took me in her residence as she was searching for this perfect bottle that was not made via assembly line, but grown and fermented locally. That deserves another - Wow! To get to know Her Excellency Ambassador Sue K. Brown, one now understands the extraordinary consideration exhibited by her excellent staff, most notably A. Sunshine Ison (name given because of "hippy" aged parents). Good managers carefully pick who they want on their staff, knowing that this is ultimately an agent of the manager, and in this case the United States of America. With the incredible travel ordeal that we had earlier in the week, we were definitely in the right country for this to occur. I was hoping to upload some video this evening, but it is too late and the internet connection is too slow with apparently all the Morgan State University choir clogging up the bandwidth (smile). See more than enough photos attached trying to capture the complete day.
Although we were on American soil this evening, we cannot wait to return to "true" American soil tomorrow. All of our bags must be down by 5:30 a.m. tomorrow for our 8:00 a.m. flight. We certainly do not want to miss this flight! Please pray for traveling mercies for us tomorrow. I know that we will certainly have a less ordinary prayer tomorrow morning before we leave - to praying to make it home without incident. See you State-side!

No comments: